Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 1071–1093 | Cite as

Political liberalism and autonomy education: Are citizenship-based arguments enough?

  • Gina SchoutenEmail author


Several philosophers of education argue that schooling should facilitate students’ development of autonomy. Such arguments fall into two main categories: Student-centered arguments support autonomy education to help enable students to lead good lives; Public-goods-centered arguments support autonomy education to develop students into good citizens. Critics challenge the legitimacy of autonomy education—of the state imposing a schooling curriculum aimed at making children autonomous. In this paper, I offer a unified solution to the challenges of legitimacy that both arguments for autonomy education face. I first defend a particular construal of liberal legitimacy, and then consider each legitimacy challenge in light of that construal. I argue that the legitimacy challenges confronting both types of argument can be overcome. Further, I explain why we should pursue both arguments, rather than resting the entire case for autonomy education on one or the other. I conclude that each argument—if it can justify autonomy education at all—can justify autonomy education consistent with the requirements of liberal democratic legitimacy.


Political liberalism Autonomy Citizenship Education 



I am grateful to have received helpful feedback on this paper from many generous readers. I especially would like to thank Harry Brighouse, Shanna Slank, Jeff Behrends, David Sanson, Chris Higgins, Randall Curren, David O’Brien, Danielle Zwarthoed, Brittney Grafelman, Alita Kendrick, Liz Fansler, R. J. Leland, Julian Culp, Christie Hartley, Lori Watson, Blain Neufeld, and Andree-Anne Cormier.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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