o the makers of alcoholic beverages have any moral responsibilities specifically to see that their products are not abused?
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1. What drinks is Four Loko marketing today? How are they different from or the same as the drinks that got them in trouble in 2010? Were the 2010 drinks as dangerous as the critics maintain? Why or why not?
3. Is the banning of Four Loko and kindred beverages an example of legal paternalism? [Hint: always begin your answer to a question like this by defining key terms. Base your definition of legal paternalism on the book’s discussion of this concept in Chapter 6.]
That example touches on the larger controversy over legal paternalism: the idea that the law may justifiably be used to restrict the freedom of individuals for their own good. No one doubts that the law rightly restrains people from harming or endangering other people, but a sizable number of moral theorists deny that laws should attempt to prevent people from running risks that affect only themselves. There is nothing paternalistic about requiring you to have working brakes in your car. This protects other people; without brakes, you are more likely to run over a pedestrian. But requiring you to wear a seat belt when you drive affects only you. Anti-paternalists would protest that forcing you to wear a seat belt violates your moral autonomy. Nonetheless, in the past hundred years state and federal governments have enacted thousands of paternalistic laws. In 2008, forexample, California basically outlawed retail sales of raw, unpasteurized milk because of potential health risks, even though a number of consumers prefer it to pasteurized milk.
Three points about paternalism and safety regulations.
Paternalism is a large issue that can’t be done justice here, but in regard to safety regulations, three comments are in order. First, the safety of some products or some features of products (such as a car’s tires) affects not only the consumer who purchases the product but third parties as well. Regulating these products or product features can be defended on nonpaternalistic grounds. Second, anti-paternalism gains plausibility from the view that individuals know their own interests better than anyone else does and that they are fully informed and able to advance those interests. But in the increasingly complex consumer world, that assumption is often doubtful. Whenever citizens lack knowledge and are unable to make intelligent comparisons and safety judgments, they may find it in their collective self-interest to set minimal safety standards. Such standards are particularly justifiable when few, if any, reasonable persons would want a product that did not satisfy those standards.
Finally, the controversy over legal paternalism pits the values of individual freedom and autonomy against social welfare. Requiring people to wear seat belts may infringe the former but saves thousands of lives each year. We may simply have to acknowledge that clash of values and be willing to make trade-offs. This doesn’t imply a defense of paternalism across the board. Arguably, some paternalistic regulations infringe autonomy more than laws about seat belts do but bring less gain in social welfare. In the end, one may have to examine paternalistic product safety legislation case by case and weigh the conflicting values and likely results.
6. a. In your judgment, in general what moral responsibilities do the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages have? Why?
b. In your judgment, do the makers of alcoholic beverages have any moral responsibilities specifically to see that their products are not abused? Why or why not?
c. Based on what you have said in 6.a. and 6.b. above, what steps, if any, are the makers of alcoholic beverages morally required to take in order to meet their moral responsibilities? Did Four Loko fall down in this respect in 2010? Explain.