Second-order desire accounts of autonomy

The autonomous person is one who has, in some sense, mastery over their desires. The prevailing way to understand such personal autonomy is in terms of a hierarchy of desires. For Harry Frankfurt, persons not only have first-order desires, but possess the additional capacity to form second-order desires. Second-order desires are formed through reflection on first-order desires and are thus expressive of the rational capacity which is characteristic of persons. Frankfurt's account of freedom of the will is founded on his analysis of persons. It is only because persons possess second-order desires, resulting from their capacity for rational evaluation of first-order desires, that persons (and not those Frankfurt calls 'wantons') are well placed to possess freedom of will. Various objections have been raised in the literature against such second-order desire accounts of freedom of the will or autonomy. In my article, I raise the problem of instrumental second-order desires. I discuss the forms instrumental second-order desires can take and attempt to show that these cannot be the second-order desires that Frankfurt has in mind in his account. I then extend my critique by looking at non-instrumental second-order desires. I consider various forms which non-instrumental second-order desires can take and advance the argument that Frankfurt cannot have second-order desires such as these in mind either. Finally, I note that none of the suggestions considered will deliver a second-order desire account of autonomy, and that it is baffling just what Frankfurt does have in mind.
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