Mesa's Dwight Furrow & SDSU's Mark Wheeler on "What is an Autonomous Person?"

The San Diego Philosophy Forum is pleased to announce that Professors Dwight Furrow and Mark Wheeler will speak on the topic: "What is an Autonomous Person?"

This event, open to the public, will take place 6:30-8:00 PM, Tuesday, February 25 at the North University Public Library: 8820 Judicial Dr. (near the 805 highway's Nobel Exit).

Light refreshments available. More information, if any, will be posted, as available, to


Dwight Furrow is Professor of Philosophy at Mesa College, San Diego, with a Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of California, Riverside.  His B.A. in philosophy is from California State University, Northridge.

Dr. Furrow's specialty is ethics, and he is the author of many books and articles in moral philosophy.  He resolutely avoided writing on politics until after the 2004 presidential election, when he decided that “America’s cult of stupidity had gone too far," and that he was "under a moral imperative to make sense of American values.”  The outcome of that decision was his latest book: "Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America."  

He is also the author of: Ethics: Key Concepts in Philosophy, and Against Theory: Continental & Analytic Challenges in Moral Philosophy.  He is an editor of: Moral Soundings: Readings on the Crisis of Values in Contemporary Life, and has more than a passing interest in gastronomy which finds expression in his compelling food blog:

He previously taught at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, California State University, (San Bernardino and Fullerton), Riverside Community College, and the University of Redlands, where, in 1996, he was named Distinguished Teacher of the Year.  

Dr. Furrow is a champion of public philosophy, and has devoted considerable attention to making it accessible to non-specialists and general interest readers alike.  He has stated that, “philosophy’s job is to clarify our beliefs and help us understand their meaning and significance.  There is no reason why that task should be confined to the ivory tower.”


Mark Wheeler, past Chairman of Philosophy, at San Diego State University, received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of Rochester.  His areas of concentration include: Ancient Greek Philosophy, Plato and Aristotle, Contemporary Value Theory, and Contemporary Metaphysics.  

Dr. Wheeler strongly advocates a public role for academic philosophers.  As such, he remains active in the affairs of the University, as well as the wider community.  He is the Director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs, and, in conjunction with his colleagues, works tirelessly against budget cuts in higher education.   

He is the author of "150 Years of Evolution: Charles Darwin’s Impact on the Humanities and Social Sciences," as well as many articles, including: “The Possibility of Recurrent Individuals in Aristotle’s Organon.”

An early advocate of public philosophy in San Diego, Dr. Wheeler has also devoted considerable attention to making philosophers accessible outside the academy.  He was an early supporter of this forum, providing encouragement and advice from the start.

Together, Dr.s Wheeler and Furrow recently Co-Authored: “Levinasian Autonomy: How to Free a Hostage,” in Ethics and Phenomenology, eds. Mark Sanders and J. Jeremy Wisnewski (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).

(Please see previous Meetup events for a more detailed list of Dr. Wheeler's articles and publications.)


"Autonomy (Ancient Greek: αὐτονομία autonomia from αὐτόνομος autonomos from αὐτο- auto- "self" + νόμος nomos, "law", hence when combined understood to mean "one who gives oneself one's own law") is a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision. In moral and political philosophy, autonomy is often used as the basis for determining moral responsibility and accountability for one's actions...."1

"Autonomous agents are self-governing agents. But what is a self-governing agent? Governing oneself is no guarantee that one will have a greater range of options in the future, or the sort of opportunities one most wants to have. Since, moreover, a person can govern herself without being able to appreciate the difference between right and wrong, it seems that an autonomous agent can do something wrong without being to blame for her action. What, then, are the necessary and sufficient features of this self-relation? Philosophers have offered a wide range of competing answers to this question."2 

"....Autonomy is a key concept that has a broad impact on different fields of philosophy. In moral philosophy, autonomy is the ability to impose objective moral law on oneself.[4].... One of the best known philosophical theories of autonomy was developed by Kant, [who] argued that autonomy is demonstrated by a person who decides on a course of action out of respect for moral duty. That is, an autonomous person acts morally solely for the sake of doing "good", independently of other incentives. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant applied this concept to create a definition of personhood. He suggested that such compliance with moral law creates the essence of human dignity.

In metaphysical philosophy, the concept of autonomy is [also] referenced in discussions about free will, fatalism, determinism, and agency."3


1 & 3 (Wikipedia: "Autonomy")

2 (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "")


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  • Michael D.

    This was a very good talk. I found many connections with various studies I have been doing in mind, free will and Stoicism, and I am interested in exploring them further. It is good to hear a view that breaks free from seeing our autonomy only in terms of propositional reasoning. I've often thought that propositional reasoning is giving expression to something going on that is richer and deeper in us. There is the way we are taking in the world and ourselves as a part of it and our relations to what is significant to us - and we are good at doing this without thinking things through step by step. They didn't get into it but that way of taking in the world and ourselves as a part of it is always spanning space and time. It seems any moment of experience is never a point in time but a sort of center of a region in which the past is present and reaches into the future - with our various intentional states. That structure of care they talked about lives within that setting.

    1 · February 25, 2014

    • Derek B.

      To best understand Schopenhauer, the idea of plurality, and causation, or representation, or the world, or reality as it is commonly understood, is object FOR the subject. The subject is real, however, the object is, for lack of a better term, "The Matrix". <g>

      February 26, 2014

    • Derek B.

      I think to understand (metaphysics) rather than to simply know (epistemology) what self-awareness is, or what is meant by the term, is best surfaced by the artificial intelligence crowd when they use the term in reference to some new generation of computers that will, presumably, be born into this century. What, exactly, will these machines be aware of? Anything short of non-plurality, or character as disposition, that is to say, how it feels, would, quite frankly, beg this question... and we're a long way from LISP. <g>

      March 3

  • Phil C

    I thought the presentation was excellent and they left plenty of time for questions as well.

    1 · February 25, 2014

  • Derek B.

    Not a single one has ever entered into these discussions; nor have they offered Andrew much in the way of even a basic outline; biographies in liew of bibliographical references; a link to a paper would be nice. <sigh>

    But yes... the memories are waiting. <g>

    February 25, 2014

    • Derek B.

      It's not for me, or even us, that I lament; it's the thoughtful future of our great nation, those promising young minds, who's parents sacrificed so much to provide for them a college education, in an age where it costs so dear; that this is is place, and now the time, to fain some level of assurance, that all those efforts were not in vain! <g>

      February 25, 2014

  • Hamilton

    This looks fun. Although I won't be able to attend this evening I look forward to doing so in the future. Very cool that experts are volunteering their time to lead these discussions.

    February 25, 2014

  • Derek B.

    JC: (that's quite the acronym) <g>

    "What does each of our moral acts foretell?"

    Foretell is a scientific dream. Try predilect... character I think.

    Forgive me, but the alternative is to start another discussion thread I'll regret. <g>

    February 24, 2014

  • Derek B.

    These enquiries seem to only confirm Schopenhauer's idea that reason is a tool employed in the service of will; that belief and doubt may be the oldest, and most primitive passions, predating reason; and that, on topic, will, compos'd of Hume's impressions of reflection (viz., passions): original ideas, complete in themselves, with no reference to anything else, obviates a determined existence (e.g., a computer), and affords adequate ground for autonomy.

    February 19, 2014

  • Michael D.

    I just read this quote by John Searle in his book, Mind: A Brief Introduction, 2004, p 219: "If, for example, I am in a restaurant and I am confronted with a menu and the waiter asks me what I would like, I cannot say 'I'm a determinist, I'll just wait and see what happens.'..."

    February 19, 2014

    • Derek B.

      It's a good example.

      There's the act of going to a restaurant and the motive (e.g., hunger, company, expediency, and/or, in general, a dim appreciation for culinary art and too much disposable cash, etc. <g>)

      The menu is fare for reason to suggest a passion. What is the best dish? (e.g., prime rib), value? (e.g., two tacos), heart healthy (e.g.,salt-free), calorie slam (e.g., comfort food), dieting (e.g., top sirloin). <g>

      These passions may range from joy, in the presence of good company, to the fear and frustration of dieting alone.

      But the decisions made can never be explained from reason or motives. They proceed from passions.

      1 · February 19, 2014

    • Derek B.

      To make this idea as simple as possible; suppose you are taking a math test and the first question is 1 + 1 = ?

      Reason will defer to, rather than even bother to suggest, a passion - the belief that the answer is 2.

      In other words, reason, here, at this level, is not even appealed to.

      Short of this belief, you, or an infant, could not answer the question.

      Or suppose your quadratic equation leaves you some expression of i.

      Reason will suggest a passion - the belief that the real root is the only sensible solution...

      February 19, 2014

  • Derek B.

    Not to be a spoiler, but in my view (I doubt many care about this anyway), this topic is worse than the last. Nothing personal. <g>

    January 29, 2014

    • Derek B.

      Better than Socrates' love life as philosophy. <s>

      1 · February 3, 2014

    • Nan


      February 4, 2014

  • Andrew

    Friend of the Forum, George Schieck, has informed me that this same evening, Feb. 25, UCSD is hosting a Peter Singer "Ted Talk" and live Skype post-event. If you feel that you will attend that event instead of the Forum, please let me know: "This event, at UCSD, will be an interaction with Peter Singer via Skype, as part of a viewing of the TED Talk he gave in March 2013.

    January 27, 2014

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