Independence as Relational Freedom

In Sandrine Berges & Siani Alberto (eds.), Women Philosophers on Autonomy. London, UK: pp. 94-112 (2018)
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Abstract

In spite of its everyday connotations, the term independence as republicans understand it is not a celebration of individualism or self-reliance but embodies an acknowledgement of the importance of personal and social relationships in people’s lives. It reflects our connectedness rather than separateness and is in this regard a relational ideal. Properly understood, independence is a useful concept in addressing a fundamental problem in social philosophy that has preoccupied theorists of relational autonomy, namely how to reconcile the idea of individual human agency with the inevitable and necessary influence of other people, both directly and indirectly. I derive my account from the work of Mary Wollstonecraft and Catharine Macaulay, whose contributions have remained largely overlooked by current republican theorists. I have three purposes in this chapter. First, I set out the relational character of independence. Secondly, I outline a republican approach to the problem of structural social threats to agency. Finally, I hope to establish the basis for a fruitful dialogue between republicans and relational autonomy theorists on the requirements and dynamics of individual agency and freedom in oppressive social situations. I identify three distinctive features of the internal logic of freedom as independence that give it a relational character: it always locates the person within a community; there is a mediating role played by the notion of arbitrariness in connecting individual and collective perspectives; a causal relationship exists linking each person’s freedom as independence such that that the dependence of one class of persons jeopardizes the independence of the whole community.

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Alan M. S. J. Coffee
King's College London

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