Student Blogger - Joseph Raz: "Autonomy, Toleration and the Harm Principle"
The latest session of the Law and Philosophy Workshop featured Joseph Raz, presenting his paper “Autonomy, Toleration, and the Harm Principle.” This paper lays out an argument for toleration based on the value of personal autonomy. It then uses this theory to analyze John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, the idea that the only legitimate governmental use of coercive power is to prevent harm. Raz challenges Mill’s claim that the harm principle is a free-standing and fundamental moral principle, instead arguing that it is better understood as being based on an argument for toleration from autonomy. I will focus only on the earlier part of the paper and not on the harm principle section for brevity’s sake and also because this reflects the focus of the workshop discussion.
Raz begins by explaining the relationship between autonomy and pluralism. He does not lay out a specific theory of all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for autonomy, arguing that this is not necessary because he can derive toleration from one necessary condition: In order for a person to be autonomous, she must have a range of options available to her, not merely one. In the workshop, Raz, elaborated on this, laying out three requirements for autonomy. The first is non-domination; a person cannot be autonomous if she is being coerced or manipulated. The second is related to capacities. A person must have the capacity to process information (this includes access to said information) and to commit to decisions that have been made. An ignorant person, or someone who is intimidated into abandoning prior commitments, is not truly autonomous. There are numerous capacities necessary for conducting an autonomous life; I have only stated a couple of them. The third is the availability of an adequate range of choices. It is important to note here that throughout, when Raz speaks of autonomy he is speaking of personal autonomy and not, for example, moral autonomy. When Raz says that a person is not autonomous he does not mean that the person is not responsible for his actions, only that his choices are constrained in an unacceptable manner.
Autonomy, for Raz, is distinct from, but closely related to the idea of self-realization, which can be explained as the maximization of one's potential. These concepts are distinct but overlapping. A truly autonomous person must have self-realization as an option, but he must also be able to reject it if he is so moved. Conversely, it is possible for a person to be manipulated, or forced, into self-realization, and therefore not be autonomous. Raz explains that autonomy requires that a person have the option of developing all of his abilities, or only some of them. For example, an autonomous person may find a balance between the virtues of prudence and courage and pursue both to the extent that they are not mutually exclusive, or he may choose one and reject the other. Although Raz declines to explain exactly what will count as an adequate range of options, this operates as a limiting principle. A person who is not free to decide for himself which of his abilities to develop, and which not to develop, does not have an adequate range of options.
Raz then adds an additional requirement: "[A]utonomy requires that many morally acceptable, though incompatible, forms of life be available to a person." The point here is that a person who is put in a position where she must choose between acting morally and pursuing her goals is not choosing freely if she acts morally. Raz gives an admittedly bizarre example of a person who is free to choose his own profession, except that in order to do so he must kill someone. This is analogized to a person being robbed at gun point. If the first person kills, and the second person allows himself to be killed, then they have acted freely. However, if they take the moral and self-preservation paths, respectively, their choices have been forced. These people are not autonomous. "Autonomy requires a choice of goods." A choice between good and evil is not sufficient, just like a choice between life and death is not sufficient. People who are struggling for survival, literally or in a moral sense, can not be autonomous. It is not explicitly stated in this section of the paper why a moral loss is on par with a loss of life, but it seems that this comes directly from Raz’s conception of the value of autonomy. For Raz, "[a]utonomy is valuable only if exercised in pursuit of the good."
It is now easy to see how Raz's view of autonomy directly implies moral pluralism, "the view that there are various forms and styles of life which exemplify different virtues and which are incompatible." A good example of this, which Raz provides, is that it is impossible to possess all of the virtues of a nun while also possessing all the virtues if a mother. This incompatibility, however, does not imply that if it is good to be a nun it is not good to be a mother. The choice of one form of life entails a rejection of the other. But, in order to make that choice one does not have to reject the idea that the other form of life exemplifies virtues.
This, however, does not take us all the way to toleration. For Raz, "[t]oleration implies the suppression or containment of an inclination or desire to persecute, harass, harm, or react in an unwelcome way to a person." There is general agreement that toleration only applies to behavior and life styles with which the tolerant person disagrees. Further, this inclination to persecute, etc., must be seen as desirable to the tolerant person. This is because it comes from the same place within the tolerant person as his drive to pursue the virtues that he values. Many theorists argue, or assume, that this implies that only bad actions or forms of life can be tolerated. This is where Raz strays from the pack. Limitations can be tolerated as well. Toleration, when derived from autonomy, is most desirable as a reaction to the frustration felt by the limitations of others based on their choice of pursuit of different virtues. However, noticing these limitations will not necessarily create a situation where toleration is possible. A person who notices the limitations of others might not feel an inclination to persecute them. A prudent person might not feel a desire to react in an unwelcome way to a courageous person even though their virtues are incompatible. Because toleration requires the suppression of a desire or inclination, if that inclination or desire does not exist there can be no toleration.
At this point, to summarize, Raz has shown that autonomy entails moral pluralism. He has also laid out a model of toleration that presupposes a desire or inclination to be intolerant. There is still a gap in the theory, because moral pluralism does not entail intolerant inclinations or desires. This is where the concept of competitive moral pluralism comes in. Competitive moral pluralism recognizes virtues that, given human nature, encourage intolerance of other virtues. Raz explains that a person who excels at reconciling different points of view might be intolerant of single-minded dedication to a cause. For Raz, it is extremely likely that autonomy requires competitive moral pluralism, because of its commitment to every person's choice to develop his abilities. The theory of autonomy must take into account the character traits possessed by normal, real people. It therefore must recognize that pursuit of certain virtues will naturally lead to inclinations of intolerance towards the limitations created by the pursuit of others. When this happens, in order to promote autonomy, toleration is required.
After setting up his argument for toleration from autonomy, Raz points out two of its limitations. The first is related to the requirement of an adequate range of options. As long as the range is adequate, no particular option is required. For example, while it would not be acceptable for there to be no way for a person to develop and apply the virtue of generosity, autonomy does not require the availability of every conceivable charitable organization. However, Raz does point out that if an available option is going to be taken away, intentionally by the government, from natural obsolescence or for any other reason, government must be sensitive to the needs of people who have already made substantial investments in that option to ensure that they are not left with an inadequate range once the option they chose has disappeared. The second limitation is based on the fact that Raz roots autonomy's value in its tendency to enable its possessor to live a good life. Raz's account does not value autonomy for its own sake. For that reason, the duty of toleration derived from autonomy will not extend to things that are wrong or bad. This limitation, however, is minimized to some extent by appeal to the harm principle. If the government can only exert coercive power to prevent harm then bad or wrongful behavior that does not cause harm can not be prevented coercively. This may sound trivial, but it is not when paired with Raz’s conception of harm which is not synonymous with injury or pain. Harm is a forward-looking. "To harm a person is to diminish his prospects, to affect his possibilities adversely." There are clearly behaviors that could intelligibly be called wrong or bad that do not have this effect and these behaviors must be tolerated.
Raz explained at the workshop that his goal was to put forth a non-utopian way of thinking about morality. The theory presented is non-utopian in two related senses. Its aim is not to eradicate disagreement when it comes to determinations of value. Instead, it seeks to minimize the violence that often accompanies such disagreements. This leads directly to the second sense of non-utopian; because his theory accounts for the natural tendency towards intolerance, its goals are not unrealistic or impossible to achieve. Toleration is important, for Raz, because people tend to better at recognizing what is valuable than recognizing what is not valuable. People will often react hostilely to something because it is foreign or new and they do not understand it. The argument for toleration from autonomy seeks to show that autonomy requires that people suppress the desire to act on these feelings against others who have different and conflicting conceptions of the good.
As Raz states early on in the paper, one of his goals in deriving a theory of toleration from the concept of autonomy is to show that autonomy does not require that governments remain silent about what constitutes the good life. This is meant as an answer to philosophers such as John Rawls and Charles Larmore who have argued that governmental endorsement of a particular set of ideals makes second-class citizens of everyone who embraces a different set of ideals. Raz was pressed in the workshop for an answer as to why he rejects the view defended by Rawls and Larmore. His answer was complex, but an attempt at summarizing is worthwhile. First, Raz is skeptical that expressive subordination, the necessary effect of governmental endorsement, is actually avoidable. Second, Raz believes that the worries of Rawls and Larmore about political perfectionism, the theory that government should aid citizens in recognizing and carrying out their moral duties, are based on a misconception of the role of government in such a system. For Raz, an autonomy promoting government does not need to create new and better modes of living for its citizens; it is only required to make existing opportunities generally available. The paradigmatic examples of this are public education, and labor and anti-discrimination laws. Ignorance and discrimination, as well as illness and hunger, create barriers to autonomy that the government has a duty to destroy.
Next time: 11/10 Simon Blackburn: "Religion and Respect"