Although the word “autonomy” is not featured in daily folk discourse, the concept of autonomy as self-government is endemic in Western culture. Each of us wants to be free to make her own decisions for her own reasons, but given the pervasiveness of social influence, at least some of which is oppressive, in what sense can agents really be said to be self-governing? In this dissertation, I take on the challenge of explaining why social influence is compatible with autonomy in some cases, but not in others.
I begin in chapter 1 by setting up the conceptual framework for the project. While “autonomy” is assigned various distinct meanings in the philosophical literature, I am interested in autonomy as the actual condition of self-government and, more specifically, I am interested in autonomy with regards to an agent’s values, preferences, and other pro-attitudes – or psychological autonomy. In chapter 2, I set up the socializationist challenge as a kind of compatibility problem for accounts of psychological autonomy. Socializationists raise at least two different problems for psychological autonomy. On the one hand, the hard social determinist claims that values, preferences, and other pro-attitudes are fully determined by social factors, and, since social determinism is incompatible with psychological autonomy, no agent is autonomous regarding her pro-attitudes. On the other hand, the socialization compatibilist stops short of claiming that socialization determines agents’ values and preferences. Rather, she challenges the autonomy theorist to offer a principled way to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate social influences. The latter challenge is the focus of this dissertation.
In chapter 3, I introduce Natalie Stoljar’s feminist intuition, which is the intuition that agents cannot autonomously hold preferences that are based on oppressive norms. I argue that no characteristic, or combination of characteristics, is unique to oppressive social norms that justifies Stoljar’s feminist intuition. In chapters 4 and 5, I present a disjunctive explanation of the autonomy-undermining effects of oppressive socialization. In chapter 4, I argue that an externalist, historical control condition is necessary for psychological autonomy. That is, I argue that whether a value or preference is an agent’s own is historically sensitive. I then demonstrate that the internalization of oppressive norms sometimes violates the above control condition for psychological autonomy, thereby rendering the development – and sometimes the possession – of relevant pro-attitudes non-autonomous. In chapter 5, I build on recent empirical work in social psychology, arguing that oppressive socialization undermines psychological autonomy when the internalization of oppressive social norms interferes with the agent’s ability to exercise some skill or capacity necessary for psychological autonomy.