philosophical concept

Heteronomy is the quality of thought or action compelled by a force outside the individual. It is the opposite of autonomy.


  • If philosophy is still necessary, it is so only in the way it has been from time immemorial: as critique, as resistance to the expanding heteronomy, even if only as thought’s powerless attempt to remain its own master and to convict of untruth, by their own criteria, both a fabricated mythology and a conniving, resigned acquiescence. … It is incumbent upon philosophy … to provide a refuge for freedom. Not that there is any hope that it could break the political tendencies that are throttling freedom throughout the world both from within and without and whose violence permeates the very fabric of philosophical argumentation.
    • Theodor Adorno, "Why Still Philosophy" in Critical Models (1998), p. 10.
  • Obedience to a person, institution or power (heteronomous obedience) is submission; it implies the abdication of my autonomy and the acceptance of a foreign will of judgment in place of my own. Obedience to my own reason or conviction (autonomous obedience) is not an act of submission but one of affirmation. My conviction and my judgment, if authentically mine, are part of me. If I follow them rather than the judgment of others, I am being myself; hence the word obey can be applied only in a metaphorical sense and with a meaning which is fundamentally different from the one in the case of “heteronomous obedience.”
    • Erich Fromm, “Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem,” On Disobedience (1981), p. 19.

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