CULTURE AND OPPORTUNITY: CAN GROUP DIFFERENTIATED RIGHTS BE JUSTIFIED BY AN APPEAL TO INDIVIDUAL AUTONOMY?
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On the one hand, liberals, such as John Rawls (1971), assume that individuals are morally unencumbered by their community affiliations. Their only obligations are those that they voluntarily accept. On the other hand, communitarians, such as Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) claim that as members of different communities (that is, as we conceive of ourselves as belonging to various groups) we inherit both the rights and the obligations of membership, even those obligations that we do not choose for ourselves. The two positions appear to be irreconcilable. Will Kymlicka’s theory appears to reconcile liberal autonomy with an encumbered self. He achieves this by linking personal identity with cultural membership. The individual’s freedom, sense of security and sense of autonomy are all derived from culture. In fact, according to Kymlicka, culture is constitutive of the individual. The only way to respect the autonomy of an individual is to respect the individual’s culture. For Kymlicka this means granting group differentiated rights (GDR) to the culture. In this way, Kymlicka links individual autonomy with an encumbered self: a self that is encumbered in the narrow sense that individuals have obligations to groups as specified by GDR. In this paper, I turn to moral psychology’s notion of the moral self to examine Kymlicka’s claim that culture is constitutive of the individual. Recent theories suggest that very few members of a community take ownership in the values of their culture. Those that do take ownership are called ‘moral exemplars’. For these few individuals, their conception of the good life is defined by culture values. For those who do not own their cultural values there exists the possibility that their conception of the good life differs from the cultural conception. Thus, an individual may in fact be free to pursue the good life within any culture that allows it. This suggests that an individual’s autonomy and freedom are more independent of a particular culture than claimed by Kymlicka. If this is correct, Kymlicka’s argument for GDR is drawn into question. We can respect the autonomy of the individual without being required to grant GDR. This does not question the existence of GDR. Removing the link between respect for individual autonomy and the necessity of respecting cultures (via GDR), undermines Kymlicka’s attempt to bring a narrowly encumbered self with the liberal tradition.
Garcia, Alfredo (2015). CULTURE AND OPPORTUNITY: CAN GROUP DIFFERENTIATED RIGHTS BE JUSTIFIED BY AN APPEAL TO INDIVIDUAL AUTONOMY?. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from