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08/16/2016

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Another interesting post, Suzy. Just to pick up where our discussion left off on the previous thread, I had a question: What changes if I replace "autonomy" with "free" throughout this post? I don't ask just to be a pest. I am often genuinely puzzled about the difference between the two. While what you said earlier is right--it seems that determinism plays a role in the free will literature to a greater extent than in the literature on autonomy--but I don't see why that is the case. After all, if all of my beliefs, values, desires, intentions, and practical deliberations were completely determined, then incompatibilists about free will claim we're unfree. It seems the same would hold with respect to autonomy given the elements you've identified. So, while I get that the autonomy framework is compatibilist, I am not sure why that is the case. Is it simply because it enables theorists in this domain to sidestep the problems that arise in the case of free will and determinism or is there some principled reason to think autonomy is not open to the worries about determinism, etc.?

Hi Thomas,
I can't claim to speak for others who work on autonomy, but I can at least say something about why I prefer that concept to free will, and in particular why I think it's fruitful to just sidestep worries about determinism.

It seems that if determinism holds, and if incompatibilists are correct, then none of us have free will. If autonomy and free will are interchangeable, then none of us are autonomous either. But even in such a world, it still seems to matter whether or not someone consents to surgery; it still matters if someone paternalistically intervenes in our actions; it still matters if people are brainwashed, or have adaptive preferences. Whatever it is that still matters, *that's* what I'm interested in. Autonomy gives me a language to focus in on those social and political questions.

That said, I do think that theories of autonomy have to grapple with problems that parallel worries about determinism, even if not in those terms. The problem of manipulation looms very large over here, and the difficulties it raises are very similar to difficulties raised by determinism (if our values, beliefs, etc are merely inculcated by others, how can they ground autonomy, etc...). We certainly can't just side-step that issue.

At the end of the day, though, I'd be open to the idea that free will and autonomy are just different names for the same phenomenon, and that the literatures have diverged to tackle metaphysical implications on the one hand, and social/political implications on the other. So feel free to think of my theory as a theory of free will - I'd be curious to hear what it looks like from that angle!

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