Autonomy and false beliefs

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The majority of current attention on the question of autonomy has focused on the internal reflection of the agent. The quality of an agent's reflection on her potential action (or motivating desire or value) is taken to determine whether or not that action is autonomous. In this paper, I argue that there is something missing in most of these contemporary accounts of autonomy. By focusing overwhelmingly on the way in which the agent reflects, such accounts overlook the importance of what the agent is reflecting upon. Whichever of these current formulations of autonomy we accept, reflection could be undertaken in full accordance with the conditions set, and yet the action fail to be autonomous. This will occur, I argue, if the agent is mistaken about the object of her reflection. More precisely, if she has a particular kind of false belief about the action she is contemplating undertaking, then no amount of reflection can render that action autonomous. This suggests the need for externalist conditions to be incorporated into an account of autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-531
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Action
  • Autonomy
  • False beliefs
  • McKenna
  • Mele

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