The concept of autonomy has an air of paradox: How can a uniquely independent and autonomous person exist within the undeniable dependencies and influences of our social condition? The "problem" of autonomy, then, is to understand how the beliefs, preferences, or desires that motivate one to act can be uniquely "one's own" given the reality of social influence. I use the intersubjective psychology literature to show that there can be a gap, or an incomplete congruence, between what a person self-consciously recognizes, identifies with, and is able to articulate as one's own thoughts and feelings (i.e., one's motivations) and the actual, though unarticulated, nature of one's own subjective experience – the actual quality of one's wishes, or the actual direction of one's interest and attention, including one's actual frame of mind when acting, i.e., all that actually accounts for one's actions.
One's actions can be the product of an unrecognized frame of mind which results from social influences that are so thoroughly engrained in one's beliefs, desires, or preferences that one has no awareness of their influence on one's choices. This work fully recognizes the potentially negative impact of one's social influences on self-governance, but I provide an account of self-governance that emphasizes the positive (and essential) role that others play in the development and sustained exercise of the capacities at the heart of self-governance. Our understanding of self-governance can be deepened by recognizing, and taking fully into account, the inevitable influences we all receive, especially in early childhood. I use the intersubjective psychology literature to support my thesis that self-governance can only be properly understood within the social relationships within which it arises and through which it is sustained. This theory of self-governance emphasizes the emotional nature of our social interactions, and thus, it analyzes the capacities necessary for self-governance from the perspective of one's emotions, rather than the current emphasis on rational or cognitive powers which dominate the current literature.
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