Education Article #17: For the Joy of Sharing

The Concept of Autonomy in Oppressed People – Part II

By Francesca Malloggi
Independent Researcher, Writer, Tuscany, Italy


Introduction by Venkat
‘Response to external stimuli’ is among one of the criteria to classify something as living. This response for plants and animals can be studied and determined easily based on external causes. However when it comes to humans, a deterministic approach cannot explain the variety in the responses even when they may emerge seemingly as a pattern. This is because we as humans are also endowed with the power of the will and it being highly personal and individualistic (even if influenced by external factors), the external observations cannot be fit into a conclusive finding to forecast human behavior. The clash between autonomy and external regulation is as intricate as the clash between privacy and socializing. When regulation becomes unfair, it is an oppression and that adds to the complexities related to ability to use will power, power of intellect, group ethics, desires, values, interventions, faith and so on. The inspiration of one man, Mahatma Gandhi, was instrumental in freeing an entire country from centuries of oppressive British rule. In my personal view, each study in human behavior is an addition to understand another aspect of it and an attempt to extract universal laws or infallible theories from it, as done in the physical sciences, may not be fruitful.

Francesca’s research work is presented here as a series of articles and this one is an introduction to it. She looks at the existent theories and approaches on study of oppressions and the effect on the victims’ autonomy. She weighs the strengths and weaknesses from her viewpoint and attempts to clarify on the possibilities with some logical insights. Francesca’s choice of research topics are intricate and brings a lot of food for thought for consideration. Immensely thankful for her valuable contribution to the ‘Joy of Sharing’ initiative in Adaptive Instruction.


The Concept of Autonomy in Oppressed People – Part II

Introduction

The situation in the Middle East, where the systems of inequalities are very harsh, gives to philosophers and critical theorists problematic evidence and materials we have to reflect about.1 Amartya Sen2 claims that the stories of many oppressed women suggest that some people become allies of their own enemies, reinforcing ideological systems. She means that women accept and contribute to these systems of oppressive social norms. Related to this view, some philosophers, like Nussbaum, say that they come to form an idea of the self which is self-deprived. Such idea of the deprived-self takes the name of Adaptive Self view and for them it is the main cause of adaptive preference or APs. In contemporary feminist philosophy, APs are behaviors that have been determined by unjust social conditions3. From an ethical point of view, we can raise many questions about how development practitioners should behave with these people with APs. If they should uncritically accept their preferences in the name of cultural diversity and people’s in/capacity to choose, if they shall refuse, override or force these women to get rid of APs. For instance, Nussbaum advances a list of Central Human Capabilities4 that should be adopted by anyone who is a victim of APs5. She suggests that the self of these people is completely self- deprived, therefore their choice are unreliable.

In this paper, I argue that all these options are extreme ways to conceive other people and their APs as well as to intervene in these situations. We should accept these women beliefs but not uncritically, as well as we should not refuse or override their preferences because, even if in a situation of deprivation, they are still people able to make choices, contrary to what Nussbaum suggests. My position is in line with Serene Khader, and it is against the common view which hold that the APs are unchosen and imposed. Instead, in my paper I will argue that these people are active choosers and not passive one, they are “worthy sources of decisions”6, since people can be active choosers and, at the same time, they can have preferences they do not choose to have. It means that sometimes the decision is among the lesser of two evils because there are social constraints everywhere and we just have the possibility of acting within them7. In the first chapter, I will argue that that even though these women deal with their deprivation, it doesn’t mean that they are non-autonomous, unreflective agents, unable to make meaningful decisions for their own life. These women are people that need more support in their development, indeed the right form of support in order to become the persons they want to be8.

I aim at showing that treating them as active choosers doesn’t mean that we don’t question their decisions. It means that we want to treat them as perfectly capable human beings, which are able to make choices. I argue that the problem of considering them as passive choosers lead us to a wrong type of intervention. Nussbaum’s position is extreme because she suggests that we can give them “real choices” if they will follow her political project. However, the right type of intervention is the one that should help them to increase their capacity to live in accord with their own deeply held desires, and not in accord with some universal values9. We can help people if we empower them to choose freely how to grow in accord with personal and cultural values.10. If the errors of these women are partially caused by their beliefs, and surely they are, by changing some of their attitudes we can enable them to negotiate their position, but still this would not change the social barriers. By saying this, I point out that just part of their beliefs are wrong, not all of them, and especially not their entire sense of the self. I will argue against the Adaptive-Self deprivation in the second chapter, whether in the last part, I will compare the concept of autonomy of Nussbaum, Khadler and of Oshana.

To be continued…
Next Part: Nussbaum- Kadher about the Concept of Autonomy

By Francesca Malloggi
Independent Researcher, Writer, Tuscany, Italy


References

  1. For example, the women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to vote in the 2015 for the first time in the history. This is just an example though, the many cases of “honor killing”, domestic violence, and a lack of human rights are in this essay taken for acknowledged.
  2. [Khader, 2009] p.3
  3. Amartya Sen suggests that many forms of oppressive ideology are reproduced chiefly because people don’t react, on the contrary, they behave in a way that reproduce the system in which they live.
  4. [Nussbaum,2001] To see the list of human capabilities she identifies, see the end of her paper.
  5. [Nussbaum, 2001]
  6. [Khader, 2009] p.7
  7. Every person is in this situation, because anyone is embedded in social contexts and social and economical possibilities sometimes enable us but very often they restrict us.
  8. [Khader, 2009]
  9. This position in in line with Khadler’s view, see her book [Khadler, 2009]
  10. Khader says that “the appropriate type of intervention can increase people’s capacities to live in accordance with their deeply held desires for flourishing and their personal and cultural values” [Khader, 2009] p.5

Francesca Malloggi works as a holistic practitioner and she is the creator of Templia B&B in Italy. Templia wants to be a place where art, philosophy and health are combined together in the same living space.

She has a Master Degree in Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of Amsterdam. She defines herself as an independent researcher of truth. She is interested in studying spirituality and body wellness.


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