This Independent Study thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter "What Seems Valuable to Humans?" discusses the thought experiment made by philosopher Robert Nozick. It shows us that what is valuable to the human animal is clearly not found in any one mental state. Instead, it would seem, upon reflection, that what is actually valuable to us is the ability to make choices and have actions. To have choices and actions (also known as evaluations) that are clearly ours appears to be of great value to us. This is especially notable when contrasted with those choices, actions, and experiences one may have in the experience machine which are undesirable, regardless of the quality of the experiences, because they are synthetic and constructed choices and actions. The second chapter, "What is Autonomy?" discusses what I believe the thought experiment suggests is valuable, autonomy or making our own choices and having our own actions. It gives a definition of autonomy, as discussed by philosopher Julian Savulescu. It looks closely at what it means to be autonomous, which is to have a life plan based on rational desires and the tendency to act towards the fulfillment of those desires. It then briefly considers some initial problems one might have with Savulescu's criteria for a desire to be considered rational. It then discusses another important factor of autonomy, overlooked by Savulescu, and that is the importance of our reflective capacity. Without this ability we would be unable to have rational desires and thereby be autonomous. The section concludes by positing the question, "Why is it that humans value autonomy and how is it related to their nature?" The third chapter, "Why Being Autonomous is Important for Us" examines the reasoning for why I believe being autonomous is valuable to humans. It looks at Aristotle's teleology as discussed by philosopher Christine Korsgaard. I formally argue that the characteristic activity of a human being consists, in part, in being an evaluator and that the purpose of a human is to flourish in the human way, but a necessary condition for flourishing is autonomy. Autonomy, because it is a necessary condition for human flourishing is uniquely valuable to every human. The fourth chapter of my thesis, "Objections and Further Considerations" discusses some possible objections people might raise in regards to my theory. It first discusses the Humean objection that I believe could be raised in regards to the role I suggest reason plays in shaping our desires. The second objection is one along the lines of Michael Sandel's argument about the fallacy of an unencumbered self. I believe both of these objections can be met. I then discuss some implications I believe would follow from autonomy's valuable position to humans such as a morality centered around the value of autonomous expression. Similarly I discuss virtues and vices that I believe would either encourage or discourage autonomous expression for both individuals and a society. At some point however, argumentation can only go so far in convincing a reader. Eventually I run out of arguments and logical argumentation fails to convince. Therefore, in the fifth chapter of my thesis I participate in the ancient philosophical tradition of storytelling in an attempt to convey to my reader, from a different perspective, the value of autonomy. I have written two short stories which serve as allegorical links to my conception of autonomy. The first portrays what happens when autonomy is not valued and the second portrays a life where autonomy is valued. They force the readers to question just how autonomously they are living.


Prendergast, Thomas

Second Advisor

Riley, Evan


English; Philosophy


Ethics and Political Philosophy


autonomy, value, value theory, ethics

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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