Life as an adjunct: Theorizing autonomy from the personal to the political

Journal of Social Philosophy 39 (3):378-392 (2008)
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Self-conflict is a feature of most women’s lives, particularly as we struggle to balance the demands of work and family. Theories of autonomy that rest on a notion of a coherent self treat self-conflict as incompatible with autonomy; therefore, women who suffer self-conflict fail to act autonomously. Though autonomy and self-conflict can be accommodated by conceiving of autonomy as a matter of degree relative to a context of choice, this result sanctions a political system that forces the prioritization of one context over another. Yet choices in one context often compromise choices in another context, creating a situation where acting autonomously simultaneously diminishes autonomy. Given that autonomous choice justifies political liberalism, it is unjust that choices are set against one another in this way. Consequently, the burden on liberal governments to address the structural sources of self-conflict is far greater than is often supposed.
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