In moral philosophy, autonomy refers to subjecting oneself to objective moral law.<ref>Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.</ref> Kant (1724–1804) argued that morality presupposes this autonomy in moral agents, since moral requirements are expressed in categorical imperatives. An imperative is categorical if it issues a valid command independent of personal desires or interests that would provide a reason for obeying the command. It is hypothetical if the validity of its command, if the reason why one can be expected to obey it, is the fact that one desires or is interested in something further that obedience to the command would entail. "Don't speed on the freeway if you don't want to be stopped by the police" is a hypothetical imperative. "It is wrong to break the law, so don't speed on the freeway" is a categorical imperative. The hypothetical command not to speed on the freeway is not valid for you if you do not care whether you are stopped by the police. The categorical command is valid for you either way. Autonomous moral agents can be expected to obey the command of a categorical imperative even if they lack a personal desire or interest in doing so. It remains an open question whether they will, however.
The Kantian concept of autonomy is often misconstrued, leaving out the important point about the autonomous agent's self-subjection to the moral law. It is thought that autonomy is fully explained instead the ability to obey a categorical command independently of a personal desire or interest in doing so — or worse, that autonomy is "obeying" a categorical command independently of a natural desire or interest; and that heteronomy, its opposite, is acting instead on personal motives of the kind referenced in hypothetical imperatives.
In his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant applied the concept of autonomy also to define the concept of personhood and human dignity. Autonomy, along with rationality, are seen by Kant as the two criteria for a meaningful life. Kant would consider a life lived without these not worth living; it would be a life of value equal to that of a plant or insect.<ref>Shafer-Landau, Russ. "The fundamentals of ethics." (2010). Pp161 </ref>According to Kant autonomy is part of the reason that we hold others morally accountable for their actions. Human actions are morally praise or blameworthy in virtue of our autonomy. Non- autonomous beings such as plants or animals are not blameworthy due to their actions being non-autonomous.<ref>Shafer-Landau, Russ. "The fundamentals of ethics." (2010). Pp161</ref>Kant’s position on crime and punishment is influenced by his views on autonomy. Brainwashing or drugging criminals into being law-abiding citizens would be immoral as it would not be respecting their autonomy. Rehabilitation must be sought in a way that respects their autonomy and dignity as human beings.<ref>Shafer-Landau, Russ. "The fundamentals of ethics." (2010). Pp163</ref>U
Philosopher Iain King has developed an 'Autonomy Principle', which he defines as "Let people choose for themselves, unless we know their interests better than they can."<ref>Page 100 of 'How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time', Iain King, Continuum, 2008, ISBN 978-1847-063-472.</ref> King argues it is not enough to know someone else's interests better than the person; autonomy should only be infringed if a person is unable to know their own interests on a particular matter.<ref>Chapter 17, 'Letting People Choose for Themselves', of 'How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time', Iain King, Continuum, 2008, ISBN 978-1847-063-472.</ref> Nietzsche wrote about autonomy telling about moral fight <ref>https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24779-nietzsche-on-freedom-and-autonomy/</ref>
Autonomy according to Piaget
Piaget studied the cognitive development of children by analyzing them during their games and through interviews, establishing (among other principles) that the children moral maturation process occurs in two phases, the first of heteronomy and the second of autonomy:
- Heteronomous reasoning:
Rules are objective and unchanging. They must be literal, because the authority ordering it, and do not fit exceptions or discussions. The base of the rule is the superior authority (parents, adults, the State), that it should not give reason for the rules imposed or fulfilled them in any case.
- Autonomous reasoning:
Rules are the product of an agreement and, therefore, are modifiable. They can be subject to interpretation and fit exceptions and objections. The base of the rule is own acceptance, and its meaning has to be explained. Sanctions must be proportionate to the absence, assuming that sometimes offenses can go unpunished, so that collective punishment is unacceptable if it is not the guilty. The circumstances may not punish a guilty.
Autonomy according to Kohlberg
Lawrence Kohlberg continues the studies of Piaget, this time to pose moral dilemmas to different adult and ordering the answers. His studies collected information from different latitudes to eliminate the cultural variability, and focused on the moral reasoning, and not so much in the behavior or its consequences. In this way, Kohlberg established three stages of morality, each of which is subdivided into two levels. Are read in progressive sense, that is, higher level, greater autonomy.
- Level 1 or preconventional : standards are met or not depending on the
- Stage 1: characterized by egocentrism. The rule is obey to avoid punishment or to obtain a prize.
- Stage 2: moral individualistic and instrumental. There is an exchange of interests but always under the point of view of the convenience.
- Level 2 or conventional: rules are obey according to the established order.
- Stage 3: moral in accordance with the social role. The rule is obey to obtain the approval of the primary group, well defined by the near affective relationships.
- Stage 4: moral in accordance with a specific system, or the need of a social system. Laws and order are prioritized.
- Level 3 or postconventional: Moral behavior is governed by rational judgement, derived from a conscious reflection on the recognition of the value of the individual inside a conventionally established society.
- Stage 5: There is a perspective of a just society, established in basics universal values.
- Stage 6: The rule is accomplished when there is respect to the universals values and if they are not disobey.
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