Special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice: Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?
May 27, 2014
Mark D. White
The latest issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (17/3, June 2014) is devoted to the theme "Private Autonomy, Public Paternalism?" and features articles by Joel Anderson, John Christman, Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, John Kultgen, Amy Mullin, and Diana Tietjens Meyers. Rather than link to each article, I'll reproduce part of the editor's introduction (open access):
A special issue on ‘Private Autonomy and Public Paternalism’ constitutes the first part of this issue. Guest-editors are Annette Dufner and Michael Kühler, both from the University of Munster, Germany. It is often assumed that personal autonomy is a ‘private’ matter in the sense that it is based primarily on a person’s subjective characteristics and capabilities. At the same time, the literature mainly deals with paternalism as a problem of the ‘public’ sphere, for example by focusing on the dangers that threaten the autonomy of individuals as citizens, such as state paternalism. However, it is widely acknowledged nowadays that personal autonomy can only develop and flourish if conditions in the social and relational sphere are favourable, which means that personal autonomy is not so private after all. At the same time, it should be clear that paternalism not only relates to our behaviour in the public sphere, but also to how we behave in more private social spheres, like family, friendships, romantic or sexual relationships.
Being autonomous, says Joel Anderson in the article that opens the special issue, is a socially attributed, socially claimed, and socially contested status, like being able to drive a car. Normative debates about criteria for autonomy (and what autonomy entitles one to) are best understood, not as debates about what autonomy, at core, really is, but rather as debates about the relative merits of various possible packages of thresholds, entitlements, regulations, values, and institutions. John Christman looks at various ways that interpersonal and social relations can be seen as required for autonomy. He considers cases where those dynamics might play out or not in potentially paternalistic situations. In particular, he considers cases of especially vulnerable persons who are attempting to reconstruct a sense of practical identity required for their autonomy and need the potential paternalist’s aid in doing so. He then draws out the implications for standard liberal principles of (anti-) paternalism, specifically in clinical or therapeutic situations. According to Bijan Fateh-Moghadam and Thomas Gutmann, conventional liberal critique of paternalism turns out to be insensitive to the intricate normative problems following from ‘soft’ or ‘libertarian’ paternalism. In fact, these autonomy-oriented forms of paternalism could actually be even more problematic and may infringe liberty rights even more intensely than hard paternalistic regulation. Fateh-Moghadam and Gutmann aim to contribute to the systematic differentiation of soft and hard paternalism by discussing the (legal) concept of autonomy and by elaborating the moral and legal limits of autonomy-orientated paternalism. John Kultgen points out how far-reaching the changes in our public life would actually have to be if we wanted to avoid paternalism altogether. Many professional regulations, not just in medicine and law, but also in engineering and many other areas of expertise, have a strongly paternalistic function. Professional organizations are neither governments, nor necessarily democratic, but they are often state-certified and produce binding regulations for issues of public interest. Kultgen bites the bullet and accepts professional paternalism, while insisting that special care should be placed on how to design an appropriate professional code of conduct. Amy Mullin addresses the issue of paternalism in child-rearing. The parent–child relationship is generally understood as a relationship that is supposed to promote the development and autonomy-formation of the child, so that the apparent source of the concept is a form of autonomy-oriented paternalism. Far from taking paternalism to be overtly unproblematic in such paradigmatic, pedagogical settings, Mullin analyses how an effort should be made to understand a child’s capacities and which standards parents should be held to when deciding whether interference truly serves the child’s interests. The last contributor to the special issue, Diana Tietjens Meyers, argues that potential cases of oppression, such as sex trafficking, can sometimes compromise autonomous choices by the trafficked individuals. This issue still divides radical from liberal feminists, with the former wanting to ‘rescue’ the ‘victims’ and the latter insisting that there might be good reasons for ‘hiding from the rescuers.’ Tietjens Meyers presents new arguments for the liberal approach and raises two demands: first, help organizations should be run by affected women and be open-minded about whether or not the trafficked individuals should remain in the sex industry. Second, the career choices of trafficked individuals should be expanded by the introduction of an opportunityextending right to asylum.
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