Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy

By Mark Dooley; Richard Kearney | Go to book overview

18

QUESTIONING AUTONOMY

The feminist challenge and the challenge for feminism

Maeve Cooke

Within the interpretative horizons of Western modernity, individual autonomy has generally been prized as a valuable attribute of personal identity and hence as a condition of human good. Feminism, however, has taught us to look suspiciously at many of the core values that are part of our modern Western interpretative horizons and to interrogate them from the point of view of their ‘masculine bias’. In the first section of this essay, I identify two broad strands of feminist critique of the notion of individual autonomy. 1 I argue that although each of these strands makes an important contribution to debates on self-identity, neither offers compelling reasons for abandoning autonomy as an ideal. Rather, taken together they suggest the need to rethink the notion of autonomy in light of feminist objections. Since these are primarily objections to the normative conceptions of self that underlie traditional interpretations of autonomy, the first challenge for feminism is to provide an account of self-identity that avoids the shortcomings of traditional interpretations.

However, such an account, though an important first step, is not sufficient. What is required in addition is an account of autonomy that identifies the intuitions central to its historical formulations and rethinks them from the point of view of feminist concerns. In the second section I suggest that the metaphor of self-authorship expresses these central intuitions. I propose an interpretation of self-authorship in terms of capacities for responsibility, accountability, independence, purposive rationality and strong evaluation, arguing that the resulting conception is readily compatible with feminist views of the self.

Why should autonomy be prized and promoted? In the third section, I argue that making sense of the common perception that autonomy should be valued and encouraged calls for some general account of the fundamental motivations of human beings. I propose an ethical interpretation

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Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Hermeneutics 3
  • 1 - Memory and Forgetting 5
  • 2 - Imagination, Testimony and Trust 12
  • 3 - Narrative and the Ethics of Remembrance 18
  • References 32
  • 4 - The Politics of Memory 33
  • 5 - Ethics and Lifeworlds 44
  • Part II - Deconstruction 63
  • 6 - Hospitality, Justice and Responsibility 65
  • Notes 83
  • 7 - Reason, History, and a Little Madness 84
  • 8 - The Experience of the Ethical 105
  • 9 - The Ethics of Exclusion 120
  • Notes 130
  • Part III - Critical Theory 133
  • 10 - Three Normative Models of Democracy 135
  • 11 - The Problem of Justice in a Multicultural Society 145
  • Notes 161
  • 12 - Enlightenment and the Idea of Public Reason 164
  • 13 - Paradigms of Public Reason 181
  • Part IV - Psychoanalysis 199
  • 14 - In the Name-Of-The-Father 201
  • 15 - Revolt Today? 220
  • 16 - The Original Traumatism 230
  • Part V - Applications 243
  • 17 - Some Enlightenment Projects Reconsidered 245
  • 18 - Questioning Autonomy 258
  • 19 - From Ethics to Bioethics 283
  • Index 294
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