Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



Autonomy researchers over the last three decades have largely focused on the hierarchical, content-neutral theories proposed by Harry Frankfurt and, to a lesser degree, Gerald Dworkin. Both of these theories claim that one must have higher-order endorsement of her lower-order desires to be autonomous with respect to the lower-order desires. However, neither of these theories makes the claim that one must be autonomous with respect to the higher-order endorsing desire. This leads to a dilemma known as the ab initio problem. Specifically, the problem is that it is not clear how one can become autonomous with respect to one desire by appealing to a desire to which one does not bear an autonomous relation. In this essay, I attempt to argue that the ab initio problem can be solved by modifying the currently content-neutral theories to be instead substantive. In other words, I claim that a hierarchical account of autonomy must appeal to a theoretically-specified (substantive) mental state. I believe that the solution to the ab initio problem is to appeal to a need for self-worth as the appropriate mental state. The need for self-worth can be used to explain haw any individual identifies with her desires because an individual cannot rationally pursue a goal that she believes will damage her overall worth. Therefore, the need for self-worth explains how a person comes to be autonomous with respect to her desires.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

James Stacey Taylor