THE VALUE OF AUTONOMY IN
A PLURALIST WORLD
IN THE LAST CHAPTER, I sketched a conception of ethical autonomy that I believe is moderate, realistic, and attractive without being vacuous. But, needless to say, it is still a controversial ideal. Significant numbers of religious parents, among others, would be likely to object to the proposal to adopt the cultivation of autonomy as a goal of public education policy: I shall address directly a number of these likely objections in the next chapter. But first I want to consider the positive arguments that can be made for the noncivic value of ethical autonomy and to ask whether any of these arguments are of a type suitable for use in the political sphere of a liberal multicultural society.1 I believe that ethical autonomy's instrumental value to individuals seeking to find and lead a good life can be demonstrated in ways that satisfy the conditions on acceptable public justification in a pluralist society; mandatory education for autonomy of the sort I propose would therefore be justified liberal paternalism, because it would reliably serve the interests of all children without illegitimately appealing to particular conceptions of the good. But, before developing and defending this position, it will be instructive to begin by surveying the form of arguments for the intrinsic value of leading an autonomous life and understanding why such arguments are unsuitable to ground public policy in a pluralist state.
VALUE OF AUTONOMY
In the third chapter of his On Liberty (1859/1989), John Stuart Mill makes a series of arguments for the value of “individuality,” a way of
1 Recall that by specifying the “noncivic” value, I mean to exclude from consideration
arguments (such as Callan's, discussed in chapter 2) that ethically autonomous persons
are better citizens. I concluded in chapters 1 and 2 that there are good civic reasons to
support an education that will cultivate children's autonomy; the question now is
whether there are claims about the noncivic value of autonomy that the state can legiti-
mately employ to block parental objections to such an education.