Personal Autonomy

Dissertation, Dalhousie University (Canada) (1994)

Susan Dimock
York University
This dissertation provides a philosophical analysis of personal autonomy. Personal autonomy is defined as the condition of being self-directed. The conditions which make such self-direction possible are then explored. ;Self-direction requires that one's actions are motivated by authentic reasons for action. One makes some of one's desires authentic by critically reflecting upon and identifying with them. One identifies with a particular desire when one approves of it as a reason for action, thus desiring that it be an effective desire. Provided that one's identification with a desire is decisive and one is not ambivalent with respect to it, identification is sufficient for the authenticity of one's desires. ;This capacity to adopt authentic reasons for action cannot be sufficient for the autonomy of one's desires or actions, though. For authenticity is a function solely of the psychological states of an individual; yet autonomy cannot be adequately explicated solely by reference to an agent's subjective states. I refer to those theories which make the autonomy of a person's desires solely a function of her psychological states as "internalist", and argue that such theories must be rejected. An "externalist" is one who denies that autonomy is wholly a function of the psychological states of the individual, and so holds that the autonomy of a desire is determined, at least in part, by facts which are independent of the subjective attitudes of the agent. ;I defend a form of externalism, which makes the autonomy of a desire depend upon the following conditions: the agent must approve of it as a reason for action; the agent must have the capacity to respond appropriately to whatever reasons there are for and against it; the agent must have been able to avoid falling into error concerning the object of the desire and the desire itself; the agent's approval of it is not caused solely by a restriction of her feasible options or coercion. ;I argue that this is a more plausible theory than other externalist positions, and it can meet the objections which have beset internalist theories
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