Abstract

This paper explores the value of respect for personal autonomy in relation to clearly immoral and irrational acts committed freely and intentionally by competent people. Following Berlin's distinction between two kinds of liberty and Darwall's two kinds of respect, it is argued that coercive suppression of nonautonomous, irrational, and self-harming acts of competent persons is offensive to their human dignity, but not disrespectful of personal autonomy. Irrational and immoral choices made by competent people may claim only the negative liberty to be left alone. Lives disposed to autonomy are worthy of solidarity and active support in addition to the right of free choice and action. Autonomous premeditated desires (distinguished from mere consent) may embody transcendental choices, which transcend consideration of physical and psychological well-being. Choices made by incompetent persons (e.g., children and the mentally disabled) are not related to autonomy, but to self-directedness. The value of human dignity confers protection to self-directedness, but not at the expense of other vital interests.

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