Autonomy, Competence and Non-interference

Joseph T.F. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In light of the variety of uses of the term autonomy in recent bioethics literature, in this paper, I suggest that competence, not being as contested, is better placed to play the anti-paternalistic role currently assigned to autonomy. The demonstration of competence, I will argue, can provide individuals with robust spheres of non-interference in which they can pursue their lives in accordance with their own values. This protection from paternalism is achieved by granting individuals rights to non-interference upon demonstration of competence. In this paper, I present a risk-sensitive account of competence as a means of grounding rights to non-interference. On a risk-sensitive account of competence individuals demonstrate their competence by exercising three capacities to the extent necessary to meet a threshold determined by the riskiness of the decision. These three capacities are the capacity to (i) acquire knowledge, (ii) use instrumental rationality, and (iii) form and revise a life plan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalHEC Forum
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2017


  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Liberalism
  • Non-interference
  • Paternalism


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