Dupes of Patriarchy: Feminist Strong Substantive Autonomy's Epistemological Weaknesses

Hypatia 28 (4):887-904 (2013)
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Feminist strong substantive autonomy (FSSA), as presented by Natalie Stoljar and Anita Superson, pronounces judgment on the autonomy status of certain women living under oppression. These women act on deformed desires, Superson explains, and as deformed desires cannot be the agent's own, the women are heteronomous. Stoljar argues that some women's choices violate the Feminist Intuition; by acting on false and oppressive values, these women render themselves heteronomous. I argue against Stoljar and Superson on epistemological grounds. I present six different ways in which agents' choices can be related to deformed desires, with varying results for their autonomy statuses. I show that Stoljar and Superson are not able to distinguish properly among the differing autonomy statuses in these six cases, because doing so requires attention to agents' inner processes of decision-making, as those processes are enacted in the agents' social and temporal contexts. Stoljar and Superson judge others' autonomy statuses based on abstract generalizations rather than via empirical attention to agents' actual decision-making processes. Consequently, their judgments are not adequate to the lived self-direction of real persons. Assessing others' autonomy status requires consideration of agents' inner choice-making in sociotemporal context, which favors a procedural or weak substantive account of autonomy



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