It's for their own good

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  • #1
arildno
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"It's for their own good"

Who can be considered as fully sovereign individuals, whose decisions others have a moral duty to “respect”, in the sense of non-interference with their choice?

And who, if any, should NOT be regarded as sovereign individuals, and therefore, can be justifiedly forced into doing something against their own wishes?

For example: Are children fully qualified to make their own decisions? Schizofrenics? Elderly suffering from dementia? Suicidals and other self-loathers?

Discuss..
 

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  • #2


Anyone can be forced into doing something against their wishes. Definitions of what murder is might vary but I think everyone would agree that a murderer can be stopped. And the vast majority of people would agree that people can be forced to pay taxes. ("Fair" taxes at least, ones that represent an equitably distributed burden, whether they think the current taxation scheme is fair or not.) And people can be forced to fulfill their parental duties...

Perhaps the only individual that would really be fully sovereign would be God. But I mention that only in passing of course, as we don't discuss religion on PF.
 
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It depends. There's the easy examples you mentioned such as wards of the state but then again nobody's free will is totally respected, for example it's illegal to shoot heroin and most people prefer it that way.
 
  • #4
arildno
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Anyone can be forced into doing something against their wishes.
Sure, but where does the limit go?

To stop a murderer, or deprive a neglecting parent of his child are quite different cases from the ones above, since the level of interaction of that person with others is far higher than in the cases mentioned.

But, we can reasonably argue that a self-loather who in a fit of self-contempt harms himself only affects himself through that action.

And then, moral permissibility of stopping that person from doing so would be based not on preventing harm to others (which can be argued for quite independently, and far more easily), but rather on that by this act, the person is no longer morally competent, and hence some actions he performs that only affects himself may can still justifiedly be prevented by others (i.e, "us", as self-appointed wardens of the individual)
 
  • #5
mgb_phys
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For example: Are children fully qualified to make their own decisions?
There was a case about smacking a child where the judge ruled that if it wasn't acceptable to smack an adult it shouldn't be acceptable to smack a child.
There was an an excellent response from a parent asking if they had to rule that their child was a terrorist suspect in order to ground' them.
 
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  • #6
arildno
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While I previously was strongly against physical correction of children, I am now not longer so sure that it is necessarily a bad act.

Nor, would I say, is it necessarily wrong to smack an adult if he behaves in a manner a child deserves of smacking..
 
  • #7
russ_watters
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Sure, but where does the limit go?
In the OP you asked "Who can be considered as fully sovereign individuals", to which the answer is simple, clear-cut: no one, except in the case of a pure anarchic society. That's what a "government" is - sovereignty ceded to another for the common good.

However, if you really mean how far does the sovereignty go and how it differs for different people, the question is very complex. The answers start with the system of government/political theory you subscribe to. Ie, more clasically liberal societies have fewer restrictions. I would also start with defining the boundaries for a fully functional and priveledged adult, then go into how the boundaries narrow for individuals of lesser functionality/priveledge (for lack of better terms).

In short, though, the basic guiding principle a government should use (imo) is that the law should protect people from mistakes they are incapable of reasonably avoiding -- in cases where those mistakes do not greadly adverseley affect others. There are gray areas, though, such as seat belt and helmet laws and smoking/drinking/drug laws. Some of these laws, however, are as much about protection of society as they are protection of the individual.
 
  • #8


Sure, but where does the limit go?

To stop a murderer, or deprive a neglecting parent of his child are quite different cases from the ones above, since the level of interaction of that person with others is far higher than in the cases mentioned.

In your original post you didn't really give example cases, you listed types of people. All of the types of people you list seem to me examples of people whose judgment is potentially impaired in one way or another: minors through inadequate or incomplete knowledge or understanding, schizophrenics and depressed people and the demented through mental illness.

In the cases I think you may be associating with those types of people, I think that the argument to restrict or supersede their apparent decisions isn't that they are not sovereign agents, but rather that impaired judgment makes it so that they aren't really making the decision that they think they're making. If such a person could be demonstrated to be making a decision in sound mind and with full understanding I don't think it would be just to ignore or override their wishes.

Similarly, someone who on average is normally an adult of unimpaired judgment might temporarily be in a state of impaired judgment: through drugs, an injury such as a concussion, emotional stress from something like extreme grief, sugar imbalance á la the Twinkie Defense...
But, we can reasonably argue that a self-loather who in a fit of self-contempt harms himself only affects himself through that action.

So in that case the idea isn't that it's okay to prevent people from making choices that harm themselves, it is that the "self-loather" is in some mental state that results in impaired judgment - and that is the source of the apparent decision to harm themselves, not genuine sovereign will.

If you are choosing to harm yourself out of sovereign will - say, ruining your lungs through smoking or wrecking your knees through playing professional football or volunteering for a suicide mission in the military - that's not something it's okay to interfere with.
 
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  • #9
arildno
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Sure enough, we would refer to "impaired judgment" to justify interference, but that is sort of assuming what we are to conclude,isn't it?
What set of criteria can reasonably be set up in order to identify "true" "impaired judgment" rather, than say, taking from a trouser-wearing single mom custody of her child by saying "no woman of sound mind can live like this, thus she can't be a parent".

Suchlike interferences based on prejudices have not at all been uncommon, how should we develop criteria that are not just the expressions of mere prejudices against the "Other"?
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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Liberal societies do not base rulings of impairment on situational criteria as you suggest. Individual rights demand individualized rulings based on evidence of impairment.
 
  • #11
arildno
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Well, what constitutes objective impairment, then?
You'll need to have some sort of measurable criteria that have to be fulfilled in order to conclude the existence of "impairment", and that those picked criteria are REASONABLE criteria.
 
  • #12
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There never will be a constant measure for impaired judgement because the baseline of judgement varies from person to person, so wether impaired judgement is impaired is a relative matter. Kids have impaired judgement relative to adults but not relative to their peers. Some judge or some mental health professional has to consider all the facts to decide wether someone's judgement has diminished or is not where is should be.
 
  • #13
russ_watters
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Right - cases are considered individually, by experts in the appropriate field. There is no objective criteria.
 
  • #14


Sure enough, we would refer to "impaired judgment" to justify interference, but that is sort of assuming what we are to conclude,isn't it?
What set of criteria can reasonably be set up in order to identify "true" "impaired judgment" rather, than say, taking from a trouser-wearing single mom custody of her child by saying "no woman of sound mind can live like this, thus she can't be a parent".

Suchlike interferences based on prejudices have not at all been uncommon, how should we develop criteria that are not just the expressions of mere prejudices against the "Other"?

You're mixing things up here - enforcing parental responsibilities (like paying child support) was an example I gave up top of how forcing someone to do things they don't wish to is commonplace. And then I was talking about impaired judgment in regards to the initial cases, or types of people, you mentioned in your original question.

Removing a child from a parent's custody is a completely different scenario from the other ones discussed. It's something that is done if remaining with the parent may somehow harm the child. (Or if the child is now in someone else's custody, returning the child to the parent's custody might cause the greater harm.) It is the obligation of the state to take actions in the best interest of or to protect the child. This might actually have nothing to do with the parent's competence; the welfare of children is a sort of legal "warp zone" where normal rules are bent with the paramount requirement to look out for the child's welfare no matter what.

You're kind of going all over the map here, arildno - it makes it seem as though you're fishing around for something to be outraged about.
 

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