What is autonomy?

We explain what autonomy is, what is moral autonomy and will autonomy. In addition, their differences with heteronomy.

  1. What is autonomy?

Autonomy is understood as the ability to decide independently, without the coercion or influence of third parties . This term is applied within philosophical ( ethical ), psychological (evolutionary psychology) and even legal and political ( sovereignty ) thinking , but always with similar meanings, linked to the capacity for self-management and independence, when not freedom.

In people’s cognitive and emotional development , autonomy becomes an increasingly marked and expected quality of the individual . Perhaps because of children (and even adolescents) we are vulnerable beings, who largely depend on the decisions of their parents (which in legal matters enshrines  parental authority ) for both the logistic and the affective. This last form of dependence is the last to disappear, as we become more autonomous and begin to make our own decisions.

Adult individuals, thus, have a capacity for autonomy that makes them subjects of law, that is, people capable of making their own decisions without first consulting anyone (even if they can choose to do so). In this sense it is the opposite of  heteronomy  or dependence. Of course, with autonomy, as with freedom , obligations and responsibilities are also acquired . In that sense it is a feature of maturity or adulthood.

In political matters, similarly, it is a feature of sovereignty of nations as such: a country that has autonomy in legal, economic and cultural matters will be an independent country, therefore a freer and more capable country to deal with the international community .

  1. Moral autonomy

Moral autonomy
Moral autonomy is the ability to morally judge an action or situation.

In autonomy converge, from a philosophical point of view, both the vision of the individual to others, as to himself. Something  linked to the psychoanalytic notion of the superego or superego : the set of rules to which the individual decides to adhere more or less consciously. This is particularly true in moral matters, in which the individual responds to a cultural tradition that he has received from his parents and his environment.

Moral autonomy, therefore, will be the ability to morally judge an action, a situation or an event , thus determining whether it is something acceptable or not. Morality is susceptible to peer pressure, of course, but to the extent that individuals have well-formed criteria and are aware of their decision-making capacity , strong moral autonomy would be expected of them. Which does not mean, of course, that you cannot change your mind.

  1. Autonomy of the will

The autonomy of the will is a basic and fundamental principle of contractual law and relations between individuals: the express, manifest desire, without any presence of coercion or obligation, to decide for the person or the goods themselves, and to sign the desired contracts, or to negotiate their contents and effects.

Its foundation comes from the liberal legislations born of the French Revolution (1789), which raised freedom and equality among human beings , under certain limits imposed by mutual consideration. These limitations are usually:

  • The terms of a contract cannot be signed, under penalty of breaking or nullifying the document.
  • No clause of the contract can contradict the legal system or the jurisprudence of the rule of law .
  1. Autonomy and heteronomy

Heteronomy is the need for someone else to make their own decisions.

Heteronomy is, in two dishes, the opposite of autonomy: the need for the precepts and determinations of an individual, society or organization to come from another. Seen in this way, it is a form of dependence, when not submission , since the criteria of another are those that are valid, in the absence (or instead of) their own.

These criteria, moreover, are assumed without reflection, as is the case with the values that are instilled in us when we are children: they come from outside, from our parents, and only to the extent that we become autonomous can we choose to embrace them or replace them with a own code

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