How far do we have a duty to protect others from themselves?
Does it extend from, say, removing alcohol an alcoholic has hidden
away to telling a relative's children to eat their food politely,
when the relative herself is indifferent to such matters? Are we
are brother's keepers? To what degree?
As a parent, an ever-older member of an extended family, and as a citizen of a somewhat democratic nation with a remarkably imprudent population, I struggle with this issue a lot. One way I think about this matter is first to make a distinction between (a) forcibly protecting people from themselves, (b) simply attempting to do so through persuasion, and © not acting at all. One general principle to use is that (1) competent and (2) independent people ought to be allowed maximal liberty, even to harm themselves, especially where significant pleasures are at stake. This helps us with clear cases. So, for example, one has a duty to intervene forcibly to protect one's young children from themselves--say by pulling their fingers away from an electrical socket. One's young children are neither competent nor independent. There are, however, people who are competent but not independent. One arguably has a duty to protect one's grown children, when those children remain bound up with a parent...
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