Normative self-constitution and individual autonomy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Many trenchant moral and political issues turn on the question of whether values, commitments, and desires are considered essential to the identity of persons-that is, whether they must be seen as internal to the self. The central thesis of the paper is that normative commitments are, in fact, central to agency and to the self. I attempt to defend this position by sketching a model of the self that is meant to function in a theory of individual autonomy. It is my contention that the understanding of the self as separable from such commitments stems, in part, from a failure to differentiate the Me-self from the I-Self (using terminology developed by William James). The former contains aspects of the self that can be considered as the object of introspective appraisal. Such factors form our self-image, but they are elements of the self that we can bring to mind and contemplate. The I-self, however, refers to agentic consciousness itself, the functioning processes of judgment which operate according to norms and values which orient that judgment in a variety of ways. Seen in this way, norms structure the self in a way that guides reflective introspection itself. The difficulty that arises, and which plagues discussions of autonomy in many political contexts, is that agents interact in social settings where they are asked to justify their normative commitments to each other (often as part of social, democratic forms of deliberation), including justification of those commitments that partly constitute their (I-self) identities. I suggest an account of reflective self justification that can serve the purposes of interpersonal reason-giving while remaining consistent with the thesis that (autonomous) selves are partly constituted by normative commitments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAutonomy and the Self
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9789400747890
ISBN (Print)9789400747883
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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