Autonomy as the Ground of Morality

Allen Wood
Indiana University, Bloomington
Those of us who are sympathetic to Kantian ethics usually are so because we regard it as an ethics of autonomy, based on rational self-esteem and respect for the human capacity to direct one’s own life according to rational principles. Kantian ethical theory is grounded on the idea that the moral law is binding on me only because it is a law proceeding from my own will. The ground of a law of autonomy lies in the very will which is to be subject to the law, and this leaves no room for any issue about why this will should obey the law. The idea of autonomy also identifies the authority of the law with the value constituting the content of the law, in that it bases the law on our esteem for the dignity of rational nature in ourselves, which makes every rational being an end in itself.
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