IDENTIFICATION AND AUTONOMY: A MEDITATION ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF HARRY FRANKFURT
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Harry Frankfurt offers an account of freedom as "autonomy" in which identification plays a central role. Identification is supposed to be a process or psychic configuration by which attitudes desires in particular become or count in some sense as one's own. When we are propelled to action by desires with which we "identify," we're acting autonomously. On Frankfurt's view, whenever we act, a desire is involved, but sometimes the desire that moves us is one by which we do not want to be moved, a desire from which we are alienated with which we fail to identify. Paradigm examples are addictions and compulsions. When moved by one of these "alien" desires, we lack autonomy.
Frankfurt's account of autonomy, then, rests on a basic distinction. Of the desires that move us to action "effective desires" only some will be desires with which we identify. The main claim of this dissertation is that Frankfurt needs to maintain this distinction, but in the end, doesn't. There are two basic problems. First, as Frankfurt develops his conception of identification, it shifts, and as it shifts, it becomes broader, so much so that it no longer marks the narrow internality. Second, neither of Frankfurt's alternatives wholeheartedness, caring clearly functions to mark out a narrow internality, either.
In the case of caring, Frankfurt gives an account that's dispositional that is made out in terms of effective desire, so that in the end caring is not clearly distinguishable from having an effective desire from simply being moved to action. In the case of wholeheartedness, Frankfurt introduces the concept as a way of understanding identification and therefore as a criterion of narrow internality, but he defines wholeheartedness in a way that presupposes a criterion of narrow internality.
Given the shifting conception of identification and the problems with wholeheartedness and caring, we are unable to distinguish between effective desires and desires that are truly an agent's own, and therefore, are left with an account of autonomy that remains unclear.