Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Elisabeth Gedge




Theories of autonomy are often divided into two broad types: procedural theories and substantive theories. Procedural theories are those that make the criteria for the autonomy of a mental state depend only on the formal features of the mental state, such as its relation to other mental states or features of its etiology. Substantive theories, on the other hand, place some restrictions on what content a mental state can have if it is to be autonomous. Procedural theories have been criticized for failing to explain why those who have internalized oppression are heteronomous, and this has been presented as a motivation for accepting a substantive theory.

In this thesis I dispute this conclusion, and present the outline of a procedural account that can answer this challenge. I argue that the competency account of autonomy suggested by Diana Meyers, in which autonomy is the result of an agent applying a suite of coordinated autonomy skills, provides a new way to understand procedural barriers to autonomy. Using this competency account of autonomy, I show how a lack of self-trust can undermine the successful use of autonomy skills, and thus impede autonomy. I then show how internalizing oppression can undermine self-trust, building on Miranda Fricker's work on epistemic injustice. This shows how procedural accounts of autonomy can account for the heteronomy of the oppressed, undermining one of the criticisms against procedural accounts, and also providing support for a competency account of autonomy.

McMaster University Library

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