Freedom, Desire, and Necessity: Autonomous Activity as Activity for Its Own Sake
AbstractI defend a necessary condition of local autonomy inspired by Aristotle and Marx. One does something autonomously, I argue, only if one does it for its own sake and not for the sake of further ends alone. I show that this idea steers an attractive middle path between the subjectivism of Dworkin- and Frankfurt-style theories of autonomy on the one hand and the objectivism of Raz-style theories on the other. By doing so, it vindicates and explains two important pieces of common sense of which those theories struggle to make sense. First, it explains how external sources of compulsion, such as coercion by other people and duress by unfavorable circumstances, can compromise the autonomy of an activity. Second, it explains this by articulating the sense in which to act autonomously is to do what one really or truly wants to do, and the correlative sense in which to do something unfreely is instead to be forced or necessitated to do it. At the same time, my proposal brings into view distinctive species of external unfreedom beyond the traditional paradigm cases of coercion and duress. Most importantly, it implies that toil—labor which is not valued intrinsically but is done purely on account of its instrumental necessity—is essentially unfree.