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Social Theory and Practice

Volume 45, Issue 2, April 2019

Alycia W. LaGuardia-LoBianco
Pages 249-285

Self-Saboteurs and Ethical Relationships

Common-sense morality tells us we should help our loved ones who suffer. Self-saboteurs complicate this intuition: ought we help someone who wants to suffer? In this paper, I discuss mechanisms of and motivations for self-sabotaging behavior. I then turn to the ethical complications of these cases: the risk of becoming complicit in another’s self-sabotage; the acceptable limits of caring for a self-saboteur; and the permissibility of paternalistic interference. I argue that while there is some permissible leeway involved in meeting another’s needs—including submitting to their low-stakes manipulation—doing so risks damaging the relationship. While paternalistic interference may seem justified, I argue that this approach is a morally problematic denial of the self-saboteur’s agency. Instead, I offer an alternative route between complicity and interference: carers ought to try to maintain a relationship built on the honest recognition of each other’s reasons, which may include the self-saboteur’s legitimate reasons to suffer.

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