John Christman (Pennsylvania State University): Caring for Autonomy: Becoming Self-Governing With Others' Help
Caring for Autonomy: Becoming Self-Governing With Others' Help
Professor of Philosophy, Political Science and Women's Studies
Penn State University
Respecting the autonomy of agents grounds various obligations to others such as non-interference, deference to her authority over self-regarding decisions, limitations on paternalism, and so on. According to a broadly liberal moral sensibility, respecting others? in this way implies accepting (in some sense) the values they autonomously hold even if they are judged problematic, immoral, self-destructive, or otherwise non-ideal. However, in discussions of such respect, it is generally assumed that persons expressing that respect (or not) have no direct bearing on whether the subject of that respect is herself autonomous. But in many situations, persons interact in a way that helps establish or re-establish the autonomy of one or both of these agents themselves.
For example, the would-be paternalist may be a committed aid worker whose professional obligation is to facilitate the process of re-establishing autonomy for vulnerable victims of trauma. In such scenarios, the usual lines between hard and soft paternalism, as well as the standard liberal rejection of the former, do not apply. Still, it would be wrong for the aid worker to simply impose her views of a decent life on the struggling person. How, then, do we reformulate restrictions on paternalism and other such normative strictures grounded in respect for autonomy in scenarios where the relationship between client and aid worker is itself a crucial part of the process that results in the self-governing agency of the client?
This paper explores these issues and argues that such (very typical) scenarios indicate that conceptions of autonomy must view the self as diachronic as well as socially constituted but also must be sensitive to the ways autonomy can be (re-)established only with others? help. In particular, the obligation to remain relatively neutral toward the content of others? values in showing respect for their autonomy (the broad liberal sensibility) must be reformulated to take into account the way interpersonal dynamics themselves help establish the autonomy with which persons hold the values that they hold. These observations are applied to cases of aid and care where such questions are central.