Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 21–33 | Cite as

Taking the Self out of Self-Rule

  • Michael Garnett


Many philosophers believe that agents are self-ruled only when ruled by their (authentic) selves. Though this view is rarely argued for explicitly, one tempting line of thought suggests that self-rule is just obviously equivalent to rule by the self. However, the plausibility of this thought evaporates upon close examination of the logic of ‘self-rule’ and similar reflexives. Moreover, attempts to rescue the account by recasting it in negative terms are unpromising. In light of these problems, this paper instead proposes that agents are self-ruled only when not ruled by others. One reason for favouring this negative social view is its ability to yield plausible conclusions concerning various manipulation cases that are notoriously problematic for nonsocial accounts of self-rule. A second reason is that the account conforms with ordinary usage. It is concluded that self-rule may be best thought of as an essentially social concept.


Self-rule Autonomy Agency Manipulation 



Early versions of this paper were presented at both the Birkbeck work-in-progress workshop and the Birkbeck postgraduate seminar: I thank all those in attendance for the helpful discussions. Many thanks are also due to various anonymous referees for invaluable comments on previous drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBirkbeck College, University of LondonLondonUK

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