Relational equality and the debate between externalist and internalist theories of relational autonomy
Catriona Mackenzie (Macquarie University)

May 23, 2019, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne

Arts West, North Wing, Rm 353 - Interactive Cinema Space
The University of Melbourne

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

Topic areas


Internalist theories of relational autonomy specify conditions for autonomy that are wholly internal to agents’ psychologies. Externalist theories claim that internal conditions, whether procedural or weakly substantive, are insufficient to explain the autonomy-impairing effects of social oppression. Autonomy requires, in addition, equality of socio-relational status. Social relations and social structures characterized by domination, oppression and status inequality, and that convey messages of disrespect and inferiority, impair the autonomy of individual members of subordinated or marginalised social groups. Externalist theories thus seem to be appealing to relational egalitarian intuitions. However, the debate between internalist and externalist theories of relational autonomy has proceeded without much reference to the literature in normative political philosophy on relational equality. My aims in this paper are first to show that mapping the conceptual connections between externalist theories and the claims of relational egalitarianism helps to clarify what is stake in the debate between internalist and externalist theories of relational autonomy. It also helps to clarify the importance of autonomy in relational egalitarian theory. Second, I will argue that by using the conceptual resources of relational egalitarianism externalist theories are better able to respond to some of the standard objections against them; namely, that they are committed to objectionable forms of perfectionism and disrespect the agency of persons subject to social oppression.

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