Relational Autonomy and Social Justice

In this lecture Professor Catriona Mackenzie explores what is meant by autonomy and the implications for social justice.

The right to autonomy, or the idea that individuals should be free to make choices and determine the direction of their lives according to their own values, underpins the ethical, legal and political frameworks of liberal democratic societies. However, despite the importance we place on autonomy, many substantive disputes in our society about the limits of individual freedom and the role of state regulation arise from disagreements about the meaning of autonomy, and from apparent tensions between the principle of respect for autonomy and our obligations to protect vulnerable members of our society.

In this lecture I propose that the capacity for autonomy is relationally and socially scaffolded. The right to autonomy must therefore be understood to include a right to a social context that provides substantive equality of opportunity, sufficient social support and the conditions for self-respect. On this view, concerns about social justice must be central to any adequate conception of individual autonomy.

Catriona Mackenzie is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Macquarie University Research Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics (Australia). She is currently Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts. Her research expertise is in moral psychology, social and political philosophy, feminist philosophy and applied ethics. Catriona is visiting the School of Law from the 14th to the 18th of March 2016.