Practical Philosophy Seminar: Jakob Elster, "Autonomy in political philosophy"
Abstract: The concept of autonomy is arguably one of the key concepts of political philosophy. This paper seeks to provide an overview of the different roles autonomy plays within political philosophy and of possible conflicts and tensions between these roles. I will first try to describe the concept of autonomy, as this is often understood in both moral and political philosophy. I argue that autonomy has two main aspects: first autonomy involves developing one’s own understanding of what kind of life one wants to live and what one wants to do and acting, at least with some success, based on that understanding. Next, autonomy involves having a set of normative powers, including both the power to impose laws upon oneself and immunities from others. Building in this understanding of the twin aspects of autonomy, I describe and discuss different functions the concept of autonomy has in political philosophy, notably: i) autonomy as a goal; ii) autonomy as a constraint; and iii) autonomy as a foundation.