Autonomy (Ancient Greek: αὐτονομία autonomia from αὐτόνομος autonomos from αὐτο- auto- "self" + νόμος nomos, "law", hence when combined understood to mean "one who gives oneself one's own law") is a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision. In moral and political philosophy, autonomy is often used as the basis for determining moral responsibility and accountability for one's actions.
- Alphabetized by author or source:
- What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own.
- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (1951), as translated by E. Jephcott (1974), p. 15
- The failing of contemporary criticism is double: Hand in hand with the suppression of aesthetic autonomy, one finds also a growing reluctance to recognize the complex and dynamic temporality of literature.
- Periodization is the disciplinary strategy with which the present establishes its rule over all time and encourages conformism, to the detriment of autonomy, individual and aesthetic.
- Russell Berman, Fiction Sets You Free: Literature, Liberty, and Western Culture (2007), p. 20
- The university ... must be contemptuous of public opinion because it has within it the source of autonomy—the quest for and even discovery of the truth according to nature.
- He who feels that in his inmost being he cannot be compared with others, will be his own lawgiver. For one thing is needful: to give style to one’s character. This art is practised by him who, with an eye for the strong and weak sides of his nature, removes from it one quality and another, and then by daily practice and acquired habit replaces them by others which become second nature to him; in other words, he puts himself under restraint in order by degrees to bend his nature entirely to his own law.
- Anyone whose needs are small seems threatening to the rich, because he’s always ready to escape their control.
- Nicolas Chamfort, Reflections, D. Parmée, trans. (London: 2003) #169
- There cannot be any politics of resistance, aesthetics of emancipation, or prose and poetry of agential autonomy in history for people around the world—nothing except a Starbucks Coffee version of the so-called “Western classics” to go and save them.
- We face a conflict between civilisation and culture, which used to be on the same side. Civilisation means rational reflection, material wellbeing, individual autonomy and ironic self-doubt; culture means a form of life that is customary, collective, passionate, spontaneous, unreflective and irrational.
- A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his own thought, because it is his.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), pp. 47-48
- It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion. It is easy in solitude to live after our own. But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 55
- That popular fable of the sot who was picked up dead-drunk in the street, carried to the duke's house, washed and dressed and laid in the duke's bed, and, on his waking, treated with all obsequious ceremony like the duke, and assured that he had been insane, owes its popularity to the fact that it symbolizes so well the state of man, who is in the world a sort of sot, but now and then wakes up, exercises his reason and finds himself a true prince.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), pp. 62-63
- Most business literature still views autonomy as a virtue, as though communication, teamwork, and cooperation were lesser values.
- I, who have the strength and awareness to be my own motive force, will not be the little cog that is overwhelmed, annihilated by the heavy social gears.
- Bruno Filippi, "The Free Art of a Free Spirit," The Rebel’s Dark Laughter: The Writings of Bruno Filippi (1918)
- The upper technologies of knowledge representation and acquisition, autonomy and sociality, support product innovation and provide the beginnings of foundations for knowledge science. Well's dream of a world brain making available all of human knowledge is well on its way to realization and it is in the representation, acquisition, and access and effective application of that knowledge that the commercial potential and socio-economic impact of convergence lies.
- The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture and of the technique of life.
- The grimaces on these mocking distorted faces signalize disobedience, opposition and turmoil, as well as a kind of childlike autonomy in the depraved world of adults.
- The autonomous individual, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science and technology. The autonomous individual, also, when he can neither realize himself nor justify his existence by his own efforts, is a breeding call of frustration, and the seed of the convulsions which shake our world to its foundations.
- Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955), Section 29
- Ursus had communicated to Homo a portion of his talents: such as to stand upright, to restrain his rage into sulkiness, to growl instead of howling, etc.; and on his part, the wolf had taught the man what he knew—to do without a roof, without bread and fire, to prefer hunger in the woods to slavery in a palace.
- Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs (1869)
- Modernized poverty appears when the intensity of market dependence reaches a certain threshold. Subjectively, it is the experience of frustrating affluence which occurs in persons mutilated by their overwhelming reliance on the riches of industrial productivity. Simply, it deprives those affected by it of their freedom and power to act autonomously, to live creatively; it confines them to survival through being plugged into market relations. And precisely because this new impotence is so deeply experienced, it is with difficulty expressed. We are the witnesses of a barely perceptible transformation in ordinary language by which verbs that formerly designated satisfying actions are replaced by nouns that denote packages designed for passive consumption only: for example, "to learn" becomes "acquisition of credits." A profound change in individual and social self-images is here reflected. ... The peculiarly modern inability to use personal endowments, communal life, and environmental resources in an autonomous way infects every aspect of life where a professionally engineered commodity has succeeded in replacing a culturally shaped use-value. The opportunity to experience personal and social satisfaction outside the market is thus destroyed.
- Ivan Illich, Toward a History of Needs (1978)
- Just as a man, as a social being, can not in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors.
- Carl Jung, quoted by Claire Dunne in Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul: An Illustrated Biography p. 199
- Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding.
- Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" (1784)
- It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.
- Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" (1784)
- Morality is thus the relation of actions to the autonomy of the will, that is, to a possible giving of universal law through its maxims.
- Reasoning is one of the highest powers of man. It is a mark of originality and intelligence, and stamps its possessor not a copier but an originator, not a follower but a leader, not a slave, to have his thinking foisted upon him by others, but a free and independent intellect, unshackled by the bonds of ignorance and convention. The man who employs reason in acquiring knowledge, finds delights in study that are denied to a rote memorizer. When one looks at the world through glasses of reason, inquiring into the eternal why, then facts take on a new meaning, knowledge comes with new power, the facts of experience glow with vitality, and one's own relations with them appear in a new light.
- Harry Dexter Kitson, How to Use Your Mind: A Psychology of Study (1916), p. 137
- Its ethic is liberty and its characteristic is autonomy — the freedom of the will from external constraint. It says "I shall...
- Men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves.
- Étienne de La Boétie, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1548)
- Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. ... There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection. ... These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.
- I wasn't good with authority, went to lots of schools, didn't like the fact that there was no autonomy.
- Τί δὲ καὶ ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν οὐ κρίνετε τὸ δίκαιον;
- Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right?
- Jesus in Gospel of Luke 12:57
- The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own. If the productive apparatus could be organized and directed toward satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be centralized, such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible.
- The student of social psychology ... is concerned not so much with the panaceas that may be proposed for the solution of the economic problems, but is interested rather in the possibility that under any economic system a maximum number of people should be able to grow from infantile tribal ways to self-directing maturity.
- Everett Dean Martin, The Conflict of the Individual and the Mass in the Modern World (1932), p. 5
- I've learned that in order to achieve what I wanted, it made more sense to negotiate than to defend the autonomy of my work by pounding my fist on the table.
- The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorized institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.
- C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1961), p. 304
- There exists at present a living body, which is my body... I am one of those philosophers who have held that that ‘the Common Sense view of the world’ is in certain fundamental features, wholly true.
- George Edward Moore, in “A Defense of Common Sense” quoted in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid p. 319
- Intellectually, the political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere, as the economist, the lawyer, the moralist maintain theirs.
- In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. ... Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 127
- We are responsible to ourselves for our own existence; consequently we want to be the true helmsman of this existence and refuse to allow our existence to resemble a mindless act of chance.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 128
- No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 129
- There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 129
- Is the intellect to be regarded as autonomous and self-sufficient, as pursuing ends of its own, and as judging by standards of its own? or is it to be regarded as the servant of alien interests which impose their ends and standards upon it? The modern tendency has been towards the latter or practical interpretation of the knowing faculties.
- The idea that men are created free and equal is both true and misleading: men are created different; they lose their social freedom and their individual autonomy in seeking to become like each other.
- I worship freedom; I abhor restraint, trouble, dependence. As long as the money in my purse lasts, it assures my independence; it relieves me of the trouble of finding expedients to replenish it, a necessity which has always inspired me with dread; but the fear of seeing it exhausted makes me hoard it carefully. The money which a man possesses is the instrument of freedom.; that which we eagerly pursue is the instrument of slavery. Therefore I hold fast to that which I have, and desire nothing.
- I neither want nor expect autonomy to lose its status in the centerpiece of bioethics. But that centerpiece of bioethics should be a whole bouquet of concepts, and not just the single flower of autonomy, however beguiling it may be.
- Carl Schneider, in Informed Consent : Legal Theory and Clinical Practice: Legal Theory and ... p. 32
- I'll never
Be such a gosling to obey instinct, but stand,
As if a man were author of himself
And knew no other kin.
- Autonomy has never been recognized as a legally protectable interest. It has been vindicated only as byproduct of protection of two other interests – bodily security as protected by rules against consented contact, and bodily well-being as protected by rules governing professional competence.
- Marjorie Shultz, in Informed Consent: Legal Theory and Clinical Practice p. 147
- He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down.
- Again, it reduces someone's moral responsibility and intellectual autonomy to a racial stereotype — that all blacks are innocent victims who cannot be held responsible for their beliefs or arguments; or that all blacks are so oppressed that any bigotry they utter is permissible.
- Autonomy is traditionally regarded as the instrument of agency for individuals who are perceived as separate, independent and fully rationale.
- Susan Sherwin, in Informed Consent: Legal Theory and Clinical Practice p. 32
- I have always been a strong supporter of patient’s autonomy in decision-making, particularly at the end of life and believe that this should be respected. By the same token, the doctor involved in the end-of-life decisions also has his autonomy to consider.
- Rodney Syme, in A Good Death: An Argument For Voluntary Euthanasia, p. 129
- But while
I breathe Heaven's air, and Heaven looks down on me,
And smiles at my best meanings, I remain
Mistress of mine own self and mine own soul.
- Alfred Tennyson, The Foresters, Act IV, scene 1
- It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely perceptible attempts to struggle against what was considered good by the most highly placed people, those scarcely noticeable impulses which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and all the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending.
- Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886), ch.11
- They tell me I am here to realize I know not what social end; but I feel that I, like each one of my fellows, am here to realize myself, to live.
- Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life (1913)
- My parents have a wonderful marriage, but they have been together since my mother was 12, married when they were just teenagers and are barely ever separated. They even work together. As a result, I have always thought of marriage as involving the loss of a certain amount of autonomy.
- Listen to the desires of your children. Encourage them and then give them the autonomy to make their own decision.
- Denis Waitley, quoted by Lanna Nakone in Every Child Has a Thinking Style: A Guide to Recognizing and Fostering Each ... p. 71
- It is only the impossible that is possible for God. He has given over the possible to the mechanics of matter and the autonomy of his creatures.
- Thoreau's famous retreat to Walden Pond is thus in a continuum with his sense of the duty of disobedience. ... He understood this exile as the need to create a society—even if a society of one on the banks of a tiny Massachusetts pond—that he could willingly join.
- Curtis White, "The spirit of disobedience: an invitation to resistance," Harper's Magazine, April 1, 2006
- Among those who stressed the ‘autos’ were Kant’s early [[w:German Romanticism|Romantic followers and critics (usually both followers and critics at once) who thought that each of us should be the author of our own morality. My morality, therefore, is valid only for me, as an expression of my unique individuality. After all, a moral law proceeding from my will seems by that fact alone to be a law valid only for me, perhaps even a law whose content is subject to my whims and arbitrariness. But that leads to a natural question: How can a law bind me at all if I am its author, because that apparently puts me in a position to change or invalidate it at my own discretion? The same thoughts, once we try to answer this question, might also lead in the direction of associating the concept of moral authority with some notion of individual “authenticity,” “choosing oneself,” or “becoming who one is,” sometimes taking those who travel this road beyond morality entirely.
For just that reason, however, the self-esteem which appears to ground Kantian morality can begin to seem (as it does to some of Kant’s critics) like a kind of arrogance or even a perverse self-deification, in which each person blasphemously usurps the traditional place of the Deity as the giver of moral laws. The tradition that went in this direction therefore included some, such as the later Schelling and Kierkegaard, whose encounter with Kantian ethics ended (paradoxically) in some form of “theonomy” or theological voluntarism that either preserved the notion of autonomy only by a speculative pantheist merging of the self and the Deity or else rejected outright (as a demonic or satanic principle) the whole idea that the rational creature might tear itself away from its creator and claim authority over itself.
- Allen W. Wood, Kantian Ethics (2008), Ch. 6. Autonomy
- How you answer the question, whether individuals should be persuaded to live their whole lives in a state of chemical dependency, first upon contraceptive steroids and then on replacement therapy, depends upon your regard for the autonomy of the individual.
- Anonymous in Skepticism about Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Autonomy itself is not the monolithic concept it is sometimes imagined to be; as flower, instead of being simply an American Beauty, autonomy would be more of a varietal that come in several hues.
- Anonymous, in "Informed Consent : Legal Theory and Clinical Practice: Legal Theory and ..." p. 147