John Christman

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199545971
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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To be autonomous is to be governed in one's actions (or life as a whole) by values, principles, or reflections that are truly one's own, to be one's own person, as opposed to being guided by external, manipulative, or alien forces. This chapter examines the concept of autonomy in western moral philosophy, beginning with a discussion of ancient philosophy to illustrate how autonomy is in many ways a modern idea. It then reviews contemporary debates about autonomy set against a backdrop of historical traditions that do not always place self-government at the centre of moral value, and considers some controversies in the more recent literature on autonomy in moral philosophy. The chapter concludes with a consideration of how that notion functions in social and political thought.

Keywords: moral philosophy; self-government; moral value; social thought; political thought

Article.  9890 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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