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08/04/2016

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My own inclination is to "declare autonomy a useless concept," so I very much look forward to hearing what you have to say, Suzy!

My inclination is to seek to distinguish autonomy from moral responsibility. I have argued that keeping these two notions distinct can help to illuminate various debates and issues in agency theory. It think that autonomy entails responsibility but that you can be responsible without being autonomous.

John - I completely agree that we need to keep autonomy and moral responsibility distinct. For one thing, I don't think tracing typically applies to autonomous actions (just because I autonomously get drunk, it doesn't mean what I do when I'm drunk is autonomous!)
I do think it's a desideratum for a theory of autonomy that it can explain what the connection is supposed to be between autonomy and moral responsibility, though. Ditto for the connection between autonomy and paternalism; autonomy and consent; autonomy and political legitimacy; and so on. Where I think I differ from most is in my optimism that a single theory of autonomy can do all this work.

Hi Suzy,

Would - I don't know if there's already another term - autonomous accomplishment be included in your single concept? Around 18-24 months of age, a child will often start saying "No! *I* do it!" when a parent "helpfully" contributes to making a tower of blocks. From then on, most people attribute a personal value to autonomy. This seems like an important dimension to try to capture.

Hi Paul,
I agree this is really important. I don't have much to say about the acquisition of autonomy per se, but I do think your example draws attention to a very important aspect of autonomy that's frequently overlooked.

When philosophers of action attend to the relationship between intentions and actions, its typically in the context of grappling with the problem of deviant causal chains. I think this focus creates a tendency to assume that (autonomous) action requires a direct causal route between the agent's intention and her action, ruling out external assistance. But I claim in my manuscript that this is an over-generalization.

Certainly, there are cases in which external intervention between the intention and the action mean the action isn't the agent's own, and hence not autonomous: if I'm trying to shoot a hoop, and some benevolent genie intervenes to make sure the ball goes in, I haven't actually shot a hoop. But there are also plenty of cases in which this isn't the case. If I'm trying to pick up a glass that's placed too high, and someone sees what's going on and moves the glass to within my reach, I'm tempted to say I've (autonomously) picked up the glass.

The difference, I think, can be explained by the fact that different intentions have different success conditions. Sometimes it matters that I perform an action entirely under my own steam (the baseball example, and the toddler example, would fit into this category). Sometimes it only matters that the action gets done, no matter what the causal route (I think the glass example is like this). And other times, I think the success conditions are more fine-grained - some kinds of intervention, or interventions by some people, are OK, but others are ruled out (older children might consider an action successful if a friend has assisted, but not if a parent has, for instance).

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