Autonomy and autonomy competencies: a practical and relational approach
This essay will address a general philosophical concern about autonomy, namely, that a conception of autonomy focused on freedom of the will alone is inadequate, once we consider the effects of oppressive forms of socialization on individuals’ formation of choices. In response to this problem, I will present a brief overview of Diana Meyers’s account of autonomy as relational and practical. On this view, autonomy consists in a set of socially acquired practical competencies in self-discovery, self-definition, self-knowledge, and self-direction. This account provides a distinction between choices that express unreflectively internalized social norms and those that are the result of a critical ‘self-reading’. I conclude that this practical conception of autonomy makes much higher demands upon nurses (and patients) than has previously been thought. In fact, if nurses are to be expected to genuinely promote autonomy, they are going to need specific training in counselling-type communication skills.