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Offensive Beneficence


Simple acts of kindness that are performed sincerely and with evident good will can also, paradoxically, be perceived as deeply insulting by the people we succeed in benefiting. When we are moved to help someone out of genuine concern for her, when we have no intention to humiliate or embarrass her and when we succeed at benefiting her, how can our generosity be disparaging or demeaning to her? Yet, when the tables are turned, we sometimes find ourselves brusquely refusing assistance from others or accepting it only grudgingly while trying to show that we do not need their charity. People with disabilities often find ourselves in situations of this sort, where we bristle at others who rush to open doors for us, for instance, while our kindhearted benefactors are surprised and hurt by the cold reception they receive for their efforts. My aim is to explain some of the ways in which well-intentioned and effective beneficence can be offensive, with special emphasis on cases in which someone provides assistance to a disabled person.

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Journal of the American Philosophical Association
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