BA, Philosophy and English, Williams College, 2014
BPhil, Philosophy, University of Oxford, 2016
Ethics, Psychoanalysis, 19th- and 20th-Century European Philosophy, Kant
Title: Autonomy and Anxiety
Committee: Jonathan Lear (chair), Candace Vogler and Matthew Boyle
PHIL 29200-01/29300-01 Junior/Senior Tutorial
Topic: A Life of One’s Own: Autonomy, Meaning and Selfhood
What does it mean to say that my life is my own, or that I am living my own life? The concept of autonomy bears directly on this issue: put very generally, if I am autonomous, I am the source of my reasons and actions. I am “my own person,” I live my life in a way that is up to me and is not distorted or manipulated by others. In this course, we will investigate what it means to be autonomous, as it bears on my ability to be “my own person” and to live “my own life.” Does the idea that my life, or my actions are my own, depend on my having a self? What does it mean for reasons and motives to be “my own”? How do I decide for myself how I should live? How should I understand the influence of others on who I am and what I decide to do? Do the demands of morality place inappropriate restrictions on my ability to decide how I should live? What, if anything, do I aim at in determining how I should live a life which is genuinely my own? We will begin by reading two accounts of agency and selfhood which explain human selves and human action interdependently, in terms of autonomy: a Humean account, by Harry Frankfurt, and a Kantian account, by Christine Korsgaard. For both, the self is characterized structurally: what it is to be a self is for one’s beliefs, desires and intentions to be organized in a certain way. We will then explore issues that arise when we consider what it is to live one’s own life, including the nature and value of authenticity, the demandingness of morality, “selfishness” and self-effacement, and the pursuit of meaning in life. Finally, we will consider the psychoanalytic critique of morality, which will offer another perspective on these issues. Psychoanalysis emphasizes the ways in which who we are is not up to us, and that we must live with parts of ourselves we did not choose. What can psychoanalytic theory teach us about what it is to live one’s own life? Readings will be drawn from contemporary ethical theory, as well as psychoanalysis.
Meets with Jr/Sr section. Open only to intensive-track and philosophy majors. No more than two tutorials may be used to meet program requirements.