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Advertising Violates Autonomy

The main aim of this article is to portray Arrington’s criticism of the widespread arguments against the ethical decorum of advertising. In this case, he majorly discusses those that argue about advertisements undermining the consumer’s autonomy. There are several techniques discussed in this case that have been depicted to influence the consumer. Some of these techniques argued undermine the human independence I ways that are not morally acceptable. Some of these techniques include; indirect information transfer, puffery and subliminal advertising. Arrington virtually implies that none of our desires is autonomous. He argues that since we know all the information about a product, or other products that we may use as alternatives, none of our desires for products are based on reason; which does not make clear sense, (Arrington, 1982, pp. 3-12). He continues to say that the choice we make is normal if it is based on the correct information provided. In this case, the information would be relevant if it showed a consumer how it would satisfy need he has been having. The contradiction is that the advertisement gives all that information that imply to the consumer, that they will satisfy the need, and thus do not make the consumer choose anything against their free will.

However, many advertisements contain puffery, and they claim to posses the benefits, which are mostly imaginary. Buying products based on such information that makes one anticipate the said benefits is not a rational decision. Arrington says that the perceived benefits are biased, but real, (Arrington, 1982, pp. 3-12). Many people will buy a product due to the anticipated subjective effect, for example, the feeling of prestige or adventure. In the real sense, the products do not provide these subjective effects, therefore, such choices are not irrational. This, however, is disputed in that the advertisements generate the desires to purchase a product, desires that most of us find hard to resist. The irresistibility caused by such advertisement makes us go against our own will and deny us the autonomy. Arrington continues to argue that any action taken by the consumer is free if it is done for a reason; and if this is done for a reason, then it is free, (Arrington, 1982, pp. 3-12). When we look into this account carefully, it is evident that advertisements prompt us to produce some uncontrollable acts in us, but looking at it logically, they do not. To quote him, he says, “Most of us have a benevolent sub consciousness which does not overwhelm our ego and its reason for action; therefore, most of us can respond to unconscious advertising without thereby risking our autonomy.” By this, Arrington is trying to argue that we cannot be manipulated because most us posses a sub consciousness which cannot override the sort of ego that we posses. 

Arrington continues to say that if the stipulated advertisement on various products today were in any way manipulative or controlling to the consumers, they would have to control the consumer’s desires. He says that advertisement do not control desires but what they do is to give information that may appeal or fire the desire which a consumer already posses; given whether the consumer has those desires in the first place. With this, he stipulates that advertisement have no way of controlling or manipulating the consumers desires.

Lippke in his argument say that advertising undermine autonomy, majorly with the conditions that prevail in advanced countries such as the United States. He focuses mainly on persuasive advertising. He further tries to make a comparison between informational and persuasive marketing. Although informational marketing is not the main focus of this paper, it brings out important information about services and product, (Lippke, 2001, pp. 537-541). Such information includes availability and prices. He argues that with such information, a consumer is attracted by the provided information hence an interest in the product is presupposed. Autonomy in this case of information is undermined in two ways. One of the ways is by deceiving and manipulating the consumer by not providing adequate information which can help him make a rational, informed decision. He claims that when a consumer is exposed to that kind of advertising over and over, the key trait of a fully autonomous decision is eroded, (Lippke, 2001, pp. 537-541). On persuasive advertising, Lippke says that a product contains little information making the consumer try to associate one or more of his desires to the advertised product. Lippke concludes that it is bad to undermine the human autonomy because they need it to cut on the likelihood of being controlled or dominated by others.

Robert strongly builds her argument on Kant views. Kant also appears predominantly in the other articles. In his view, persuasive advertisement attempts to take off from people their ability to reason and proper judgment thus consider it immoral. He says that as a result of this, the enlightenment of the people is withdrawn and this should not be allowed. In a categorical essentiality, Robert suggests that a society that takes advantage of its own population is not a culture that we should all live in; He continues to say, in Kant’s words, he says that regardless of the concept on the product an advert proposes, it is improper to use persuasive advertising because it is adamantly wrong. Robert states that the moral worth of the advertisement lies on the act and not the consequences that follow it. To clarify that, he goes ahead to say that the act of persuasive advertising is the act and not the product or any negative implications it may come with.  In regard to those product that do not benefit the consumer in any manner, he feels that it is not in order to sell them. He seems to focus more on the use of those particular products, rather than their sale. Because of his ethical standing, Kant disapproves these products regardless of those  buying or selling them. He concludes by saying that even though some products may be considered bad, what comes to light d the discussion of good or bad within the consumers’ sphere that helps individuals develop their own autonomy and reasoning.

Many authors have argued that deceptive advertising is immoral, for it undermines human autonomy. As much as this may be true, the reasoning they give to substantiate their claim is inadequate (Phillips, 1997, pp. 213-115). Briefly, I would give a rough sketch of how they argue: first, thy briefly outline an account as to the nature of the human autonomy. They go ahead to argue that advertising mostly undermine human autonomy in many ways, for example, through implanting desires in consumers, by associating these products with a specific desire that it is meant to satisfy, and by misleading the consumer by drawing false claims about the features of a service or product. The last means by which the undermining of the consumer autonomy is achieved is entirely through the means of the content of information about the product in advertisements.

In my view, the above methods of analysis on the issue of immorality associated with advertising are not convincing. The real nature of the human autonomy is bigger than how these authors portray it. The next reason why normal advertisements are immoral is the reason that they suppress, and inhibit the development of total autonomy, therefore,  making it easy to control the consumer for the sake of developing a vulnerable society, of willing consumer which is a fundamentality of free market economy, (Chirkov, 2010, p. 320). Lastly, the real means by which the undermining of autonomy is achieved is by means of continually flooding the consumer with adverts that mostly contain persuasive content. Advertisers should, therefore, stop overwhelming the consumer with advertisements that contain persuasive content. The fact that advertisements manipulate the consumer into believing that they can achieve the fulfillment of any of their desires is wrong because this undermines consumer autonomy.

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