Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Agency, Akrasia, Autonomy, Behavioral Economics, Philosophy of Action, Self-Control
I offer a prolegomenon to the philosophical study of a uniquely human activity—the self-binding act. This philosophical interest directly connects with the Enlightenment project of centralizing personal autonomy and individual freedom as primary values of personhood. Self-binding represents an easily referenced action that introduces a possible clash between autonomy and freedom on the one hand seen as in conflict with other ancient basic human values like self-control and avoiding akrasia. This dissertation investigates the inverted manner whereby an act of self-binding, which voluntarily and effectively limits a person’s options, can end up augmenting rather than interfering with personal autonomy. I claim that, properly understood, self-binding, rather than a threat to personal autonomy, turns out to be a paradigmatic act of autonomous agency and a tool for overcoming akrasia. I show how the self-binding act assists and even expands Harry Frankfurt’s concept of volitional necessity which overestimates the potential stability of the human will and underestimates the impact of three considerations related to the instability of the will: (1) the ontological reality of time; (2) the psychological reality of a tendency to assent to or rebel against authority and (3) a discounted reality wherein future negative consequences are minimized or dismissed. Accounting for these three realities in the act of self-binding fortifies volitional necessity into a tighter, more integrated concept. There are obvious traversals with the concepts of agency, autonomy, rationality and the inevitable reductionist claims to consider along with worries about coercion and paternalism. Antecedent authority-sourcing is a central issue for autonomy and self-binding. Surprisingly, the Self as the sole, ultimate source for self-binding turns out to be more complicated than at first glance. Finally, I have made an attempt to elucidate why and how the self-binding act might work by proposing several analogues, particularly a striking correspondence with the functions a fence.
Coil, Charlie, "Abandoning the Dream of Omnipotence: On Autonomy and Self-Binding" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 2893.