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Essay On Relational Self



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Related to this is the adherence to at least a procedural individualism: within contemporary personal autonomy accounts, an action is not judged to be autonomous because of its rootedness in universal principles, but based on features of the action and decision-making process purely internal and particular to the individual agent. The main distinction within personal autonomy is that between content-neutral accounts, which do not specify any particular values or principles that must be endorsed by the autonomous agent, and substantive accounts which specify some particular value or values that must be included within autonomous decision-making. Content-neutral accounts, also called procedural, are those which deem a particular action autonomous if it has been endorsed by a process of critical reflection.

These represent the majority of accounts of personal autonomy. They are neutral with respect to what an agent might conceive of as good or might be trying to achieve. The beginning of the contemporary discussion of personal autonomy is in the s works of Harry Frankfurt and Gerald Dworkin. Their concern was to give an account of what kind of individual freedom ought to be protected, and how that moral freedom may be described in the context of contemporary conceptions of free will. Their insight was that our decisions are worth protecting if they are somehow rooted in our values and overall commitments and objectives, and that they are not worth protecting if they run counter to those values, commitments, and objectives.

The concept of personal autonomy, thus, can be used as a way of protecting certain decisions from paternalistic interference. Frankfurt and Dworkin phrase this insight in terms of a hierarchy of desires. Roughly speaking, according to this hierarchical model, an agent is autonomous with respect to an action on the condition that his or her first-order desire to commit the act is sanctioned by a second-order volition endorsing the first-order desire see Frankfurt , This account is neutral with respect to what the origins of the higher-order desires may be, and thus does not exclude values and desires that are socially or relationally constituted. Autonomy includes our ability to consider and ask whether we do, in fact, identify with our desires or whether we might wish to override them Dworkin We would hesitate to call such a hypnotized or mind-controlled agent autonomous with respect to his or her actions under these circumstances, but since the hierarchical model does not specify where or how the second order volitions ought to be generated, it cannot adequately distinguish between an autonomous agent and a mind-controlled one.

The structure of autonomous agency therefore seems to have a historical dimension to it, since the history of how we developed or generated our volitions seems to matter see Mele , John Christman develops a historical model of autonomy in order to rectify this problem, such that the means and historical process by which an agent reaches certain decisions is used in determining his or her status as autonomous or not Christman This way, an agent brainwashed into having desire X would be deemed nonautonomous with respect to X.

The theory runs into difficulty in a case where an agent might freely choose to give up his or her autonomy, or conversely where an agent might endorse a desire but not endorse the means by which he or she was forced into developing the desire see Taylor , , but at least it draws attention to some of the temporal features of autonomous agency. Another criticism of the hierarchical model is the Regress or Incompleteness Problem.

According to Frankfurt and Dworkin, an agent is autonomous with respect to his or her first order desires as long as they are endorsed by second-order desires. However, this raises the question of the source of the second-order volitions; if they themselves rely on third-order volitions, and so on, then there is the danger of an infinite regress in determining the source of the autonomous endorsement see Watson If the second order desires are autonomous for some other reason than a higher-order volition, then the hierarchical model is incomplete in its explanation of autonomy.

However, the choice of terminating the series is itself arbitrary if there no reason behind it Watson To stop at this point is, Frankfurt argues, hardly arbitrary. The criterion of wholeheartedness and unified agency has been criticized by Diana Meyers, who argues for a decentered, fivefold notion of the subject, which includes the unitary, decision-making self, but also acknowledges the functions of the self as divided, as relational, as social, as embodied, and as unconscious Meyers The ideal of wholeheartedness has also been criticized on the grounds that it does not reflect the agency of agents from oppressed groups or from mixed traditions.

Edwina Barvosa-Carter sees ambivalence as an inescapable feature of much decision-making, especially for mixed-race individuals who have inherited conflicting values, commitments, and traditions Barvosa-Carter Marina Oshana makes a similar point, with reference to living within a racist society Oshana In any case, it is a puzzle how decisive commitments or higher-order desires acquire their authority without themselves being endorsed, since deriving authority from external manipulation would seem to undermine this authority. A related objection to the Regress Problem is that this hierarchical account seems to give an unjustified ontological priority to higher versions of the self see Thalberg In order to give a procedural account that would avoid these objections, Friedman has proposed an integration model in which desires of different orders ought to be integrated together, rather than being constructed in a pyramid Friedman Part of the appeal of understanding autonomy is not simply in explaining how we make decisions, but because the idea of autonomy suggests something about how we identify ourselves, what we identify with.

For Frankfurt, we identify with a lower level desire if we have a second order volition endorsing it. An agent has a preference if he or she holds a certain first level desire to be good; it is similar to a second order volition for Frankfurt. A self, then, is a particular character with certain beliefs and preferences which have been endorsed in a process of self-reflection, and the ability to reshape those beliefs and preferences in light of self-evaluation.

The true self includes those beliefs and preferences which cohere together; that coherence itself gives them authorization. Michael Bratman develops a similar account, arguing that our personal identity is partly constituted by the organizing and coordinating function of our long-range plans and intentions Bratman , 5. Our decisions are autonomous or self-governing with respect to these plans. But it should be enough to make clear the way in which theorists offering these accounts strive to ensure that no particular view of what constitutes a flourishing human life is imported into their accounts of autonomy.

Autonomy is just one valued human property amongst others, and need not do all the work of describing human flourishing Friedman Some doubt, however, that proceduralist accounts are adequate to capture autonomous motivation and action, or to rule out actions that or agents who we would hesitate to call autonomous. Substantive accounts of autonomy, of which there are both weak and strong varieties, set more requirements for autonomous actions to count as autonomous. Whether weak or strong, all substantive accounts posit some particular constraints on what can be considered autonomous; one example might be an account of autonomy that specifies that we might not autonomously be able to choose to be enslaved.

We do not need to be metaphysically responsible for ourselves or absolutely self-originating, but as agents we are morally responsible, and capable of revising ourselves according to our moral reasoning Wolf Contemporary Kantians such as Thomas Hill and Christine Korsgaard also advocate substantive accounts of autonomy. Korsgaard argues that we have practical identities which guide us and serve as the source of our normative commitments Korsgaard This identity generates universal duties and obligations. Just as Kant called autonomy our capacity for self-legislation, so too Korsgaard calls autonomy our capacity to give ourselves obligations to act based on our practical identities.

Since one of these is a universal moral identity, autonomy itself thus has substantive content. Autonomy, for Hill, means that principles will not simply be accepted because of tradition or authority, but can be challenged through reason. He acknowledges that in our society we do not experience the kind of consensus about values and principles that Kant supposed ideally rational legislators might possess, but argues that it is still possible to bear in mind the perspective of a possible kingdom of ends.

Human dignity, the idea of humanity as an end in itself, can represent a shared end regardless of background or tradition Hill , Substantive accounts have been criticized for conflating personal and moral autonomy and for setting too high a bar for autonomous action. Does arguing that agents living under conditions of oppressive socialization have reduced autonomy help set a standard for promotion of justice, or does it overemphasize their diminished capacity without encouraging and promoting the capacities that they do have?

This interplay between our socialization and our capacity for autonomy is highlighted in the relational autonomy literature, covered below. In order to come to some middle ground between substantive and procedural accounts, Paul Benson has also suggested a weak substantive account, which does not specify any content, but sets the requirement that the agent must regard himself or herself as worthy to act; in other words, that the agent must have self-trust, self-respect Benson Feminist philosophers have been critical of concepts and values traditionally seen to be gender neutral, finding that when examined they reveal themselves to be masculine see Jaggar , Benjamin , Grimshaw , Harding and Hintikka , and Lloyd Autonomy has long been coded masculine and associated with masculine ideals, despite being something which women have called for in their own right.

There has been some debate over whether autonomy is actually a useful value for women, or whether it has been tarnished by association. The ideal of the autonomous individual could only be created by abstracting from the relationship of dependency between men and women. The relationships which people require to nurture them are considered private, and not truly relationships with outside others. Thus the other is reduced to an appendage of the subject — the mere condition of his being — not a being in her own right. The individual who cannot recognize the other or his own dependency without suffering a threat to his identity requires the formal, impersonal principle of rationalized interaction, and is required by them.

Benjamin , Benjamin ultimately argues that the entire structure of recognition between men and women must be altered in order to permit an end to domination. Neither Gilligan nor Benjamin addresses the possibility of reformulating the notion of autonomy itself, but each sees it as essentially linked with individualism and separation. Most feminist criticism of autonomy is based on the idea that autonomy implies a particular model or expectation of the self. Marilyn Friedman and John Christman, however, point out that the proceduralist notion of autonomy which is the focus of contemporary philosophical attention does not have such an implication, but is metaphysically neutral and value neutral Friedman , ; Christman It addresses the challenge of balancing agency with social embeddedness, without promoting an excessively individualistic liberal atomism, or denying women the agency required to criticize or change their situation.

The feminist work on relational autonomy attempts to capture the best of the available positions. It is worth noting first, for clarity, that there are two levels of relationality at work within relational autonomy: social and relational sources of values, goals, and commitments, and social and relational commitments themselves. While all acknowledge that relationality at both levels is not incompatible with autonomy, not all accounts of relational autonomy require that we pursue social and relational commitments.

However other relational autonomy theorists are skeptical about neatly separating the two, because they note that even our unchosen relationships still affect our self-identity and opportunities. They argue that while we need not pursue relationships, we cannot opt out entirely. Anne Donchin demonstrates this with regard to testing for genetically inherited disease Donchin In general, on relational autonomy accounts, autonomy is seen as an ideal by which we can measure how well an agent is able to negotiate his or her pursuit of goals and commitments, some of which may be self-chosen, and some the result of social and relational influences.

The primary focus of most relational autonomy accounts, however, tends to be less on procedure and more on changing the model of the autonomous self from an individualistic one to one embedded in a social context. The value of autonomy can be seen in its social and political context. The idea that our decisions, if made autonomously, are to be respected and cannot be shrugged off, is a valuable one. It concerns the legitimacy of our personal decisions in a social, political, and legislative context.

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