Relational Autonomy Taught By: Dr. Fiorella Battaglia (LMU München)

Graduate Course: Relational Autonomy
Taught By: Dr. Fiorella Battaglia (LMU München), Dr. Christine Bratu (LMU
München), Prof. Dr. Mari Mikkola (HU Berlin)
Date: 15.9.-19.9.2014 at the Venice International University
Participants: Apart from the students of VIU, participants both from LMU München
and HU Berlin are welcome. The total number of students should not exceed 25.
How to register: In order to sign up for this seminar, please write a short letter of intent
(not more than 500 words) stating why you are interested in the topic of relational
autonomy and whether you are already familiar with this debate. Please send your letter
and a short CV (not more than two pages) either to [email protected] (if you
study at HU Berlin) or to [email protected] (if you study at LMU
München) until the 30th of June 2014. Participation is conditional on acceptance.
Course description: Even though the concept of personal autonomy plays an important
part in both moral and political philosophy, is it far from clear how to spell it out.
Intuitively, an autonomous person is their own legislator, someone governing
themselves, determining on their own the course of their future actions, or simply doing
what they really want to do. Immanuel Kant has taken that to mean that an autonomous
agent is guided by their reason and not dominated by their passions, i.e. by what they
consider to be right and not simply by what they happen to want. Contemporary authors
such as Harry Frankfurt (troubled by the metaphysical implications of the Kantian
approach) come to a different conclusion: To act autonomously a person has to act upon
motives with which they can identify – where “identification” is not taken to mean some
sort of rational approval, but rather acceptance in the light of further motives. Thus, in
order to act autonomously a person does not have to be able to exercise some form of
reasonable control over their motivational set, it suffices that their motives back each
other up in an appropriate way.
Whilst this debate between incompatibilist and compatibilist accounts of autonomy has
been raging, a different issue has come to the foreground, raised mostly by feminist
philosophers: What is the role of an agent’s social context when it comes to their autonomy? Is it
really enough to satisfy some intrinsic conditions – like being able to rationally control
one’s motives or having motives that fit together harmoniously – in order to be
autonomous? Or can an agent’s autonomous action be thwarted by relational factors
such as not being taken seriously by others or not having sufficiently attractive
alternatives upon which to act? To what extent (if at all) do environmental factors like
oppressive socialisation undermine autonomous actions and the capacity to act
autonomously? If an agent’s relation to other people in a given social context does play a
role in the assessment of their autonomy, does it do so in a constitutive or in a causal
manner? That is, is being related to others in an appropriate way one of the conditions an
agent has to satisfy in order for their actions to count as autonomous or does being
related to others in an appropriate way simply make it easier to act autonomously?
After a brief overview of the classical debate, we will tackle the aforementioned
questions. Thus, the seminar will concentrate on the issue of relational autonomy. We
will try to establish how relational autonomy is to be understood and whether autonomy
should be understood in relational terms in the first place. In order to do so, we will not
only analyse works treating the issue of relational autonomy, but also ask how this issue
relates to other important questions that come up in the discussion of autonomy: Is
autonomy a substantial or a purely procedural matter? Which concept of autonomy has
what implication when it comes to politics? And what metaphysical assumptions are we
willing to buy into in order to get the concept of autonomy going?
Core reading will comprise mostly newer texts from the analytic feminist debate on
autonomy, such as works by Marina Oshana, Natalie Stoljar, John Christman and
Catriona Mackenzie. The initial overview will be provided by texts of Immanuel Kant,
Harry Frankfurt.