Autonomy: The ‘Law of the Self’ is Nihilistic

There is a Tectonic Shift From Protecting Persons to Protecting Freedoms

Oct 28, 2017
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There are legitimate concerns about a loss of freedom in our day.  While freedoms of speech, assembly, the press, religion, conscience, association, etc. are enshrined in law, it is alarming to observe how they are steadily being eroded in practice.

The response to these developments can be a wish to ‘defend freedom’.

That is a mistake.  We don’t actually believe that personal freedoms are worth defending for the sake of freedom, but rather for the sake of persons.

In fact, freedoms abstracted from personhood, and defended on their own merits, can be wielded so as to destroy persons.

The author rightly argues that we need to recover the sense of personhood in our defense of freedoms, rather than ceding the ground to a specious sense of autonomy.

‘It is not this right-minded conception of patient autonomy that should concern us. What should concern us is its mutated form that, unconstrained by concerns about human nature and normative morality, has morphed from an instrumental means of protecting patient rights to a seemingly unrestrained end in itself.

Properly understood, autonomy is constrained by two important factors: human nature and morality.’

The author is a physician who cares for his patients, and makes a common sense appeal to the way in which autonomy ought to be constrained.  It is not, however, and the reason is definitional and conceptual.

Ideas have consequences, and those with strongholds of legal definitions, are particularly consequential.

The term autonomy is the problem, particularly when it is defended for its own sake.

Read the full article in Public Discourse

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