Autonomy, Automaticity, and Attention: Why Empirical Research on Consciousness Matters to Autonomous Agency
Fenton, Brandon Daniel
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This dissertation addresses the question: what is personal autonomy? It begins by examining the main theoretical accounts of autonomous agency currently on offer. Although each of the available approaches faces significant criticism, I defend a revised internalist (and functionalist) account of autonomous agency which draws primarily upon the work of Frankfurt, Dworkin, and Bratman. Next, I show that recent work in scientific psychology (viz. research on automaticity) reveals new dangers for any account of autonomous agency (including my own newly revised internalist account). My response to the identified threat of automaticity draws upon research in the psychology of attention and, more extensively, on theorizing upon the unity of consciousness. I use a number of insights gleaned from these areas of research to then construct a more robust theoretical understanding of autonomous agency—one that addresses the worries generated by automaticity by proposing new and additional necessary and sufficient conditions for autonomy. What these new conditions entail is that individuals must possess a particular form of unified consciousness across time in order to have acted autonomously.