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There are numerous ways to conceptualize autonomy and to account for its value. Of particular poignancy is the question of whether autonomy has value for those people and cultures that apparently reject liberal principles, otherwise considered.
The answer one gives to that question has implications for whether autonomy-based liberalism can or should be seen as a perfectionist political philosophy. The two tasks are in fact related, as the conception of autonomy one offers affects claims one can plausibly make about the value it has. And at the other end of the spectrum one might define autonomy in a more value-neutral way which enables one to claim that such a characteristic is consistent with the self-understanding of a broader array of persons and cultures, but then the question is left open why autonomy so defined has any value at all.
This echoes a distinction between what have been labeled procedural accounts of autonomy, sometimes called content-neutral views, and substantive accounts. The latter category includes accounts of autonomy that require that the autonomous person have certain convictions, such as the value of their own independent thinking or independence from the control of others. In this way, a self-governing person might pursue any manner of obedient, constrained or self-abnegating life paths and retain that status of being labeled autonomous.
What must also be discussed are the social settings in which autonomy is to be evaluated, specifically acknowledging the non-ideal conditions that mark such settings. But as I will discuss below, that observation becomes troubled when certain abiding features of such societies are acknowledged and emphasized, specifically the highly heterogeneous nature of their populations including many groups that do not embrace autonomy as a value and the presence of people and groups who constantly struggle for respect for their individual and social identities.
These background issues will come into play in our examination and appraisal of the view of autonomy developed by Joseph Raz. Following that, I will take a brief foray into a description of the kind of non-ideal theorizing that I am undertaking here and of the social imperfections to which the principles and values we are describing must respond. The ideal of personal autonomy is the vision of people controlling to some degree, their own destiny, fashioning it through successive decisions throughout their lives.
Who our parents are, for example, and the conditions of our upbringing, but also countless other aspects of our inherited social existence, are aspects of our identity that we find ourselves with and either accept or resist but clearly did not choose. The major conditions of self-government, for Raz, are these: mental abilities that allow a person to form and act on her intentions and plans; independence from coercion and manipulation; and an adequate range of options.
Concerning the values that move one to action, as well as the conditions of the formation of those values, Raz is a bit less precise, but a general picture emerges.
He says at one point that autonomous persons identify with their choices, and he cites Harry Frankfurt as the source of such a requirement , p.
Later we will see that identification and non-alienation are not perfect compliments, at least not under some descriptions of identification. What authenticity comes to mean, however, will need more spelling out as we proceed, since Raz himself admits that while all of this is a matter of degree, it is often a tricky issue where to draw the line between the autonomous and heteronomous life. We are ourselves, he writes, when we are properly responsive to reason as we see it.
While this is helpful, it is not sufficient to capture the authenticity condition for autonomy that we need nor did Raz likely intend it to do so , for we may well respond to reason as we see it while acting on values and motives that are not our own, that is, which are the result of ideological conditioning, brainwashing or undue social pressure.
Further guidance comes from the condition of independence, specifically non-manipulation. Given that all our values have developed as a response to social conditioning, education, and cultural factors, the question is which ones of these support and which undercut the development of authentic selves?
The specification of the range of such options is driven by examples — of a person whose only choices are trivial The Man in the Pit and one who faces nothing by highly treacherous choices The Hounded Woman. In both cases the range is inadequate because it does not allow the person to pursue what he or she takes to be good projects or may take to be good in the future. This last caveat about declining the exercise of innate capacities helps Raz distinguish autonomy from self-realization, for a self-governing person may well choose to leave many of her talents undeveloped.
Further, he claims that such a range must include choices with long term consequences as well as short-term effects; and it must include enough variety to allow the person to exercise discernment in guiding her life by her own lights.
Besides this, however, Raz does not specify the general parameters of a proper range of options required for autonomy. No doubt this is because such a range will be highly variable and contingent on any number of local factors. Below I will try to fill in this picture in a spirit suggested by his remarks that may help with this specification.
Now for Raz, the necessity for having a range of open options follows from his conception of pluralism or more precisely competitive pluralism , where different ways of life have incommensurable value and include virtues that are inconsistent with the virtues of the others, see Raz , p. It is also linked to the idea that for autonomy to have value it must be such that the autonomous person is able to pursue the good, or at least one of a number of goods available for her in her society.
And the societies we are imagining wherein autonomy has such value are those that are organized around the assumption that people can and should be able to direct their own lives for themselves. But here is the focal point from which we will pivot to an alternative variation on the concept of autonomy in the next section. The broad social environment of such societies is built around the primacy of choice over major aspects of life, such as whom to marry and what lifestyle or career to pursue.
Raz, of course, acknowledges this, as his moral pluralism commits him to the view that there are irreconcilably rival ways to lead a flourishing life. However, a society built around the importance of individual choice will produce certain significant disadvantages to those who do not see the inherent value of a self-authored life, and we may want to account for such disadvantages in the basic contours of the political morality we favor.
This issue picks up on the distinction between substantive, value-laden, accounts of autonomy and procedural views which purport to be broadly value neutral. For to specify the kinds of options definitive of autonomy with too much of a specification of their value is to utilize a conception of autonomy that will be highly contentious and allegedly parochial. That is, I want to offer a parallel account of autonomy that places the condition of adequate options in a slightly different light, and in so doing will count many of those who participate in obedient, traditional and conformist cultures as themselves autonomous after all.
Before getting to that, however, let me take a very brief detour concerning non-ideal theory that will help support these conclusions. As we know, all societies, including liberal democracies, include people and groups who have suffered and continue to endure abject social disadvantage. Of relevance to our present concern are the ways that groups are systematically denigrated and marginalized in the broad social dynamic of these societies.
Discrimination, segregation, and exclusion plague many persons and groups in advanced democracies despite the general commitment in those societies to equality of opportunity and formal anti-discrimination, as well as varying levels of welfare state support for struggling populations. For such persons and groups, the enjoyment of autonomy requires social support: affirmative policies of recognition and respect to counter these malignant social tendencies.
Members of marginalized groups require both material and social resources that afford them greater capacity to act on the value of their identities and ways of life, as well as a degree of social recognition needed for them to effectively pursue life plans that they value in the social settings in which they live and work.
Consider support for language skills and cultural practices: open options are inadequate in the service of self-government unless positive support is provided to enable people to effectively evaluate and pursue options open to them.
Such conditions have come in various forms, from Hegelian recognition in views such as that of Axel Honneth and Joel Anderson to feminist accounts of relational autonomy see Anderson and Honneth ; see also Westlund Only if others relate to us with a degree of care, recognition and respect depending on the view in question can we be said to be self-governing on such theories.
As I noted, Raz views autonomy as self-authorship, and he included requirements of mental capabilities, independence and adequate options in his account of that condition. Let us turn to an alternative conception of autonomy that may help to fill in such descriptions. I would add that certain capacities for affective responsiveness, empathy, and care will be required for a broad range of choices and roles, such as parenting, friendship, and love that require them.
Moreover, there will be certain sorts of social and interpersonal relations that will be required for a person to develop the kinds of deliberative and choice-making capacities that autonomy requires. Note, however, that the relational conditions I refer to here are not inherently required for self-governing agency as some have claimed as, for example, would be required by a Hegelian conception of the subject in which interpersonal recognition in part constitutes self governing agency.
Rather, my view is that such relational dynamics are contingently related to the core capabilities of deliberation and effective choice named in the model because they are, generally speaking, instrumentally necessary for them the core capabilities to function see, e.
Central to the account of such authenticity, I think, must be a conception of the self involved in the exercise of agency, specifically the contours of the agent to indicate what is truly her or part of her life and identity as opposed to what happens to her or what is imposed on her.
To capture this sort of evaluative orientation of the person, I make use of the concept of practical identity , an idea I take from Christine Korsgaard but adapt in several ways. Such a self-schema can be characterized by a set of identity categories that carry with them core normative commitments.
To be this or that type of person — a professor, a parent, a loyal friend — is to be committed to a set of values that provide reasons to act in particular ways. I would insist, further, that such identities be understood diachronically in that they can only be conceived over a span of time that makes sense of memories but also organizes future plans. Further, the value orientations that function over time in this way are generally capacious enough to allow for change and growth, so that if I conceive of myself as an educator and scholar, this is consistent with a decision later in life to change fields, or to retire from institutional settings and pursue an unstructured and solitary life.
On the other hand, if I were to undergo a more radical change, morphing, say, into an anti-social, anti-intellectual hedonist who plays video games all day and never picked up another book, we would say that I have, practically speaking, changed identities.
In which case, what were once options that were necessary for me to pursue what I valued would no longer count as such and hence would be irrelevant to my autonomy.
They enable him to pick out those elements of his circumstance or of his proposed actions which require moral attention. Were it to fall to the ground or be stomped on by an unconcerned passerby, she would be shocked and offended, in a reaction that shows the function of a practical identity as ordering her mode of understanding the world, not merely a set of beliefs that she can consider as propositions.
This functional feature of practical identities is important in understanding how they can speak for the agent. Other features of practical identities ground this point further: First, practical identity structures and guides reflection, so that when we consider our motives and decisions we do so in a way that manifests our basic commitments.
Such identities explain and rationalize our motives over a variety of conditions and over time. Practical identities also organize memory, in that having a working self-concept structured by value commitments of this sort is necessary to engage in active construction of narrative first-person memories.
For example, Harry Frankfurt famously claimed that second order identification with our motives secured our autonomy freedom. The difference between cares and practical identities as I use the term, however, is that the latter are described functionally, as processes by which a person orients her evaluative judgments, and not commitments that she has or fixed relations with loved ones that simply amount to what Frankfurt calls volitional necessities.
On my view, a person is autonomous if she can reflectively accept her motives in light of their history without alienation, grounded in her ongoing practical identity. How that identity was formed is a crucial factor in determining whether such a person is self-governing or not. So on the view sketched here, a person is autonomous if from the perspective of her diachronic practical identity she can reflectively accept her motives given her history and social condition.
However, he makes this observation just after he asserts that the autonomous person must identify with her choices, citing Frankfurt as the source of such an idea. But as many have pointed out, identification is problematic as a condition of autonomy, mostly because it is ambiguous between the overly weak requirement that we simply acknowledge this or that trait of ours as ours including our compulsions and addictions or the overly strong idea of identifying with an ideal or a hero.
Now the reflection envisioned here need not be ongoing, as this view is consistent with the obvious fact that much self-governed activity is undertaken automatically, passionately and with immediate commitment that leaves no room for reflective consideration.
The autonomous person has the capacity to reflect and is disposed to reflectively accept her actions, though she may not explicitly do so in many cases. What matters is that she is not alienated in forming and acting on her intentions grounded in her diachronic identity. Much more needs to be said to fill out this account. For now, however, I merely want to emphasize two points: First, notice that the model makes no direct reference to open options or an adequate range of choice.
That is because the range of options required for autonomous agency is a fully derivative condition, one contingently attached to the requirements of self-government defined in terms of practical identities.
The options required to pursue projects grounded in that identity will vary according to their demands. There are different ways to be a mother, a philosopher, a plumber. But again, the adequacy of those options cannot be given in the abstract. What must be worked out in practice is a mode of social organization and policy structure that allows people to lead reflectively self-accepting lives.
Are my options increased when the desk across the room is moved to a different spot? Perhaps, if events conspire so that I must move in a path that the desk blocks. But absent even oblique reference to plans, action sequences and hence values and preferences by actual agents, the counting up of options will be meaningless.
To claim that having a range of options is an independent criterion for autonomy might imply that opening up options and encouraging change is a first priority in an autonomy-supporting society; while seeing autonomy as reflective self-acceptance, with opportunities for alternative paths in life a secondary and derivative requirement, will not have this implication. More on that point in a moment.
For notice that on the proceduralist view laid out here, there is no requirement that the autonomous person must pursue the good, except in the sense that she pursue things that mesh with her ongoing evaluative orientation so in that sense she must aim at what she herself takes as minimally good.
But there is no requirement that she aim at the good, either for autonomy to obtain or for it to have value. Raz defends his claim that autonomy has value only when exercised in pursuit of valuable options.
But as Jeremy Waldron points out, the status of the autonomous person is not at issue, it is her autonomy. One could similarly question whether intelligence and sensitivity are valuable traits by pointing out intelligent and sensitive murderers Waldron The point is that being self-governing is a value for the person enjoying that characteristic.
In particular, he claims that the political duty to promote valuable ways of life and to repress repugnant ones is tied to the value of autonomy because such value rests on the possibility of such valuable pursuits. However, I think the connection between autonomy and this kind of pluralist perfectionism remains controversial, and in the following section, I want to briefly describe how a non-perfectionist account of the value of autonomy might be given.
Justifying Toleration: Autonomy, toleration, and the harm principle
There are numerous ways to conceptualize autonomy and to account for its value. Of particular poignancy is the question of whether autonomy has value for those people and cultures that apparently reject liberal principles, otherwise considered. The answer one gives to that question has implications for whether autonomy-based liberalism can or should be seen as a perfectionist political philosophy. The two tasks are in fact related, as the conception of autonomy one offers affects claims one can plausibly make about the value it has. And at the other end of the spectrum one might define autonomy in a more value-neutral way which enables one to claim that such a characteristic is consistent with the self-understanding of a broader array of persons and cultures, but then the question is left open why autonomy so defined has any value at all.
The Argument from Autonomy
Joseph Raz 1 Estimated H-index: 1. Find in Lib. Add to Collection. References 0 Citations 45 Cite.