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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 44, 1998

Theoretical Ethics

Edward Sankowski
Pages 196-201

Autonomy, Education, and Societal Legitimacy

I argue that autonomy should be interpreted as an educational concept, dependent on many educative institutions, including but not limited to government. This interpretation will improve the understanding of autonomy in relation to questions about institutional and societal legitimate authority. I aim to make plausible three connected ideas. (1) Respecting individual autonomy, properly understood, is consistent with an interest in institutions in social and political philosophy. Such interest, however, does require a broadening of questions about institutional and societal legitimacy. (2) Individual autonomy can and should be re-conceived as a multi-institutional educational notion. We must appreciate the manifold institutional process. There are diverse questions about legitimacy as institutional and societal authority that generate normative demands binding on the individual. (3) There is some uncertainty about which institutions do or should educate for autonomy. The shift to an educational, multi-institutional model of autonomy renders more questionable and probably de-emphasizes the role of blame and punishment as paradigmatically institutionalized expressions of respect for autonomy in educating for autonomy. Nonetheless, such an educational model does not eliminate concern about autonomy, blame and punishment. Rather, it broadens questions about the legitimacy of the normative function of various institutions, and of society as a whole.

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