Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism
Edited by John Christman
Edited by Joel Anderson
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2005
Online Publication Date:December 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511610325.008
One of liberalism's core commitments is to safeguarding individuals' autonomy. And a central aspect of liberal social justice is the commitment to protecting the vulnerable. Taken together, and combined with an understanding of autonomy as an acquired set of capacities to lead one's own life, these commitments suggest that liberal societies should be especially concerned to address vulnerabilities of individuals regarding the development and maintenance of their autonomy. In this chapter, we develop an account of what it would mean for a society to take seriously the obligation to reduce individuals' autonomy-related vulnerabilities to an acceptable minimum. In particular, we argue that standard liberal accounts underestimate the scope of this obligation because they fail to appreciate various threats to autonomy.
The reason these vulnerabilities have been underestimated, we believe, is because autonomy has generally been understood in an essentially individualistic fashion. The alternative account of autonomy we sketch here highlights the ways in which individuals' autonomy can be diminished or impaired through damage to the social relations that support autonomy. By articulating a conception of autonomy in terms of, more specifically, a theory of mutual recognition, we aim to pinpoint the individualistic bias in liberal accounts and the concomitant underestimation of our dependence on relationships of respect, care, and esteem. We conclude by anticipating some broader implications of this for how proceduralist accounts of social justice ought to be revised.
Reference Type: bibliography