The Humanities Base theme of Autonomy and Responsibility, as we have seen tonight and throughout the Symposium presentations, is conceptually slippery and offers challenges in interpretation for both faculty and students. Dr. Gene August mentioned in his keynote address that the terms are usually presented as if in tension with one another: "Autonomy versus Responsibility." History records numerous examples of persons who, when faced with momentous opportunities for choice, acted with responsibility as they saw it. Dr. August, however, introduces a different interpretation of the relationship between autonomy and responsibility. In his announcement of the showing of our film for this evening, Roses in December, he tells us that it is about "a young woman's attainment of autonomy through responsibility" (emphasis added). Apparently, autonomy and responsibility may be linked in complementary ways as well as in coupled tension. In the film, according to August, it was only through choosing to take on increased responsibility to serve others, that Jean Donovan emerged as an inner-directed, committed, and autonomous person. Xavier Monasterio, however, reminds us in his paper "On Archbishop Romero and some Aspects of Autonomy," that circumstances over which we may have no control limit the exercise of autonomy despite our commitment to responsible action. Thus an oppressed, landless campesino in El Salvador is constrained by the political and social reality from taking action against those who deny basic human rights. Having a sense of responsibility, then, cannot guarantee that a person will behave in an autonomous manner. But there is a contrary view, suggests Monesterio, which holds that humans are inherently fully autonomous and they need to be responsible only to themselves. He singles out early writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and the views of Friedrich Nietzsche as examples of this brand of egoism, but the writings of Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness) no doubt would serve equally well. Janis Krugh, in her paper "The Archbishop and a December Rose: The Lives of Monsignor Romero and Jean Donovan as Examples of Christian Discipleship," adds still another level of complexity as she wonders whether a total commitment to a belief, cause, or project reduces the range of choices and to that extent diminishes one's autonomy. Where commitment is total, choice is irrelevant.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.