Harmful Beneficence

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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Abstract

Beneficence is usually regarded as adequate when it results in an actual benefit for a beneficiary and satisfies her self-chosen end. However, beneficence that satisfies these conditions can harm beneficiaries' free agency, particularly when they are robustly dependent on benefactors. First, the means that benefactors choose can have undesirable side-effects on resources that beneficiaries need for future free action. Second, benefactors may undermine beneficiaries' ability to freely deliberate and choose. It is therefore insufficient to satisfy someone's self-chosen ends. Instead, good beneficence depends on whether the benefactor avoids undue influence over a beneficiary's deliberation and whether the choice of means is compatible with the beneficiary's conception of her good. Consequently, benefactors must have substantial respect for a beneficiary's free agency and the practical competence to choose means that take into account the beneficiary's conception of her good and the wider set of circumstances that influence her life.

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