Education, access to accurate analysis by those better placed than ourselves, and so on, may help to clarify the distal reasons for our proximal experience, and such access therefore becomes in itself a form of power because it gives us a degree of (only potential) control over what happens to us.
(David Smail 1993:66)
Deep-rooted tendencies in talk of education (western, at any rate) imply an individual, even solitary, learner. An infant teacher ticks boxes to inform next year’s teacher that Daniel can ‘choose appropriate operations to solve subtraction problems’. This does not allow for the possibility that he may be able to carry out this mathematical task in the company of Chelsey and Peter, who are models of concentration, collegiality and persistence, but not when he shares a table with Paul and Donna, whom maths fills with contagious panic and despair. So too with intelligence in general. We readily forget how much what we take to be our individual intelligence is a function of the group in which we find ourselves: of the respect with which its members treat each other, of the possibilities which the group allows of taking risks, venturing opinions, advancing tentative ideas. I shall have something to say later about other qualities, such as courage and unhappiness, that also tend, perhaps misleadingly, to be seen essentially as functions of individuals.
Many of the well-known problems with autonomy, I shall argue in this chapter, are likewise caused by our deep-rooted tendency to think of persons first and foremost atomistically. Rather we need to regard persons as members of groups from the start, their very being and identity constituted by such membership, and to conceive autonomy in interpersonal rather than intrapersonal terms. To adopt terminology from Seyla Benhabib (1992), autonomy and the rationality to which it is connected must be seen not in ‘legislative’