In my dissertation I develop a multi-factor conception of autonomy as a capacity. Through this project I mean to unify and refine several existing conceptions of autonomy and develop a conception of autonomy that can resolve certain problems in political philosophy (especially those arising from the belief that only idealized preferences should be taken into account in cost-benefit analysis).
The account I develop views autonomy as a meta-capacity resting on a range of underlying abilities and attitudes. However, I deny that there is a thick boundary between abilities or between the person and her environment. As such, I argue, that autonomy in any given person may rest on a unique combination of capacities, social relationships, and environmental resources.
Because of this, it is my contention, that many people who might be deemed to lack autonomy have the potential to achieve a greater degree of autonomy than some existing theories of autonomy might acknowledge. And, I argue that the potential for autonomy to rely on environmental and social resources makes it so that the appropriate response to people who may have deficits in some capacities underlying autonomy is support, even if this means respecting some non-ideal preferences.