Autonomy

Levi has an interesting discussion here of the notion of autonomy in response to an article by Jeffrey Bell on the meaning of autonomous production in Marxist theory. The upshot, he claims, is that autonomy is not the passing absence of heteronomy. That is:

Autonomy is not the untenable idea that reason is a free and fully self-present self-direction.

but the absence of the kind of scarcity that forces people to work.

There are workable compatiblist conceptions of autonomy, so I’m inclined to think that the metaphysics of presence is a straw man here. It is possible to understand the capacity for autonomy in terms of deliberative capacities which allow creatures like ourselves to choose and act in accordance with our conceptions of the good. Being able to deliberate about what you want (or want to want) does not imply contra-causal freedom, let alone  unbroached self-presence.

Such formulations are problematic, I’ll admit, since they are framed in terms of cognitive capacities and don’t address the emergence of autonomy among relatively heteronomous systems (those lacking metabolisms, say) or the ‘Nietzschean’ capacity to cultivate new modes of embodiment or value (which seems as performative and affective, as reflective). So formulating a viable metaphysics of autonomy is a huge philosophical challenge.

I don’t think the notion of the absence of necessity even begins to cracks this since only autonomous beings can be subject to the kind of coercive necessity that narrows down their options. Beings that are not autonomous don’t have options. Autonomous beings are better off in proportion to the range of live options available to them. Scarcity reduces options, so if we want to maximize the scope for the exercise of autonomy (political autonomy) we should minimize or expunge scarcity.

So does this mean that Marxist and other progressives should junk currently fashionable eco-bullshit and get down to thinking through the methods and import of post-scarcity economics?

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