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. Nomy Arpaly (2004). Which Autonomy. In M. O.’Rourke J. K. Campbell (ed.), Freedom and Determinism. Mit. 173--188.
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  3. Nomy Arpaly (2004). 8 Which Autonomy? In M. O.’Rourke J. K. Campbell (ed.), Freedom and Determinism. Mit. 173.
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  4. Ideal Of Autonomy (2007). Linda Zagzebski. Episteme 7:253.
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  5. A. Beckermann, H. Flohr, J. Kim & S. Benhabib (1993). Allen, RT, The Education of Autonomous Man, Aldershot, Avebury, 1992, Vi, 82,£ 22.50 (Cloth). Anderson, AR Belnap, ND and Dunn, JM, Entailment: The Logic of Relevance and Necessity Vol II, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992, Xxvii, 749, US $75.00 (Cloth). [REVIEW] Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (2).
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  6. Bruno Bettelheim (1968). Alienation and Autonomy. In Ben Rothblatt (ed.), Changing Perspectives on Man. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
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  7. 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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  8. John Christman (2013). Autonomy. In Roger Crisp (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Ethics. Oxford University Press. 281-293.
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  9. John Coggon (2007). Varied and Principled Understandings of Autonomy in English Law: Justifiable Inconsistency or Blinkered Moralism? [REVIEW] Health Care Analysis 15 (3):235-255.
    Autonomy is a concept that holds much appeal to social and legal philosophers. Within a medical context, it is often argued that it should be afforded supremacy over other concepts and interests. When respect for autonomy merely requires non-intervention, an adult’s right to refuse treatment is held at law to be absolute. This apparently simple statement of principle does not hold true in practice. This is in part because an individual must be found to be competent to make a valid (...)
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  10. S. E. Cuypers (1997). Mele, AR-Autonomous Agents. Philosophical Books 38:205-207.
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  11. Michael J. DeMoor (2007). Rational Autonomy and Autonomous Rationality. Philosophia Reformata 72 (2):105-129.
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  12. N. J. H. Dent (1990). Moral Autonomy In The Republic. Polis 9 (1):52-77.
    Liberal critics of plato's republic criticise him for ignoring the moral autonomy of persons, their right to form and to express their own moral ideas. It is argued that this criticism is superficial. Neither plato, nor his liberal critics, wish all moral views to be held and acted on; they both wish to set limits to what is acceptable. The true source of disagreement is over the scope of reason in human affairs; plato understands that narrowly; his liberal critics in (...)
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  13. Susan Dwyer (2001). The Many Faces of Autonomy. The Philosophers' Magazine 13:40-41.
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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. 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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  18. Steven Hendley (2005). Autonomy and Alterity. In Claire Elise Katz & Lara Trout (eds.), Emmanuel Levinas. Routledge. 2--3.
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  19. Chris Hughes (2013). The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and the Modern Subject. Contemporary Political Theory 12 (3):e12.
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  20. 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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  21. 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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  22. Timothy Kolke (forthcoming). Procedural Vs. Substantive Theories of Autonomy: Reinterpreting the Connection Between Good Values and Autonomy. Prolegomena.
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  23. Michael Kuhler & Najda Jelinek (eds.) (2012). Autonomy and the Self. springer.
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  24. Joseph H. Kupfer (1990). Autonomy and Social Interaction. State University of New York Press.
    Kupfer (philosophy, Iowa State) takes a different approach by examining the day-to-day reciprocal interaction between autonomy and social relations, and notes its effect on such notions as dependency, self- concept, self-knowledge, and ...
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  25. Catriona Mackenzie & Jacqui Poltera (2010). Narrative Integration, Fragmented Selves, and Autonomy. Hypatia 25 (1):31 - 54.
    In this paper we defend the notion of narrative identity against Galen Strawson's recent critique. With reference to Elyn Saks's memoir of her schizophrenia, we question the coherence ofStrawsons conception of the Episodic self and show why the capacity for narrative integration is important for a flourishing life. We aho argue that Scú put pressure on narrative theories that specify unduly restncúve constraints on self-constituting narratives, and chrify the need to distinguish identity from autonomy.
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  26. Barry Maguire (forthcoming). Grounding the Autonomy of Ethics. PENDING FINAL REVIEW. Oxford Studies in Metaethics (Vol. 10).
    There are various ways of characterising Hume’s dictum that ‘you can’t get an ought from an is.’ Contributors to the literature directly addressing this question focus on logical characterisations of autonomy theses. Such theses maintain that certain logical relations do not obtain between ethical and non-ethical sentences, for instance that no non-ethical sentences logically entail an ethical sentence. I argue that this focus on logical autonomy is a mistake. The thesis so important to our metaethicists is not a logical thesis (...)
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  27. Anastasia Marinopoulou (2012). Autonomy and Sympathy. Philosophical Inquiry 34 (1/2):107-108.
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  28. 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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  29. 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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  30. 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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  31. 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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  32. S. A. Paphitis (2010). Questions of the Self in the Personal Autonomy Debate: Some Critical Remarks on Frankfurt and Watson. South African Journal of Philosophy 29 (2).
    Currently, the most influential accounts of personal autonomy, at least in the English-speaking world, focus on providing conditions under which agents can be said to exercise self-control. Two distinct accounts of personal autonomy have emerged in this tradition: firstly, hierarchical models grounded in the work of Harry Frankfurt; and secondly, systems division models most famously articulated by Gary Watson. In this paper, I will show the inadequacies of both of these models by exploring the problematic views of the self and (...)
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  33. Andrews Reath (1998). Ethical Autonomy. In Craig Edward (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. 1.
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  34. G. Roth & E. Deci (2009). Autonomy. In Shane J. Lopez (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  35. F. Schmitt (1987). Justification, Autonomy, Sociality. Synthese 73:43-85.
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  36. H. Schwyzer (2001). Autonomy. In Hans-Johann Glock (ed.), Wittgenstein: A Critical Reader. Blackwell Publishers. 289--304.
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  37. 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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  38. K. A. Strike (forthcoming). Autonomy, Community and the Self. Philosophy of Education.
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  39. 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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  40. Griffin Trotter (2014). Autonomy as Self-Sovereignty. HEC Forum 26 (3):237-255.
    The concept of autonomy as self-sovereignty is developed in this essay through an examination of the thought of American transcendentalist philosophers Emerson and Thoreau. It is conceived as the quality of living in accordance with one’s inner nature or genius. This conception is grounded in a transcendentalist moral anthropology that values independence, self-reliance, spirituality, and the capacity to find beauty in the world. Though still exerting considerable popular and academic influence, both the concept of autonomy as self-sovereignty and the underlying (...)
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  41. O. F. Well-Being (2008). Well-Being, Autonomy, and the Horizon Problem. Utilitas 20 (2).
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  42. Cynthia Willett (2012). Visionary Pragmatism and an Ethics of Connectivity: An Alternative to the Autonomy Tradition in Analytic Ethics. In Maurice Hamington Celia N. Bardwell Jones (ed.), Contemporary Feminist Pragmatism. Routledge. 258-287.
    In an era of global interdependence, the concept of autonomy may no longer name our core moral need. Shifting friendships and enmities across political boundaries bear significant consequences for the individual. Perhaps social alliances and hostilities have always had an impact on the flourishing of individuals and communities. But globalization (especially as viewed through the technology of the information age) magnifies the impact of external forces on sovereign bodies. These forces remind individuals of the need to establish the right kind (...)
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  43. Kh Wolff (1965). Surrender, and Autonomy and Community. Humanitas 1 (2):173-181.
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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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