Autonomy, authority, and anarchy

Humphries, James Hume (2017) Autonomy, authority, and anarchy. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The problem of the ‘mountain man’, the caricature of self-sufficiency and individualism, is not a new one for autonomy theorists. It seems plausible that there is genuine value in self-direction according to one’s deeply-held principles. If autonomy involves something like this, then anyone concerned with autonomy as a social rather than individualistic phenomenon must explain what (if anything) the mountain man gets wrong when he denies that his autonomy admits of being placed under obligations to others. In particular, the mountain man challenges autonomy-minded social anarchists: if his denial of legitimate non-voluntary obligations is correct, then it is not just the state we should reject, but any organising body with coercive powers. This may be consistent with individualist anarchism or right-libertarianism, but it sits ill with the social anarchist intuition that we can have genuine political obligations (albeit not to the state).
My thesis addresses this problem in three stages. First, I argue for a functional analysis of authority and autonomy: the concepts are not pre-existing “immovable objects”, but rather are defined by the role that they are intended to play in our discourse. I suggest that we need a concept of political or institutional authority in order to resolve co-ordination problems and pursue collaborative social goods, and a concept of autonomy to explain when and why self-direction is valuable.
Second, I defend a social-relational conception of autonomy. The autonomous agent is powerful and authoritative, where this power and authority is in large part constituted, rather than merely affected, by the social structures and relations that we stand in. We are powerful and authoritative (and thus autonomous), I argue, when we stand in relations of non-domination: we are not vulnerable to arbitrary interference in our lives, and this non-vulnerability is defended in virtue of recognition respect for us as agents. There are two important implications of this account: that autonomy comes with a built-in equality condition whereby everybody’s autonomy is threatened if anybody’s is, and that there is no principled distinction to be drawn between ‘personal’ and ‘political’ autonomy.
In the last three chapters, I suggest an autonomy-justified conception of authority. I argue for autonomy as the crucial collaborative good which authoritative institutions help us to pursue, and suggest that such institutions may legitimately claim authority if they act or effect actions in ways which are likely to promote or defend autonomy-constituting relations, and act or effect actions in ways consistent with maximal equal autonomy. Finally, I return to the anarchist argument, showing that while my accounts of autonomy and authority give us a plausible picture of how autonomy is compatible with genuinely authoritative institutions, this picture still has no room for the state.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Some sections of Chapter 4 published as part of 'Intimacy, Autonomy and (Non) Domination' in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (forthcoming)
Keywords: Political philosophy, autonomy, authority, anarchy, anarchism, relational autonomy, social philosophy.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Funder's Name: The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (CARNEGTR)
Supervisor's Name: Colburn, Dr. Ben
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Dr James Humphries
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8020
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 May 2017 10:16
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2017 16:09

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