Autonomy and Its Discontents
Feminists, communitarians, and other social theorists have raised numerous challenges to the very possibility of the ideal of personal autonomy and its alleged value. This chapter offers a negative defense of autonomy by responding to six critical challenges that have been or may be leveled against it. These are that autonomy-self-determination is impossible because there are no selves; autonomy is impossible because selves cannot “determine” themselves: human actions are merely links in chains of interpersonal interactions; autonomy is impossible because selves cannot determine themselves: they cannot understand themselves accurately; autonomy is possible but not genuinely valuable, and may even be positively harmful, especially to socially subordinated or oppressed groups; autonomy is possible and genuinely valuable, but has been restricted in practice to elite social groups; and that autonomy is possible and genuinely valuable but can be, and has been, distorted in practice into something harmful.
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