‘The Expansion of Autonomy: Hegel’s Pluralistic Philosophy of Action’ by Christopher Yeomans

Published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

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In one of his pieces of literary criticism Georg Lukács wrote that “there is autonomy and ‘autonomy.’ The one is a moment of life itself, the elevation of its richness and contradictory unity; the other is a rigidification, a barren self-seclusion, a self-imposed banishment from the dynamic overall connection.” But it has always been difficult to see how rigidification can be avoided without making the boundaries of the self so malleable that its autonomy looks like a sham.

This book explores Hegel’s own attempts to grapple with this problem against the background of Kant’s attempts, in his theory of virtue, to understand the way that morally autonomous agents can be robust individuals with qualitatively different projects, personal relations, and commitments that are nonetheless infused with a value that demands respect. In a sophisticated reading that disentangles a number of different threads in Kant’s approach, the book shows how Hegel reweaves these threads around the central notions of talent and interest to produce a variegated tapestry of self-determination.

The book argues that the result is a striking pluralism that identifies three qualitatively distinct forms of agency, and furthermore sees each of these forms of agency as being embodied in different social groups in different ways. But there is nonetheless a dynamic unity to the forms because they can all be understood as practical attempts to solve the problem of autonomy, and each is thus worthy of respect even from the perspective of other solutions.

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