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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

Abstract: In The Morality of Freedom, Joseph Raz argues against a right to autonomy. This argument helps to distinguish his theory from his competitors'. For, many liberal theories ground such a right. Some even defend entirely autonomy-based accounts of rights. This paper suggests that Raz's argument against a right to autonomy raises an important dilemma for his larger theory. Unless his account of rights is limited in some way, Raz's argument applies against almost all (purported) rights, not just a right to autonomy. But, on the traditional way of limiting accounts like his, Raz's account actually supports the conclusion that people have a right to autonomy. So, unless there is another way of limiting his account that does not have this consequence, Raz's argument against a right to autonomy does not go through.


I. Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

In The Morality of Freedom, Joseph Raz argues against a right to autonomy. This argument helps to distinguish his theory from his competitors'. For, many liberal theories ground such a right.1 Some even defend entirely autonomy-based accounts of rights.2 This paper suggests, however, that Raz's argument against a right to autonomy raises an important dilemma for his larger theory. Unless his account of rights is limited in some way, Raz's argument applies against almost all (purported) rights, not just a right to autonomy. If Raz's account is limited in the traditional way, however, it is not clear that his objection to a right to autonomy goes through. So, unless there is another way of limiting his account that does not have this consequence, Raz's argument against a right to autonomy should be rejected.3 Section II sketches Raz's account of autonomy. Section III considers his argument for the conclusion that people lack a right to autonomy. Section IV critiques this argument. Section V concludes.

II. Autonomy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

Autonomy is often equated with individuality, freedom of the will, integrity, independence, self-knowledge, responsibility, freedom from obligation, self-assertion, critical reflection, and absence of external causation.4 Despite their diversity, most accounts of autonomy have this in common: People must freely shape their lives.5 As Raz puts it:

If a person is to be maker or author of his own life then he must have the mental abilities to form intentions of a sufficiently complex kind, and plan their execution. These include minimum rationality, the ability to comprehend the means required to realize his goals, the mental faculties necessary to plan actions, etc. For a person to enjoy an autonomous life he must actually use these faculties to choose what life to have. There must in other words be adequate options available for him to choose from. Finally, his choice must be free from coercion and manipulation by others, he must be independent.

(Raz 1986: 373)

In other words, to secure autonomy, people must be able to reason about, make and carry out some simple and some significant plans on the basis of their beliefs, values, desires and goals (henceforth commitments). They must also have good options from which to choose and be free from coercion and manipulation. Let us consider each of these conditions for autonomy in turn.

First, what does it mean to say that one must be able to reason on the basis of one's commitments? The idea is just this: Autonomous people must have some instrumental reasoning ability. Some hold much more demanding conceptions of rationality on which saying that autonomy requires the ability to reason would be controversial. Kant, for instance, thinks that reason requires each of us to acknowledge the categorical imperative as unconditionally required.6 The rationality component of autonomy at issue does not require this much, however. People need only have adequate instrumental reasoning ability.

Next, consider what it means to say that one must be able to make some significant plans on the basis of one's commitments. To make significant plans one need not plan one's whole life or every detail of one's day. Rather, one must be able to navigate through one's day with ease and make general plans for the future. One must not be, like Raz's proverbial man in a pit or hounded woman, limited to making plans only about how to meet one's needs (Raz 1986). Though one might not choose to exercise this ability, one must have the planning ability necessary to pursue the projects one values; to pursue the good life as one sees it. This ability requires a kind of internal freedom. Internal freedom is roughly the capacity to decide ‘for oneself what is worth doing’, one must be able to make ‘the decisions of a normative agent’; to recognize and respond to value as one sees it (Griffin 2008). One must be able to form some simple and significant plans that would work if implemented. One must be able to make some simple and significant plans that one could carry through if free from external constraint.7

To carry out some simple and significant plans one must have some external as well as internal freedom. External freedom, or liberty, is roughly freedom from interference to pursue a decent life. A woman who can think for herself may have internal freedom even if she lacks external freedom because she is imprisoned. To carry out some simple and significant plans one must have enough freedom from coercion and constraint to carry out those actions necessary to bring some valuable plans to fruition. The importance of the qualifier some is just this: One need not be able to carry out every valuable plan that one might want to carry out to have this component of autonomy. Still, the ability to carry out some simple and significant plans is a necessary component of this kind of autonomy.

The idea that people must be able to reason about, make and carry out both some simple and some significant plans is tied to the idea that they must have good options. Variety matters as well as number. People must be able to ‘exercise all the capacities human beings have an innate drive to exercise, as well as to decline to develop any of them’ (Raz 1986: 375). They must be able to move their bodies, sense the world, use their imagination and affection, and occupy their minds. People lack good options if all of their choices are dictated by others or circumstances. They must not be paralyzed or chained, coerced or manipulated. Their decisions must not be determined beforehand by the dictate to maintain their lives. A singer threatened with the loss of her voice if she does anything another dislikes, for instance, is not autonomous. People's options cannot have horrendous effects. On the other hand, if people act on their significant options, their actions must at least sometimes have significant effects. If people fail in everything they try to accomplish, they are not autonomous. Though, people need not fully realize their valuable capacities to be autonomous, they must be able to choose or reject self-realization.

Raz also says that to have good options people must have many collective goods; goods that are inherently public (i.e., non-contingently non-excludable) (Raz 1986: 198–9). The provision of such goods requires others to bear ‘potentially burdensome duties, regarding fundamental aspects of their lives’ (Raz 1986: 247). Raz suggests that ‘autonomy is possible only if various collective goods are available’ (Raz 1986: 247).

The opportunity to form a family of one kind or another, to forge friendships, to pursue many of the skills, professions and occupations, to enjoy fiction, poetry, and the arts, to engage in many of the common leisure activities: these and others require an appropriate common culture to make them possible and valuable.

(Raz 1986: 247)

Raz argues, however, that autonomy ‘can be pursued in different societies which vary considerably in the other aspects of the pursuits and opportunities which they afford their members’ (Raz 1986: 395).

Autonomy is, to be sure, inconsistent with various alternative forms of valuable lives. It cannot be obtained within societies which support social forms which do not leave enough room for individual choice. But it is compatible with any valuable set of social forms which conforms with the general conditions specified above [providing, for instance, a set of valuable options].

(Raz 1986: 395)

Raz thinks societies can be structured in many different ways and still provide their members with good options. Good options require good social structures, but there are many good social structures that can provide these options.

III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

Raz believes people do not have a right to autonomy. He thinks some rights are grounded in the interest in leading an autonomous life. He just holds that there is no right to autonomy simpliciter. Furthermore, Raz believes there are reasons to protect individuals' interests in living autonomously that are not rights-based. Rights-based duties do not exhaust the duties grounded in autonomy.

Raz believes that since that our reasons for protecting autonomy are not fully grounded in a set of rights-based duties, liberalism cannot be grounded entirely in a rights-based morality. This is significant since John Mackie, Ronald Dworkin, and others have suggested that political morality might be rights-based (Mackie 1979: 168–181; Dworkin 1978). Raz thinks rights do not have such a foundational role in morality.

This paper does not question Raz's larger conclusion that liberalism cannot be grounded entirely in a rights-based morality; nevertheless it takes issue with one of Raz's major claims. Namely, that there is no right to autonomy. Raz says ‘a person may be denied the chance to have an autonomous life, through the working of social institutions and by individual action, without any of his rights being overridden or violated’ (Raz 1986: 247). He holds that ‘there is no right to personal autonomy’ (Raz 1986: 247). This paper will suggest, however, that if Raz's account is not limited in some way, his argument against a right to autonomy applies against many of the things commonly supposed to be rights. If Raz's account is limited along traditional lines, however, people only have rights to standard protections of their interests.8 The demanding provision of collective goods may not qualify as a standard protection. So, Raz's argument may provide no objection to the conclusion that there is a right to autonomy.

Perhaps this paper's argument can be extended to undercut Raz's larger conclusion. One could follow many rights theorists in arguing that we only have duties to provide standard protections of others' interests. On the standard way of limiting Raz's account of rights, rights provide exactly these protections. It might follow that rights are the appropriate foundation for liberalism. Perhaps this argument merits further exploration.

The claim that there is no right to autonomy is significant, whether or not Raz's larger conclusion about the role of rights in morality is correct. Authors like James Griffin have recently tried to give accounts of rights grounded primarily in agency, which is akin to what Raz calls autonomy (Griffin 2008). On such accounts, people have a right to everything that protects autonomy. So Raz's argument against a right to autonomy is significant on its own. In any case, this paper will just consider this component of his larger argument.

Raz's argument against a right to autonomy starts from his account of rights. On Raz's account, ‘“X has a right” if and only if X can have rights, and, other things being equal, an aspect of X's well-being (his interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty’ (Raz 1986: 166). Then, Raz says:

A right to autonomy can be had only if the interest of the right-holder justified holding members of the society at large to be duty-bound to him to provide him with the social environment necessary to give him a chance to have an autonomous life. Assuming that the interest of one person cannot justify holding so many to be subject to potentially burdensome duties, regarding such fundamental aspects of their lives, it follows that there is no right to personal autonomy.

(Raz 1986: 247)

Or, to ‘put it another way: a person may be denied the chance to have an autonomous life, through the working of social institutions and by individual action, without any of his rights being overridden or violated’ (Raz 1986: 247). Raz believes people do not have rights-based duties to provide all of the collective goods necessary for autonomy, though these goods are intrinsically valuable. For, more generally, Raz seems to think people do not have rights with potentially burdensome correlative duties to provide collective goods (Raz 1986: Ch. 8, esp. 245–50).9

Raz draws a very fine distinction between different ways that the interests of people other than a right-holder can be relevant to the existence of a right. He says a right might be ‘justified by the service it does to the interest of the right-holder’ where ‘the value placed on that interest’ derives ‘from its usefulness to others’ (Raz 1986: 247). He says others' interests are not relevant, however, when their interests are not served through protecting the right-holders' interest. He illustrates the distinction by contrasting a journalist's right to free speech with the right to self-determination. The journalist's right to free speech is grounded in part in the interests of others in living in a liberal democracy protected by this right. It is by protecting the journalist's interest in free speech that others' interests are served. On the other hand, an individual does not have an individual right to their country's self-determination even if that individual has an interest in their country having self-determination. Even though that right would serve that person's interest it would not thereby serve the interests of their fellow citizens. Every citizen would benefit from their state having self-determination even if no other citizen benefited.

Raz realizes that critics may reject his argument against a right to autonomy by rejecting the idea that rights must be justified by right-holders' interests. Critics might deny that it matters whether others' ‘interests are served independently or through the service that respect for the right renders to the interest of the right-holder’ (Raz 1986: 247). They might hold that rights can be justified whenever they serve the common good, whether or not they protect the interests of people other than a right-holder by protecting the right-holder.

Raz argues, however, that if critics say rights are justified whenever they serve the common good they would have to allow that:

[E]ach member of a nation has a right to the self-determination of the nation. It is his personal right. It would also mean that as each of us has an interest in an environment in which promises are kept and people do not deceive each other, I, as well as everyone else, have a right that you shall keep your promises and that you shall not deceive other people.

(Raz 1986: 248)

Raz maintains that the interests of people other than right-holders are only relevant when their interests are served through protecting the right-holders' interest. So he concludes that there is no right to autonomy because individuals' interests in autonomy cannot justify the imposition of duties correlative to such a right. Again, Raz's conclusion is not that there is no duty to protect autonomy. Rather, it is that there is no rights-based duty to protect autonomy.

IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

Raz's argument against a right to autonomy faces an important dilemma. On the one hand, unless his account of rights is limited in some way, Raz's argument applies against almost all rights, not just a right to autonomy. On the other hand, if Raz's account is limited in the traditional way, it is not clear that his objection to a right to autonomy goes through.

Consider the first horn of this dilemma. Unless Raz's account of rights is limited in some way, his argument applies against almost all (purported) rights, not just a right to autonomy. For, if the duties correlative to many such rights are not limited in some way, they will require the demanding provision of collective goods.

If Raz's argument is not limited it would, for instance, show that no one has a right to adequate health care (never mind health). For public health measures that require the demanding provision of collective goods are necessary to protect health. It is at least as clear that the measures necessary to protect health require the demanding provision of collective goods as it is that the measures necessary to protect autonomy require the demanding provision of collective goods. If universal marriage (for people of all sexual persuasions) is non-contingently non-excludable, I cannot see why universal health care would not be. Even less radical provisions to protect health—e.g., running research on genetic diseases that helps only a small number of people—may require the demanding provision of collective goods. Similarly, if Raz's account is not limited, people would fail to have rights to free movement or even life grounded only in their interests in these things. A decent legal system, adequate police forces, and a culture of respect are necessary to protect these rights.

If Raz's account of rights is not limited, it may support some rights, but it will not capture many of the core examples of rights. The problem is that, if his account of rights is not limited, many of the things commonly supposed to be rights will not qualify as rights.

Raz might limit his account. If he limits his account in the traditional way, for instance, people must only do their part in providing standard protections of others' important interests. Raz's argument may not tell against most rights, if the correlative duties only require others to do their part in providing standard protections of each individual's interests.

If Raz's account is limited in the traditional way, however, it faces the second horn of the dilemma set out above: It is not clear that his objection to a right to autonomy goes through. On the traditional way of limiting rights, not every interest which grounds a duty grounds an unlimited duty (Raz 1986: 248).10 Raz's argument just shows that people do not have a right to autonomy that generates unlimited duties.

Consider, in more detail, what happens if we modify Raz's analysis of rights along the lines suggested above: ‘“X has a right” if and only if X can have rights, and, other things being equal, an aspect of X's well-being (his interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty’ to provide standard protections of this interest (Raz 1986: 166). There are many different ways of filling out the standard protections clause in this kind of account. Sometimes people may have to bear very significant burdens to fulfil the duties correlative to others' rights. Sometimes, for instance, people may have to give up their lives to avoid violating others' rights to life. Still, this kind of account has the resources to limit the demands rights can generate as well as the types of goods people have a duty to provide. It may preclude the demanding provision of collective goods.

If his account of rights is limited, Raz's argument may provide no objection to a right to autonomy. Raz's argument does not challenge the claim that the importance of an individual's interest in living an autonomous life can ground rights with correlative duties to provide standard protections of this interest. Raz worried that an individual's interest in autonomy, no matter how great, could not justify holding ‘members of the society at large to be duty-bound to him to provide him with the social environment necessary to give him a chance to have an autonomous life’ (Raz 1986: 247). Providing standard protection of individuals' autonomy may not require imposing burdensome duties on many others.11

Although Raz suggests that one needs many particular options (e.g., the option of monogamous marriage) to be autonomous, this does not follow from his account of autonomy. After all, Raz allows that a variety of institutional structures may support autonomy.12 Institutions allowing monogamous marriages for some and domestic partnerships for others are unfair, but individuals can still be autonomous under such institutions.13

Of course, providing any institutional structure (or other collective goods) does require assigning some duties. Some may even have to bear great burdens to create institutions like marriage. Those in public office charged with writing marriage laws may have to spend a lot of time on the task.

In general, however, it may not be too demanding to provide the collective goods necessary for autonomy. Existing institutions may only have to be modified a bit. In some cases, only a few legal changes may be necessary to protect individuals’ autonomy against the most common threats. Even if the option of monogamous marriage is required for autonomy, for instance, most societies would only need to make a few legal changes to extend this option universally.

Providing standard protections of everyone's autonomy may not require any more than providing standard protections of everyone's other rights (e.g., to security) even if significant institutional change is required. Providing standard protections of autonomy might require implementing new health or education programmes. Providing standard protections of security might require implementing new police or military programmes. The police and military programmes may require more than the health and education programmes (in terms of the demanding provision of collective goods).

The obligations correlative to a right to autonomy might, for instance, be like the obligations correlative to other (e.g., human) rights. On the standard picture:

(1) governments are the primary addressees of the human rights of their residents, with duties both to respect and to uphold their human rights; (2) governments have negative duties to respect the rights of people from other countries; (3) individuals have negative responsibilities to respect the human rights of people at home and abroad; (4) individuals have responsibilities as voters and citizens to promote human rights in their own country; and (5) governments, international organizations and individuals have back-up responsibilities for the fulfillment of human rights around the world.

(Nickel 2005: 396)

At least on an account like this, individuals need only refrain from violating rights and do their part in bringing about decent institutional structures that protect rights. So, individuals might just have to refrain from violating others' right to autonomy and vote for autonomy-enabling institutional structures. The idea is not that I have to provide some of the goods necessary for autonomy—e.g., the opportunity to marry (me?!) —and you have to provide others. Rather, the idea is that each of us has to do our part in creating the social conditions in which individuals' rights are secure. Normally, these duties would not require the very onerous provision of collective goods.

Perhaps Raz could accept the conclusion that rights must be limited in some way and even this conception of the duties correlative to rights, but insist that there are further duties grounded in autonomy that are not rights-based. He could argue that there are duties to provide the collective goods necessary to support autonomy that are inconsistent with the rights-based conception of morality. That is, he could insist that there are non-rights-based obligations to provide non-standard protections of autonomy. Perhaps it is the interests of large numbers of people in autonomy, rather than their individual rights, that grounds duties to maintain most social institutions and other collective goods. This would let Raz maintain that there is more to morality than protecting rights. He could argue that once rights-based duties to protect other interests (e.g., in health) are fulfilled, there are still duties to protect these interests. He only needs to defend the idea that there is a gap between rights-based duties and what morality requires of us to show that there is more to morality than protecting rights.

Even if one of these moves works and Raz's larger polemical aim succeeds, however, the above arguments suggest Raz would have to give up something important. If this section's arguments are correct, it is not clear that autonomy-based accounts of rights fail. Again, the question of whether there is a right to autonomy is independently important. Many liberal theories ground such a right and some even defend an entirely autonomy-based account of rights (on which people have a right to everything they need for autonomy).14 Furthermore, this section's arguments give one reason to wonder whether there is any duty to provide non-standard protections of autonomy. If public health provisions are terribly expensive, for instance, they may not qualify as standard protections of individuals' autonomy (or health etc.). One might argue that no one has any duty at all to provide these things for others; people only have a duty to help provide standard protections of others' interests, including others' interests in autonomy.

V. Objections

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

Perhaps, one could argue, Raz is not objecting to how demanding it is to provide collective goods, but to the mere possibility that rights could require the provision of goods like this. He says the provision of collective goods is only potentially demanding, while this provision necessarily impinges on the lives of many members of a society. The objection would just be this: ‘How is it possible for an individual to have a right to something which will impact the lives of many others?’ Perhaps this is what lends intuitive force to Raz's claim that no one has a (personal) right to national self-determination.15 He might insist that no single individual has a right to something when many others will be impacted by fulfilling the duties correlative to that right, even if none of them would be subject to demanding duties.16

Even if Raz's objection is just to the idea that rights could require the provision of collective goods, it does not go through. Although Raz's claim that no one has a (personal) right to national self-determination is compelling,17 it should be at least as intuitive that there are many rights whose provision requires collective goods. We have seen that the right to health and life require this much—so do rights to a decent standard of living and physical security. Individuals need a social system that protects these rights.18 Such a system may impinge on a great number of other people's lives. That is no objection to these (appropriately limited) rights' existence especially if it is not too demanding to fulfil them. Everyone is obligated to vote for standard protections against physical violence, for instance, even if such protections only help very small minority groups avoid persecution.

Alternately, one could deny that any rights should be limited because that requires weakening Raz's account of rights in a problematic way. If saying there is a right to autonomy would require weakening the very notion of a right, one could argue, that is reason to think there is no right to autonomy. If rights only require standard protections, the fact that someone has a right does not generate an all-things-considered duty to protect their interest. One might object that this is implausible; it is better to say that there is just an imperfect duty to promote autonomy.19

This suggestion rejects the idea that rights should be limited too quickly. Rights might generate all-things-considered duties to do whatever constitutes a standard protection of individuals' interests. So it is not clear that this limit poses a problem for Raz's account of rights.

Furthermore, even if one does not like the idea of limiting Raz's account of rights, that does not justify accepting the unintuitive consequences of maintaining his account unlimited. Unless Raz's account is limited in some way, he cannot say people have a right to bodily security or health. Unless Raz's account is limited, people do not even have a basic right to life. Such unlimited rights would require the demanding provision of collective goods. So, unless the objector can provide another way of limiting Raz's account (I have no other ideas about how to limit it), his account cannot support even these basic rights.

Let me put the point another way. If one accepts Raz's argument against a right to autonomy, then one has to provide an alternative way of limiting his account or agree that Raz's account fails to accommodate many of the things most commonly thought to be rights. Without some way of limiting his account, it is easy to adapt his argument against a right to autonomy so that it applies quite broadly.20 It is more plausible to believe there is a right to autonomy, however, than to accept the view that many of the things most commonly thought to be rights are not rights. This last point is especially compelling if, as this paper has argued, it is at least as easy to modify institutions to protect autonomy as it is to modify them to protect security, health, life and so forth. So, unless there is another way of avoiding Raz's dilemma, it is not clear that his argument against a right to autonomy goes through.

Finally, one might argue that, even if Raz's account of rights is not limited, it can capture all of the rights that matter. One might suggest, for instance, that there should only be rights to components of autonomy, not to autonomy simpliciter. Autonomy is, after all, a rather complex thing. Furthermore, many existing rights already protect elements of autonomy. So, one might object that an account on which there is a right to autonomy multiplies rights beyond necessity.21

It is not at all clear that Raz's account protects autonomy by protecting its components. First, people have independent interests in having some of the components of autonomy. Everyone has an interest in being able to reason, for instance. People may not have independent interests in other components of autonomy, however. People may, for instance, only have interests in having good options from which to choose if they can choose. Second, it is hard to see how protecting a right to autonomy would require the demanding provision of collective goods, while protecting rights to all the components of autonomy would not. Third, a right to all of the components of autonomy might amount to a right to autonomy if protecting the components protects individuals' autonomy.22 Finally, even if this strategy works with respect to the right to autonomy, that would not address the heart of the problem Raz's argument against a right to autonomy raises for his account. The heart of the problem is that, unless Raz's account of rights is limited in some way, his argument against a right to autonomy applies to many of the things standardly characterized as rights. The duties correlative to many of the things most commonly considered rights may generate demanding duties to provide collective goods. At least more argument is necessary to explain how the objects of all of the things standardly characterized as rights are protected by rights to the components of the interests underlying them.

One might suggest that even if Raz's argument applied against many of the things standardly characterized as rights that would not be a problem for his theory. Even if there are no (narrowly) correlative duties based on rights, there may be (broadly) correlative duties based, not on rights, but directly on individuals' interests. There may be duties to protect others' health, for instance, even if no one has a right to these protections.

Once again, it may be true that there are duties to protect interests not based on rights, but this move does not address the problem this paper has raised for Raz's argument against a right to autonomy. Whether or not there are duties to protect interests not based on rights, the conclusion that there is no right to autonomy is important. There is room for debate about whether some of the things people have claimed are rights are genuine rights. Although Raz endorses at least some of these rights in The Morality of Freedom—e.g., a right to life and education, he could change his mind and say none of these rights exist (Raz 1986: 160, 185). This paper has argued, however, that if Raz's argument against a right to autonomy goes through, it also poses a problem for these rights. Many insist that a good account of rights should capture the things commonly supposed to be rights.23 At least these people have good reason to reject Raz's argument against a right to autonomy.

VI. Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES

This paper has criticized Raz's argument against a right to autonomy. Raz suggests that one needs many particular options to secure autonomy. This, however, does not follow from his account. Even if people do need collective goods and these options, in particular, it might be easy to modify many existing societies so that they ensure that people have them. At least it may be just as easy to modify societies to protect autonomy as it is to modify them to protect security, health, life and so forth. So Raz's argument against a right to autonomy raises an important dilemma for his larger theory. The rights Raz relies upon must be limited in some way if he is to account for many of the things standardly characterized as rights. On the traditional way of limiting such rights, however, Raz's account supports the conclusion that people have a right to autonomy. So unless those who want to defend Raz's argument against such a right can provide another way of limiting his account, they must accept the implausible consequence that there are few, if any rights. It may be better to reject Raz's argument against a right to autonomy.24,25

NOTES
  1. 1At least, many theories ground rights to everything people need to secure autonomy. See, for instance: Gewirth 1996; Griffin 2008.

  2. 2See, for instance: Griffin 2008.

  3. 3For further criticism of this argument see, for instance: Green 1988; Waldron 1988–9,esp. 1123–5. For criticism which bears on this argument see, for instance: McCabe 2001.

  4. 4For some other accounts of autonomy see, for instance: Christman 1989.

  5. 7Although Raz does not say too much about planning in The Morality of Freedom, there are many ways of starting to make sense of this idea. One might, for instance, analyse the ability to make some simple and significant plans on the basis of one's commitments in terms of the ability to make one's motivating commitments generally coherent. Alternately, one might give a decision-theoretic analysis of planning in terms of a consistent preference ordering. Yet another option is to cash out the ability to make some simple and significant plans on the basis of one's commitments in terms of ordering one's ends perhaps by drawing on John Rawls' work on plans of life. See, for instance: Rawls 1971. Also see: Bratman: 2005.

  6. 8For discussion of how an account of rights can be limited in this way see: Nickel 2005: 396; 2007. Rights might also be limited in others ways, e.g., people may only have rights that protect their important interests when they are members of the same community as those bearing the obligations correlative to their rights.

  7. 9Also see: Raz 1988–9, esp. 1224.

  8. 10Raz gives only two reasons against saying rights need not be justified by right-holders' interests. The first is that this does not heighten moral sensitivity but, rather, leads to runaway rights-inflation. Second, he says what makes rights distinctive is that rights are responsive to the interests of the individuals that have them (Raz 1986: 249). One can accept these arguments and still defend a right to autonomy.

  9. 11As Jeremy Waldron and Leslie Green suggest, the provision of some collective goods may not be too onerous to be justified by an individual's interest (Green 1988: 323; Waldron. 1988–9, esp. 1123–5). David McCabe, on the other hand, argues against the idea that social goods are necessary for many valuable options and, hence, autonomy (McCabe 2001).

  10. 12Sometimes protecting autonomy may not require much (of anyone) at all. To protect the autonomy of an unjustly held political prisoner, for instance, a political pardon by a single person may suffice.

  11. 13McCabe's argument might support this move. See McCabe 2001.

  12. 14At least, many theories ground rights to everything people need to secure autonomy. See, for instance Gewirth 1996. For a theory on which people have a right to whatever they need for autonomy, see Griffin 2008.

  13. 15Raz has a very different characterization of human rights than individual rights. He believes human rights set limits on sovereignty (Raz 2007). The point here, however, is only that the duties correlative to the kinds of moral rights Raz has in mind in The Morality of Freedom might not be too demanding, depending on how the correlative duties are construed. On demandingness, see O'Neill 2000.

  14. 16Perhaps this is similar to Leslie Green's idea that 'duties may fail to be justified not because the individual benefits are not weighty enough, but because they are of the wrong kind. In some cases what is problematic about collective goods is not that the individual's interest is weak, but that it is conceptually indivisible from that of others' (Green 1988: 324). Jeremey Waldron argues that providing collective goods may not be burdensome (Waldron 1988–9, esp. 1123–5). In commenting on the symposium, Raz responds to Waldron's arguments but I do not find his response compelling. Waldron's point is that benefits can offset burdens and determine the overall burdensomeness of duties. The fact that people often do not perceive the duty to provide collective goods as burdensome provides some evidence that such duties are not always objectively burdensome. This suggests that it is not because the provision of collective goods is demanding that no one has a right to this provision. The provision may not be demanding. Still, see: Raz 1988–9, esp. 1223–5).

  15. 17Raz believes that individuals have an interest in self-determination. See, for instance: Margalit and Raz 1990.

  16. 18Raz endorses the existence of at least some of these rights. Though he may think that, properly understood, they do not require the demanding provision of collective goods, he does not explain why they are different from a right to autonomy in this respect. See, for instance: Raz 1986: 182.

  17. 19Perhaps Raz could argue that a right to autonomy is not limited even though most rights are limited but that would take argument.

  18. 20None of this presumes that the rights-bearer's interest in autonomy cannot ground very demanding duties; it claims, instead, that many of the things most commonly thought to be rights require collective goods the provision of which may be just as demanding.

  19. 21See: Waldron 1988–9, esp. 1123–5. Also see Raz's response in the same issue (Raz 1988–9, esp. 1223–5).

  20. 22The debate between those who endorse a collection of rights that together protect autonomy but do not think these rights amount to an independent right to autonomy and those who believe the collection does amount to a right to autonomy is probably just terminological. See, however: Ibid.

  21. 23Raz is committed to capturing 'the way the term is used in legal, political and moral writings and discourse' and staying within the 'boundaries of that tradition' (Raz 1986: 165).

  22. 24Admitting this much will not commit him to a completely autonomy-based account of rights. So his theory will remain distinct from other liberal theories based on such rights. Still, Raz's argument could not be used against autonomy-based accounts.

  23. 25The author would like to thank Joseph Raz, Alex London, Kieran Oberman, and Dale Dorsey for helpful comments and/or discussion as well as two anonymous referees who have helped her to greatly improve the paper. She would also like to thank the Falk Foundation, Stanford University's Center for Ethics in Society, and the United Nation's University's World Institute for Development Economics Research for their support during the course of this project.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. Introduction
  4. II. Autonomy
  5. III. Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  6. IV. Rejecting Raz's Argument Against a Right to Autonomy
  7. V. Objections
  8. VI. Conclusion
  9. REFERENCES
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