Res Publica

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 203–211 | Cite as

Reason, Paternalism, and Disaster

Sunstein, Cass R. 2007. Worst-case scenarios. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 340pp. Thaler, Richard, and Cass R. Sunstein. 2008. Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 293pp + x
  • T. M. Wilkinson
Book Review

I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven’t the foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel, no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up in smoke and himself torn limb from limb (Wodehouse 1981, p. 137).

Wodehouse’s atom splitters are not alone in their decision problem. There are also ‘the dangers associated with very powerful particle accelerators … It is extremely unlikely, but evidently not impossible, that such accelerators will produce a highly compressed object called a “strangelet”’ which, to quote Sir Martin Rees ‘“could transform the entire planet Earth into an inert hyperdense sphere about one hundred meters across”’ (WCS 214).1

There are plenty of less dramatic potential catastrophes discussed in Cass Sunstein’s instructive and entertaining Worst-case Scenarios, the...



My thanks to an anonymous referee.


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  2. Norman, Daniels. 2008. Just health. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Price, David. 2000. Legal and ethical aspects of organ transplantation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
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  5. Schelling, Thomas. 1984. Choice and consequence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
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  7. The Economist. 2008. Bagehot, July 26: 63.Google Scholar
  8. Wilkinson, T.M. 2003. Against Dworkin’s endorsement constraint. Utilitas 15: 175–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Wodehouse, P.G. 1981. Right ho Jeeves, reprinted in Life with Jeeves. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Population HealthUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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