Article

Autonomy

James Stacey Taylor

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online September 2013 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0167
Autonomy

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In recent years the concept of autonomy has risen to prominence both in action theory and moral philosophy. The term “autonomy” stems from two Greek roots, autos (“self”) and nomos (“rule”), and originally applied to self-ruling city-states. This term is now more usually applied to self-ruling persons, although precisely what it is for a person to be “self-ruling” is a matter for considerable debate. Yet, while the concept of autonomy has really risen to prominence only since the early 1970s, it has a respectable historical pedigree. The first major philosopher in whose work this concept was prominent was Immanuel Kant, who argued that a person was autonomous only when she acted from the essential nature of her will. Thus, since a person’s desires are not part of this, a person will be autonomous only when she is motivated by impersonal considerations—when she acts out of respect for the moral law. In contrast to Kant’s impersonal account of moral autonomy, most current writers focus on what is required for a person to be autonomous in the sense of directing her own life in accordance with her own desires and values. This approach has primarily focused on what criteria must be met for a person’s desires and values to be her “own” in the sense required for her to be autonomous with respect to them, rather than to be alienated from them or else merely possessing them agentially, as a small child might possess her desires. Various analyses have been offered here, including those that focus on the agent’s endorsement of her desires, those that focus on the historical process by which she came to have them, and those that focus on their internal coherence. More recently, writers have addressed the role that a person’s social environment might play in determining whether or not she is autonomous with respect to her desires. The debate over what is required for a person to be autonomous is accompanied by a debate over how autonomy is to be valued: whether intrinsically, instrumentally, or some hybrid combination of the two. It is, however, generally agreed that autonomy is valuable, and this is reflected in the prominence of this concept in current discussions of moral and political philosophy, ranging from bioethical discussion of the moral basis of informed consent to issues in political liberalism.

Article.  14094 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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