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Autonomy in Relation
September 21, 2009 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
UW System Fellow (2009-2010)
In recent years feminist philosophers have offered trenchant critiques of traditional, individualistic ideals of autonomy and have developed alternative relational conceptions that highlight social dimensions of agency and the self. This work has deepened and enriched philosophical thought about the conditions of individual agency and has opened up a point of fruitful contact and exchange between feminist thought and analytic moral psychology more generally. The paper tries to develop this exchange, in part by showing how a relational conception of autonomy can help us to understand an important form of shared agency. It argues that autonomy is constitutively relational in the sense that it depends upon a dialogical disposition to hold oneself answerable to external, critical perspectives. In holding oneself answerable, one implicitly treats oneself as “one’s own representative” in critical normative discourse. Though such treatment does not require the agent to hold particular substantive values or to be free from all social domination, it is nonetheless intimately tied to a capacity for what she calls symmetrically shared agency. When we engage in symmetrically shared decision-making and planning, the disposition to hold ourselves answerable to one another constitutes us not only as autonomous but also as equal participants in a shared deliberation.
Andrea Westlund is an assistant professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research and teaching interests are mainly in ethics and feminist philosophy, and her work focuses primarily on autonomy and shared agency in relationships of friendship and love. Her papers have been published (or are forthcoming) in Hypatia, The Monist, Philosophers’ Imprint, The Philosophical Review, and Signs.