Dictionary.com defines autonomy as, “independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions”, “the condition of being autonomous; self-government or the right of self-government”, and, “a self governing community.” The definition that I would like to focus on is the first of these three. However, before even discussing this definition, I want to illustrate just how complex the words, “independence” and “freedom” are. Dictionary.com defines independence as, “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others”, and defines freedom as, “exemption from the external control, interference, regulation, etc.” Therefore, autonomy is alternatively defined as being in a state devoid of influence regardless of whether that influence takes a positive, negative, or neutral form. However, is this level of self-control even possible? I believe that everything has some level of influence over everything else. For example, if a person is sitting in a room with no doors, windows, or any access to the outside world, that person, although restricted from any and all influence, is still influenced by there very being. This person, although in absolute isolation, is left to their own thoughts and therefore are influenced by whatever random thoughts form out of the nothingness. They are left to wonder what exists outside this room, how they got in this room, and infinite other thoughts related to their isolation and what exists outside of said isolation. Anything that has the opportunity to induce thought in an individual could be considered to have influenced said individual. Therefore, the fact that there is nothing, influences the individual to contemplate the very nothingness itself. I know that I sound like I am repeating myself, but I was influenced to do so.
During Friday’s class, Professor McCoy provided us with the example of the autonomy related to someone kicking a chair. More specifically, is a person who kicks a chair doing so autonomously? We then went onto discuss how, although the chair does not intentionally provoke the kicker to do anything, due to its mere existence, the chair lends itself to the possibility of being kicked. There were many processes that created the chair, as well as the numerous circumstances that leads both the kicker and the chair to exist within the same room at the same time. Therefore, the action of kicking the chair is not completely autonomous as both entities were subject to near infinite influences that would eventually lead to this final outcome and then lead to several other outcomes that could potentially happen after the fact. In the end, it is still the kicker’s decision to kick the chair, but that would not even be an option if not for the events that lead up until this point.
This does beg the question however. Can we have levels of autonomy if we cannot have total autonomy? I would like to apply this concept back to the chair kicking example. In order for a person to kick the chair over, they would have to exert a certain amount of force. However, if they do not wish for the chair to fall over, they only need to, at minimum, touch the chair with their foot in order to consider their action a “kick”. The action of kicking at different levels of force is therefore the equivalent of a person influencing the the chair with their foot. Do they influence it enough to fall or just enough so that it is just nudged a bit? If there can be varying levels of influence, does the same not hold true towards autonomy? Going back to the definition of autonomy, in order for an action to be considered autonomous, it must be free of influence. On the other hand, the definition does not attribute a time-frame or level of situational interaction towards what would be considered autonomous. Say we were placing blame on the cause for this person kicking the chair, rather than the kicker itself. Would we still blame the kicker for having been compelled to kick the chair, or would we go all the way back to blaming the person who synthesized, mined, or harvested the materials that would eventually be sold, refined, molded, etc. to eventually form the chair in the first place? Is the creator to blame, or the person who now has possession of the chair. The kicker would not have possession of the chair if not for those that came before them. However, why not go back even further and blame the materials for existing in the first place, or even blame existence itself for resulting in the possibility of this situation. This post is getting quite silly isn’t it. But there is a point to all of this rambling. However, I will provide you with an answer in my next post. See you all next time!