Volume 7, 2007
Philosophy of Culture(s)
Personal Autonomy and Cultural Tradition
The value and importance accorded to personal autonomy within liberalism would seem to suggest that cultural practices that severely constrain the choices of individuals through heavyhanded role socialization and restriction ought to be strongly discouraged in liberal societies. In this paper, I explore this claim in connection with the custom of arranged marriage, which has recently come under fire in some liberal democratic states, notably Britain. My aim is to try to complicate the liberal understanding of the relationship between cultural traditions and personal autonomy. In the course of this discussion, I analyze and offer some criticisms of autonomy as a substantive ideal and requirement for flourishing. In revisiting and evaluating arguments in favor of a thick or substantive ideal of autonomy criticisms, I hope to show that a substantive ideal of autonomy as independence is culturally bounded in ways that are often overlooked by liberal philosophers.