About this topic
Summary Autonomy is one of the most often discussed topics in modern and contemporary philosophy.  It is key to some moral theories, some political philosophies, and, of course, central to understanding the nature of personhood.  Unsurprisingly, then, there are significant disagreements about the nature of autonomy.  There are thinner and thicker understandings of autonomy throughout the literature.  There are moral and political demands that autonomy be protected or promoted.  Its use as a central value in applied ethics is standard.  Generally speaking, then, there are disagreements about what autonomy is and how and why it matters in moral theory and political philosophy.
Key works It is difficult to say what would count as a "key work" here.  Historically, Kant is likely the most important author to consider.  His deontological moral theory rests on a particularly thick conception of autonomy. For a detailed historical overview of autonomy in modern philosophy, it may be best to start with J.B. Schneewind's 1998 The Invention of Autonomy.
Introductions Perhaps the best place to start considering the nature of autonomy is Stephen Darwall's 2006. See also John Christman's SEP entry.
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Subcategories:History/traditions: Autonomy
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  1. Sandra Abdo (2005). Sobre o problema da autonomia da arte e suas implicações hermenêuticas e ontológicas. Kriterion 46 (112):357-366.
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  2. Dominique Bouchet (2007). The Ambiguity of the Modern Conception of Autonomy and the Paradox of Culture. Thesis Eleven 88 (1):31-54.
    Grounded in newer French socio-political philosophy, this text deals with the paradoxical situation in which the interpretation of society as well as the relation between the individual and the social remains ambiguous even though autonomy and interrogation of the social emerges: Autonomy remains trapped between transcendence and immanence. Modernity is when society claims to know that it has to produce its own myths. Traditional societies did not relate to their myths as if they were their own products. Nevertheless, as soon (...)
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  3. S. E. Cuypers (1997). Mele, AR-Autonomous Agents. Philosophical Books 38:205-207.
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  4. Michael J. DeMoor (2007). Rational Autonomy and Autonomous Rationality. Philosophia Reformata 72 (2):105-129.
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  5. Laura Waddell Ekstrom (2005). Autonomy and Personal Integration. In J. Stacey Taylor (ed.), Personal Autonomy: New Essays on Personal Autonomy and its Role in Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
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  6. Joel Feinberg (1989). Autonomy. In John Philip Christman (ed.), The Inner Citadel: Essays on Individual Autonomy. Oxford University Press. 27--53.
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  7. Michael Garnett (forthcoming). Autonomy as Social Independence: Reply to Weimer. Australasian Journal of Philosophy:1-5.
    I defend my pure social account of global autonomy from Steven Weimer's recent criticisms. In particular, I argue that it does not implicitly rely upon the very kind of nonsocial conception of autonomy that it hopes to replace.
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  8. Diego Gracia (2012). The Many Faces of Autonomy. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 33 (1):57-64.
    What does autonomy mean from a moral point of view? Throughout Western history, autonomy has had no less than four different meanings. The first is political: the capacity of old cities and modern states to give themselves their own laws. The second is metaphysical, and was introduced by Kant in the second half of the 18th century. In this meaning, autonomy is understood as an intrinsic characteristic of all rational beings. Opposed to this is the legal meaning, in which actions (...)
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  9. Chris Hughes (2013). The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and the Modern Subject. Contemporary Political Theory 12 (3):e12.
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  10. Ian Jennings (2005). Wolf and Christman on Autonomy: Two Objective Views. South African Journal of Philosophy 19 (3):151-167.
    In this paper I examine the attempts of Susan Wolf and John Christman to rescue efforts to characterise the concept of autonomy from the difficulties faced by so-called subjective theories of autonomy – theories which treat agent's own appraisals of their desires as final arbiters with regard to the assessment of whether or not they are autonomous. I conclude that Wolf's view either ends up falling foul of her own objections to subjective theories or ends up describing virtuous, as opposed (...)
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  11. Suzy Killmister (2013). Autonomy, Liberalism, and Anti-Perfectionism. Res Publica 19 (4):353-369.
    John Christman has recently objected to substantive conceptions of autonomy on the grounds that they introduce unwanted perfectionism into political thinking. I defend substantive conceptions of autonomy against Christman’s critique on two fronts. First, I defend substantive conceptions of autonomy against the charge that their utilisation in political theory would result in the inappropriate exclusion from democratic respect of individuals in oppressive relations. Second, I defend substantive conceptions of autonomy from the charge that they fail the ‘endorsement constraint’, i.e. that (...)
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  12. Timothy Kolke (forthcoming). Procedural Vs. Substantive Theories of Autonomy: Reinterpreting the Connection Between Good Values and Autonomy. Prolegomena.
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  13. Michael McKenna (2005). The Relationship Between Autonomous and Morally Responsible Agency. In J. Stacey Taylor (ed.), Personal Autonomy: New Essays on Personal Autonomy and its Role in Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. 205--34.
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  14. Amos Morris-Reich (2005). From Autonomous Subject to Free Individual in Simmel and Lacan. History of European Ideas 31 (1):103-127.
    This article reads Simmel's and Lacan's respective theories of subject and object with regard to their understandings of alienation as a constant human feature. It demonstrates a gradual shift in their work from a conception of humans as autonomous subjects to humans as free individuals. It argues that this shift is best understood with regard to their respective contentions with alienation and in relation of transgression.
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  15. C. Thi Nguyen (2010). Autonomy, Understanding, and Moral Disagreement. Philosophical Topics 38 (2):111-129.
    Should the existence of moral disagreement reduce one’s confidence in one’s moral judgments? Many have claimed that it should not. They claim that we should be morally self-sufficient: that one’s moral judgment and moral confidence ought to be determined entirely one’s own reasoning. Others’ moral beliefs ought not impact one’s own in any way. I claim that moral self-sufficiency is wrong. Moral self-sufficiency ignores the degree to which moral judgment is a fallible cognitive process like all the rest. In this (...)
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  16. C. Thi Nguyen (2010). Autonomy, Understanding, and Moral Disagreement. Philosophical Topics 38 (2):111-129.
    Should the existence of moral disagreement reduce one’s confidence in one’s moral judgments? Many have claimed that it should not. They claim that we should be morally self-sufficient: that one’s moral judgment and moral confidence ought to be determined entirely one’s own reasoning. Others’ moral beliefs ought not impact one’s own in any way. I claim that moral self-sufficiency is wrong. Moral self-sufficiency ignores the degree to which moral judgment is a fallible cognitive process like all the rest. In this (...)
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  17. Andrew Sneddon (2013). Autonomy. Bloomsbury.
    Philosophers have various reasons to be interested in individual autonomy. Individual self-rule is widely recognized to be important. But what, exactly, is autonomy? In what ways is it important? And just how important is it? This book introduces contemporary philosophical thought about the nature and significance of individual self-rule. -/- Andrew Sneddon divides self-rule into autonomy of choice and autonomy of persons. Unlike most philosophical treatments of autonomy, Sneddon addresses empirical study of the psychology of action. The significance of autonomy (...)
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  18. Carlos Thiebaut (1997). The Logic of Autonomy and the Logic of Authenticity: A Two-Tiered Conception of Moral Subjectivity: Special Section: Autonomy and Authenticity. Philosophy and Social Criticism 23 (3):93-108.
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Autonomy in Political Theories
  1. S. Akhtar (2011). Liberal Recognition for Identity? Only for Particularized Ones. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 10 (1):66-87.
    Communitarian writers argue that social identity is deeply important to individual autonomy and thus liberal societies have an obligation to recognize identity. Any liberal view that attempts to account for this charge must specify a procedure to recognize identity that also ensures that the liberal sense of autonomy is not weakened. In this article, I develop such an account. I argue that liberals must distinguish an identity that belongs to particular persons (particularized identity) from the collective form of that identity. (...)
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  2. Linda Alcoff (ed.) (2006). Identity Politics Reconsidered. Palgrave Macmillan.
    Based on the ongoing work of the agenda-setting Future of Minority Studies national research project, Identity Politics Reconsidered reconceptualizes the scholarly and political significance of social identity. It focuses on the deployment of “identity” within ethnic-, women’s-, disability-, and gay and lesbian studies in order to stimulate discussion about issues that are simultaneously theoretical and practical, ranging from ethics and epistemology to political theory and pedagogical practice. This collection of powerful essays by both well-known and emerging scholars offers original answers (...)
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  3. Amy Allen (2007). The Politics of Our Selves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory. Columbia University Press.
    Introduction : the politics of our selves -- Foucault, subjectivity, and the enlightenment : a critical reappraisal -- The impurity of practical reason : power and autonomy in Foucault -- Dependency, subordination, and recognition : Butler on subjection -- Empowering the lifeworld? autonomy and power in Habermas -- Contextualizing critical theory -- Engendering critical theory.
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  4. Sen Amartya (2006). Reason, Freedom and Well-Being. Utilitas 18 (1):80-96.
    I am embarrassed at being placed in the dizzying company of one of the truly great thinkers in the world. The similarities between Mill's ideas and mine partly reflect, of course, his influence on my thinking. But I also discuss some difficulties in taking Mill's whole theory without modification, since there are internal tensions within it. In a paper I published in 1967, I tried to discuss how Mill's willingness to hold on to some contrary positions depended on the nature (...)
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  5. Elizabeth Anderson (2008). An Epistemic Defense of Democracy: David Estlund's Democratic Authority. Episteme 5 (1):pp. 129-139.
    In Democratic Authority, David Estlund 2008 presents a major new defense of democracy, called epistemic proceduralism. The theory claims that democracy exercises legitimate authority in virtue of possessing a modest epistemic power: its decisions are the product of procedures that tend to produce just laws at a better than chance rate, and better than any other type of government that is justifiable within the terms of public reason. The balance Estlund strikes between epistemic and non-epistemic justifications of democracy is open (...)
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  6. Joel Anderson & Rutger Claassen (2012). Sailing Alone: Teenage Autonomy and Regimes of Childhood. [REVIEW] Law and Philosophy 31 (5):495-522.
    Should society intervene to prevent the risky behavior of precocious teenagers even if it would be impermissible to intervene with adults who engage in the same risky behavior? The problem is well illustrated by the legal case of the 13-year-old Dutch girl Laura Dekker, who set out in 2009 to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone, succeeding in January 2012. In this paper we use her case as a point of entry for discussing the fundamental (...)
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  7. Vuko Andrić (2014). Can Groups Be Autonomous Rational Agents? A Challenge to the List-Pettit Theory. In Anita Konzelmann Ziv & Hans Bernhard Schmid (eds.), Institutions, Emotions, and Group Agents - Contributions to Social Ontology. Springer. 343-353.
    Christian List and Philip Pettit argue that some groups qualify as rational agents over and above their members. Examples include churches, commercial corporations, and political parties. According to the theory developed by List and Pettit, these groups qualify as agents because they have beliefs and desires and the capacity to process them and to act on their basis. Moreover, the alleged group agents are said to be rational to a high degree and even to be fit to be held morally (...)
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  8. Carlo Argenton & Enzo Rossi (2013). Pluralism, Preferences, and Deliberation: A Critique of Sen's Constructive Argument for Democracy. Journal of Social Philosophy 44 (2):129-145.
    In this paper we argue that Sen's defence of liberal democracy suffers from a moralistic and pro-liberal bias that renders it unable to take pluralism as seriously as it professes to do. That is because Sen’s commitment to respecting pluralism is not matched by his account of how to individuate the sorts of preferences that ought to be included in democratic deliberation. Our argument generalises as a critique of the two most common responses to the fact of pluralism in contemporary (...)
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  9. Richard J. Arneson (2005). Do Patriotic Ties Limit Global Justice Duties? Journal of Ethics 9 (1-2):127 - 150.
    Some theorists who accept the existence of global justice duties to alleviate the condition of distant needy strangers hold that these duties are significantly constrained by special ties to fellow countrymen. The patriotic priority thesis holds that morality requires the members of each nation-state to give priority to helping needy fellow compatriots over more needy distant strangers. Three arguments for constraint and patriotic priority are examined in this essay: an argument from fair play, one from coercion, another from coercion and (...)
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  10. M. B. (1979). The Politics of Autonomy. Review of Metaphysics 32 (3):556-557.
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  11. Thomas Baldwin (2009). Recognition: Personal and Political. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 8 (3):311-328.
    Recognition plays a central role in international affairs and in moral and political theory. Hegel noted the connections between these two contexts, and this article explores Hegel's approach with reference to the work of two political philosophers (Honneth and Rawls) and debates in international law. The conclusion is that while recognition has a constitutive role in international affairs, it has a different role in moral and political theory: morality is the evaluative recognition of the significance of individual autonomy.
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  12. Ayelet Banai (2013). Political Self-Determination and Global Egalitarianism. Social Theory and Practice 39 (1):45-69.
    Proponents of global egalitarian justice often argue that their positions are compatible with the principle of self-determination. At the same time, prominent arguments in favor of global egalitarianism object to one central component of the principle: namely, that the borders of states (or other political units) are normatively significant for the allocation of rights and duties; that duties of justice and democratic rights should stop or change at borders. In this article, I propose an argument in defense of the normative (...)
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  13. Linda Barclay (2000). Autonomy and the Social Self. In Catriona Mackenzie & Natalie Stoljar (eds.), Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self. Oup Usa.
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  14. F. M. Barnard (1988). Self-Direction and Political Legitimacy: Rousseau and Herder. Oxford University.
    Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) has been called the German Rousseau. Yet while Rousseau is recognized as a political thinker, Herder is not. This book explores each thinker's ideas--on nature and culture, selfhood and mutuality, paternalism, freedom, and autonomy--and compares their conceptions of legitimate statehood. Arguing that the crux of political legitimacy for both men was the possibility of "extended selfhood," Barnard shows that Herder, like Rousseau, profoundly altered human self-understandings, thus influencing modes of justifying political allegiance.
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  15. Zygmunt Bauman (1999). In Search of Politics. Stanford University Press.
    Why do most of us consider ourselves free but also believe there is little we can change in the way the world is run - individually, severally, or even collectively? Why has the growth of individual freedom coincided with the growth of collective impotence? Bauman argues that this condition hangs on the agora - the space where private and public meet to seek the creation of 'public good', a 'just society', or 'shared values'. The problem is that little remains of (...)
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  16. Bernard H. Baumrin (1976). Autonomy in Rawls and Kant. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 1 (1):55-57.
  17. Sebastiano Bavetta & Pietro Navarra (2012). The Economics of Freedom. Cambridge University Press.
    What is freedom? Can we measure it? Does it affect policy? This book develops an original measure of freedom called 'Autonomy Freedom', consistent with J. S. Mill's view of autonomy, and applies it to issues in policy and political design. The work pursues three aims. First, it extends classical liberalism beyond exclusive reliance on negative freedom so as to take autonomous behavior explicitly into account. Second, it grounds on firm conceptual foundations a new standard in the measurement of freedom that (...)
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  18. Tom L. Beauchamp (2005). Who Deserves Autonomy, and Whose Autonomy Deserves Respect. In J. Stacey Taylor (ed.), Personal Autonomy: New Essays on Personal Autonomy and its Role in Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. 310--329.
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  19. A. Beaulieu (2010). Towards a Liberal Utopia: The Connection Between Foucault's Reporting on the Iranian Revolution and the Ethical Turn. Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (7):801-818.
    The shift in Foucault’s work from genealogy to ethics finds consensus among Foucault scholars. However, the motivations behind this transition remain either misunderstood or understudied in large part. Foucault’s recently published or soon-to-be translated 1977/—9 lectures (published as Security, Territory, Population and as The Birth of Biopolitics) offer new elements for understanding this dense and uncharted period along Foucault’s itinerary. In this article, the author argues that Foucault’s interpretation of the liberal tradition, which is at the core of the 1977—9 (...)
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  20. J. Beck Hoy (1979). Three Conceptions of Autonomy in Rawis' Theory of Justice. Philosophy and Social Criticism 6 (1):58-78.
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  21. Rodger Beehler (1989). Autonomy and the Democratic Principle. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19 (4):575 - 581.
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  22. Donald Beggs (2009). Postliberal Theory. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (3):219 - 234.
    This paper begins with a critical part and concludes with a constructive part. First, with reference to a definition of liberalism and using immanent critique, I show deficiencies in the claims of four selfprofessed postliberals to have articulated non-liberal positions. Then, I argue that postliberal political theory consists in acknowledging that in political contexts some voluntary groups as such can be moral, not merely political, agents. Analysis of what moral autonomy is for persons as empirical (not noumenal) agents reveals that (...)
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  23. Christina M. Bellon (2011). The Politics of Ourselves: Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory. By Amy Allen. Metaphilosophy 42 (3):340-345.
  24. Elizabeth Ben-Ishai (2009). The Autonomy-Fostering State: "Coordinated Fragmentation" and Domestic Violence Services. Journal of Political Philosophy 17 (3):307-331.
  25. Yaacov Ben-Shemesh (2005). Neutrality Without Autonomy. Law and Philosophy 24 (5):435-466.
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  26. Christopher Bennett (2003). Liberalism, Autonomy and Conjugal Love. Res Publica 9 (3):285-301.
    This paper argues that a liberal state is justified in promoting relationships of conjugal love – the form of relationship that is the basis of the institution of marriage – on the grounds that they are essential to the development and maintenance of autonomy. A deep human need is that the detail of our lives be recognized (accepted, affirmed, granted importance) by others (or by an other). Autonomy can be compromised when this need is not met. So a state concerned (...)
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  27. Paul Benson (2005). Feminist Intuitions and the Normative Substance of Autonomy. In J. Stacey Taylor (ed.), Personal Autonomy: New Essays on Personal Autonomy and its Role in Contemporary Moral Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. 124--142.
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  28. Fred R. Berger (1985). Paternalism and Autonomy. Bowling Green Studies in Applied Philosophy 7:37-52.
  29. Heiner Bielefeldt (1997). Autonomy and Republicanism: Immanuel Kant's Philosophy of Freedom. Political Theory 25 (4):524-558.
  30. Colin Bird (2006). John Christman and Joel Anderson, Eds., Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays:Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism: New Essays. Ethics 116 (3):578-582.
  31. Rüdiger Bittner (2013). Autonomy Modest. Erkenntnis:1-11.
    Recent philosophy has developed an overblown concept of autonomy. In fact we do not have moral autonomy, and personal autonomy we only have in the sense of being able to decide some things that affect the course of our lives, not in the sense of shaping these lives and being master over them; nor ought we to have autonomy in the latter sense, or come closer to having it. As for our political institutions, they do not presuppose, as prevailing doctrines (...)
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  32. Michael Blake (2001). Distributive Justice, State Coercion, and Autonomy. Philosophy and Public Affairs 30 (3):257–296.
    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
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