Behaviorally Informed Vaccination Policies: Political Transparency as an Ethical Condition and Effective Strategy

  • Stefano Calboli University of Urbino Carlo Bo (Italy)
  • Vincenzo Fano University of Urbino Carlo Bo (Italy)
Keywords: behavioral science, cognitive science, nudge theory, ethics of nudges, COVID-19 emergency, anti-COVID policies, vaccination


SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are indispensable allies in the fight against COVID-19. Behavioral and cognitive (B&C) scientists have argued for taking advantage of insights from their fields of investigations in shaping anti-COVID policies. B&C scientists extensively discussed the methodological and practical issues that arise in translating B&C research results into policy interventions aimed to boost vaccination, Nevertheless, the same cannot be said for the ethical aspects. In the present work, we discuss the ethics of nudging vaccination in light of the “alien control” objection, a kind of control whereby an agent has the power to influence the choice of another agent, and the latter cannot control such power. We proceed as follows. We begin by presenting several cases of mandatory policies avaiable to policymakers to boost the vaccine rate (§1). Next, we point out that insights from B&C sciences can inform mandatory policies and open up ways to enhance them (§2). In section 3, we focus on untraditional policy tools, viz. nudges. In the second part of the article, we introduce the debate on the ethics of nudges, focusing on the “alien control” objection and its relevance for the citizens’ freedom and autonomy (§4). We therefore discuss the original point of the paper. We argue that, referring to nudging vaccination, a somehow neglected ethical issue posed by nudges emerges (§5). Our point is that nudges do not exert exclusively an influence over a targeted behavior. Indeed, nudges impose as well a political influence by which citizens are treated as means to succeed in achieving a peculiar, and potentially controversial, political aim. We argue that, due to what we propose to call the “political multi-justifiability" of nudges, their political influence cannot be detected by citizens. This leads to the threat of alien control. In the last section, we draw some tentative conclusions, suggest a possible solution and its practical advantages.

How to Cite
Calboli, S., & Fano, V. (2021). Behaviorally Informed Vaccination Policies: Political Transparency as an Ethical Condition and Effective Strategy. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies, 14(40), 125-148. Retrieved from