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Paternalism (or parentalism) is behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group's liberty or autonomy for their good. Paternalism can also imply that the behavior is against or regardless of the will of a person, or also that the behavior expresses an attitude of superiority 
The word paternalism is from the Latin pater for father, though paternalism should be distinguished from patriarchy. Paternalism is sometimes thought appropriate towards children and paternalism towards adults is sometimes thought to treat them as if they were children.
Examples of paternalism include laws requiring the use of motorcycle helmets, a parent forbidding their children to engage in dangerous activities, and a psychiatrist confiscating sharp objects from someone who is suicidally depressed.
The terms soft and hard are used in two quite different senses in this context. Philosophers, following Joel Feinberg's influential book Harm to Self (1986), usually use "soft paternalism" for paternalism towards a person whose action or choice is insufficiently voluntary to be genuinely hers. Hard paternalism in this usage means paternalism towards a person whose action or choice is sufficiently voluntary to be genuinely hers. Soft paternalism in this usage may also refer to interference with a person aimed to establish whether or not her action or choice is sufficiently voluntary. In contrast, economists and lawyers usually use "soft paternalism" for mild paternalism, that is paternalism that is not coercive, or not very "heavy-handed". For example, libertarian paternalism is soft paternalism in this sense. Hard paternalism in this usage is coercive paternalism.
In his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke argues (against Robert Filmer) that political and paternal power cannot be identified. John Stuart Mill opposes state paternalism on the grounds that individuals know their own good better than the state does, that the moral equality of persons demands respect for others' liberty, and that paternalism disrupts the development of an independent character. In On Liberty he writes:
Contemporary opponents of paternalism often appeal to the ideal of personal autonomy.