, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 303-312
Date: 24 Jun 2010

Oughtonomy in healthcare. A deconstructive reading of Kantian autonomy

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For years now, autonomy has been discussed as one of the central values in health care. Understood as self-realization, it is opposed to paternalism which is conceived as an intolerable occurrence of heteronomy. Although different concepts have been developed to nuance this opposition, when it comes to health care discourse, heteronomy is still the enemy of autonomy. In our article, we defend the thesis that autonomy is only achievable as heteronomy. We are not arguing for an expansion of the meaning of autonomy, but are attempting to conduct an analysis which lays bare the ‘disrupting’ attendance of heteronomy within the principle of autonomy. Autonomy does not begin where heteronomy ends, but can only begin if heteronomy is already involved. To emphasize this, we prefer to elaborate a new concept: ‘oughtonomy’. This concept is inspired by Jacques Derrida’s distinction between ‘difference’ and ‘differance’. We will develop the concept of oughtonomy from a deconstructive reading of Kant’s idea of autonomy, inspired by philosophers such as Jacob Rogozinski, Jean-Luc Nancy and others. In addition to a first exploration of this concept, this article also discusses the possible consequences of oughtonomy for current debates concerning health care. Our quest for a new understanding of autonomy is motivated by the concern that, although the accent on autonomy as self-realization and independence has many advantages, we should also bear in mind the countless disadvantages.