The “Autonomy” of a Person

What is meant by the “autonomy” of a person?

Personal autonomy refers to an individual’s ability to gain control over the course of his or her actions. In ancient Greece, Plato and Aristotle associated autonomy with self-mastery and self-governance. For Plato, the rational part of the human psyche was superior to the Spirit and the Appetite, and only by submitting the latter two to the will of the reason, one could attain autonomy. Aristotle saw an autonomous person as someone whose happiness did not depend on external factors.

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Probably the most significant contribution to the concept of autonomy was made by Kant. For Kant, true autonomy was only attainable if an individual dared to question and reject the moral principles imposed by the society, politicians, and religious authorities. Instead, an individual had to make decisions in compliance with the self-imposed moral law that was to established once and for all and not depend on the circumstances. On the contrary, some philosophers doubt the very existence of autonomy claiming that social context and societal boundaries determine a person’s actions if not entirely then at least to a great extent.

Explain the moral relevance of the trolley problem

The trolley problem deals with human morality within the concept of consequentialism. Ever since its conception in the 1960s, philosophers and researchers have created several similar scenarios the most popular of which included a trolley out of control that could only be stopped if manually switched to a safety rail. However, by pushing a lever, a passer-by rushing to save the passengers of the trolley would inadvertently kill a person standing by the said rail. When discussing the trolley problem, one is offered to decide which consequences are allowable and how comparable the death of the passengers and the death of one bystander are.

One of the approaches to this intractable moral dilemma dates back to the 13th century when Aquinas introduced the Doctrine of Double Effect. Within his Doctrine, for an action to be justified, it has to fit specific criteria. The outcome must be good, and it has to be as crucial as the activity undertaken. Lastly, there must be no malicious ulterior motive; in the case of the trolley problem, the actor should not be planning to murder the bystander. Despite the seemingly logical explanation, the Doctrine has its issues, for instance, the vagueness of what constitutes a good outcome. At that, one may find the strictly utilitarian view that gauges the “net worth” of good unacceptable, for it would focus on the saved lives, making one person mere collateral damage.

What is the Tragedy of the Commons? Give an example and discuss a way of avoiding it

The tragedy of the commons is a concept in social and political sciences that describes people’s tendency to act in their interests when given access to common goods or resources. In doing that, they increase the demand that the supply can no longer meet, and, thus, every person who consumes an extra unit inhibits others from attaining the benefits of a source. One of the prime historical examples of the Tragedy of the Commons is the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. Once the farmers discovered the natural fertility of the Mississippi River, they abused the use of farming chemicals in the area. Their greed and competitiveness resulted in an ecological catastrophe, as the river flow washed the toxic compounds downstream and created a vast oxygen-free dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

As for the solutions, some researchers are convinced that the government may leave citizens to their own devices so that social norms and the need to cooperate would put adequate restraints on excessive use and eliminate squandering. On the other hand, others claim that the government may meddle effectively, for instance, by enforcing regulations and allowing mass privatization. The latter is seen as an incentive for a new owner to be a conscious user.

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