Self-authored life stories: A narrative conception of personal autonomy
Although many conceptions of personal autonomy have been formulated, they strongly disagree about what kind of a thing autonomy is (i.e., a capacity, a condition, a competency, a right, an ideal), and they only account for partial and minimal levels of autonomy. In my thesis I develop a narrative conception of personal autonomy that significantly improves upon the conceptions formulated thus far in that it (1) accounts for high and ideal levels of autonomy, (2) characterizes the many complex elements of autonomy that the other accounts assume but fail to address, and (3) provides the criteria for evaluating autonomous lives.
I begin by establishing the problem of autonomy and distinguishing between partial, minimal, full, and ideal levels of autonomy. In Chapter Two I outline the neo-Kantian, desire-formation, socialization, and Razian “minimal” conceptions of autonomy, and I establish what I take to be an adequate minimal account. In Chapter Three I develop a narrative conception in which full autonomy is both a capacity and a condition and the fully autonomous person is self-author of her own life story. Chapter Four characterizes the capacities required for full autonomy: rational deliberation, self-reflection, self-control, and self-creation. The fully autonomous life story also demonstrates coherence, integrity, and authenticity; in Chapter Five I describe these alternative approaches to characterizing full autonomy. Chapter Six deals with the autonomy-supporting environment and the roles that options and internal and external obstacles play in the development and exercise of full autonomy. I conclude with a brief discussion of the value of personal autonomy, the reasons why autonomy is a good thing, and the ways in which the narrative conception of autonomy serves as a groundwork for a variety of important issues.