abc (actually not even a) of autonomy

Man makes history, Marx famously averred, but under circumstances and conditions not of his own choosing.

That’s a natural gloss to place upon the stricture that our autonomy is always only partial. Yet from the perspective that sees us as the product of history, society, culture – and, a fortiori, from the grandly scientific perspective that sees us enmeshed in causal chains that stretch from starfish to the stars – what really remains of autonomy?

You, the putatively autonomous individual, are confined to the options that are available to you; and those options themselves represent substantial fixities, a nexus of institutions and practices you did not create yourself.

If your values represent what you desire to desire (in David K. Lewis’s elegant formulation), what you desire to desire may not be up to you, in the sense that your “will” is the product of forces external to it.

Even sticking to the social realm, we know that, for example, the phenomenon that Jon Elster taught us to call “adaptive preference formation” tends to align what people want with what they can get – to conform their desires to their options. And your choices are further limited by your capacities. And those capacities are bequeathed by your natural endowments and your training, neither of which you chose.

από το βιβλίο του Kwame Anthony Appiah THE ETHICS OF IDENTITY

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