Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 December 2003
For the past three decades philosophical discussions of both personal autonomy and what it is for a person to “identify” with her desires have been dominated by the “hierarchical” analyses of these concepts developed by Gerald Dworkin and Harry Frankfurt. The longevity of these analyses is owed, in part, to the intuitive appeal of their shared claim that the concepts of autonomy and identification are to be analyzed in terms of hierarchies of desires, such that it is a necessary condition for a person to be autonomous with respect to (to identify with) a desire that moves her to act, that she desires that this desire so move her. (Conversely, on these analyses, a person will not be autonomous with respect to a desire that she is moved by, she will not identify with it, if she does not want to be so moved.) Despite the intuitive appeal of these analyses, however, Irving Thalberg has argued that they should be rejected. This is because, he argues, a person who is forced to perform an action by being subjected to duress of a certain degree of harshness will desire to be moved by her desire to submit. Thus, he continues, the proponents of hierarchical analyses of autonomy and identification will be forced to hold that such a person acted willingly, and did not suffer from any impairment in her autonomy. This, Thalberg concludes, is so counterintuitive as to justify rejecting hierarchical analyses.