Saturday, November 24, 2007


Personal Autonomy. I've been reading Feinberg on the idea that personal autonomy is a good thing. This is a central idea of modern liberalism. Self-fulfillment and self-definition become the central goods. A person should seek not achievement or happiness, but the fulfillment of his talents. I find this hard to understand. Suppose someone has very little talent of any kind. Is he to forfeit happiness in order to pursue what he is best at, or what he fancies he is best at but knows that "best" is not very good? Or suppose someone does have great talents. Must he give up happiness, or achievement, in order to pursue self-fulfillment?

Another component to autonomy is the rational choice of one's moral principles, in the name of "authenticity". This seems to me to have authenticity backwards. Which is more authentic, the person who picks and chooses to construct a hodge-podge of moral principles that fails to hang together but is individual and self-chosen, or the person who is true to the morality of his culture? Which is more authentic, the modern American mish-mash, or the Amazonian savage who sticks to the beliefs of 1000 years of his culture? And which is more stable? Someone who tries to create himself is less likely to stick with it precisely because he is always self-creating and because he never is bound to what he has chosen. Almost by definition, he changes more easily, and of course he will give in more easily to temptation, since his habits are less established.

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