Autonomy, Education, and Societal Legitimacy

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Autonomy, Education, and Societal Legitimacy I argue that autonomy should be interpreted as an educational concept, dependent on many educative institutions, including but not limited to government. This interpretation will improve the understanding of autonomy in relation to questions about institutional and societal legitimate authority. I aim to make plausible three connected ideas. (1) Respecting individual autonomy, properly understood, is consistent with an interest in institutions in social and political philosophy. Such interest, however, does require a broadening of questions about institutional and societal legitimacy. (2) Individual autonomy can and should be re-conceived as a multi-institutional educational notion. We must appreciate the manifold institutional process. There are diverse questions about legitimacy as institutional and societal authority that generate normative demands binding on the individual. (3) There is some uncertainty about which institutions do or should educate for autonomy. The shift to an educational, multi-institutional model of autonomy renders more questionable and probably de-emphasizes the role of blame and punishment as paradigmatically institutionalized expressions of respect for autonomy in educating for autonomy. Nonetheless, such an educational model does not eliminate concern about autonomy, blame and punishment. Rather, it broadens questions about the legitimacy of the normative function of various institutions, and of society as a whole. I This paper is intended to make it plausible to believe three connected propositions. The paper is about the variety of social institutions that educate persons (for good or ill) about normative issues. It is about some connections betw... ... middle of paper ... ...cially p. 57. (12) Interestingly, Joel Feinberg is aware of the possible future decay of the nation-state, and he concedes that this might require some adjustments in our thinking about the analogy between autonomous individuals and autonomous states. Feinberg, however, does not seem to favor or even entertain the idea that if there were fundamental institutional changes, we might do well to modify our reliance on analogies between individual persons and states so far as the theory of autonomy is concerned. See Harm to Self, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986, pp. 50-51. Feinberg is here commenting on autonomy as the "sovereign authority to govern oneself". His position seems puzzling for many reasons, especially in its unsupported assertion that even if a sense of world community grows, we ought to continue to model individual autonomy on the nation-state.
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