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Deep Deference, Autonomy, and The Deferential Wife

  • Author(s): Silverstein, Elizabeth Rachel
  • Advisor(s): Macnamara, Coleen
  • et al.

My dissertation focuses on two characters, the deferential wife (DW) and her closely related friend anti-feminist (AF). DW is committed to deferring to husband's preferences in all areas of their joint life. AF is also committed to deferring to her husband in all areas of their joint life, but unlike with DW, we know that AF is making an autonomous choice to commit to defer to her husband. My aim in this dissertation is to explain why DW is not autonomous; what it is that is problematic about AF's choice to be deferential; and how we might go about interacting with these women especially in real world settings. First, I sort out the concept of deference, identifying the particular type of deference that is displayed by DW and AF, which I call deep deference. Next, I identify three ways deep deference undermines agency: 1) it undermines the ability to be a good moral agent, 2) it limits the ability to be self-constituting, and 3) that it is problematic with respect to autonomy. I focus on deep deference and autonomy. I then give some criteria of what would be a good theory of autonomy for explaining why it is that DW is not autonomous. Ultimately, I argue Andrea Westlund's account of autonomy does the best job of meeting these criteria and thus explaining why DW is not autonomous. I then turn to the choice to be deeply deferential. While Westlund gives the right sort of view for explaining why DW is not autonomous, she doesn't address my intuition that if you care about autonomy you should be concerned about the choice to commit to deep deference. I use her account of autonomy together with an understanding of the normativity of personal commitments to show exactly why we should be concerned about AF's autonomy. Finally, I build upon this view of autonomy by proposing that the best way to engage those like DW and AF such that their autonomy may be enhanced without disrespecting autonomy is to engage them in the autonomy enhancing practice of justificatory dialogue.

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