Autonomy in Relation

Andrea C. Westlund

in Out from the Shadows

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199855469
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932788 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

Autonomy in Relation

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This essay identifies a connection between the capacities required for individual autonomy and the capacities required for a particular form of shared agency. Like other feminist philosophers, I hold that individual autonomy must be understood in relational terms. In the first section of the essay, I argue that that autonomy is constitutively relational in the sense that it depends upon a dialogical disposition to hold oneself answerable to external, critical perspectives. In the second section, I argue that this disposition is intimately tied to a capacity for symmetrically shared or “joint” deliberation. Joint deliberation is, in my view, a centrally important form of shared agency, particularly in the context of informal, personal relationships such as friendship and love. I argue that, in virtue of its dialogical structure, joint deliberation constitutes us as autonomous in relation to one another. This is because joint deliberation depends on the presence of mutually referring attitudes that are also integral to the individual autonomy of the participants. In the final section of the paper I consider the significance of this argument from a feminist point of view, arguing that, under moderately favorable conditions, we should expect joint deliberation to destabilize acceptance of social norms that are in tension with an agent’s own self-presentation as autonomous.

Keywords: feminism; autonomy; relational autonomy; shared agency; joint deliberation; friendship; love

Chapter.  9868 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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