AutonomyAn Essay on the Life Well-Lived
An Essay on the Life Well-Lived
Translated by James C. Wagner

In everyday life, we generally assume that we can make our own decisions on matters which concern our own lives. We assume that a life followed only according to decisions taken by other people, against our will, cannot be a well-lived life – we assume, in other words, that we are and should be autonomous. However, it is equally true that many aspects of our lives are not chosen freely: this is true of social relations and commitments but also of all those situations we simply seem to stumble into, situations which just seem to happen to us. The possibility of both the success of an autonomous life and its failure are part of our everyday experiences.

In this brilliant and illuminating book, Beate Roessler examines the tension between failing and succeeding to live an autonomous life and the obstacles we have to face when we try to live our life autonomously, obstacles within ourselves as well as those that stem from social and political conditions. She highlights the ambiguities we encounter, examines the roles of self-awareness and self-deception, explores the role of autonomy for the meaning of life, and maps out the social and political conditions necessary for autonomy. Informed by philosophical perspectives but also drawing on literary texts, such as those of Siri Hustvedt and Jane Austen, and diaries, including those of Franz Kafka and Sylvia Plath, Roessler develops a formidable defense of autonomy against excessive expectations and, above all, against overpowering skepticism.

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  • July 2021
  • 380 pages
  • 158 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $69.95
  • 9781509537990
  • Paperback $28.95
  • 9781509538003
  • Open eBook $56.00
  • 9781509538010
About the Author
Beate Roessler is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.
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“It needs a rare mixture of hermeneutical sensibility, analytical scrutiny, and existentialist imagination to give the individual search for autonomy the right place within the imponderables of one’s life. Beate Roessler, possessing these talents abundantly, is in my view the first one to fully illuminate both the desire and the difficulties we have in finding our own voice in the midst of social obstructions, individual self-misunderstandings, and communicative relationships. Her new book is by far the best philosophical study on this intricate topic and therefore a must-read.”
Axel Honneth, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University

“In one of the most lucid and insightful treatments of the subject of autonomy in the recent literature, Roessler takes profoundly seriously the contingencies and ambivalences inherent in everyday life, even in well-lived lives. The view of autonomy that emerges is thereby more nuanced, appropriately complex, and true to life than most on offer. The masterful use of literary examples, echoed in her own elegant writing, makes Roessler’s treatment of the topic a joy to read. Moreover, the account she offers, both of autonomy and its connection to a life well lived, is powerful and compelling.”
John Christman, Professor of Philosophy, Political Science and Women's Studies, Pennsylvania State University

“Engagingly written, and enriched with a series of well-chosen literary examples, Autonomy masterfully articulates the tensions between two conflicting but deeply entrenched conceptions of ourselves – as self-determined agents, and as beings who are subject to situations and circumstances that we do not choose. In explaining how these tensions can be reconciled, Beate Roessler presents a compelling argument for the view that autonomy is a necessary condition for a well-lived life. A lucid exploration of the interconnections between autonomy, self-knowledge, privacy, and social relationships, Autonomy makes an important contribution to the contemporary literature on autonomy.”
Catriona Mackenzie, Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University

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