Autonomy – Concept, types of autonomy and heteronomy

We explain what autonomy is, what is moral autonomy and autonomy of will. Also, its differences with heteronomy.

Autonomy is the ability to decide independently without the influence of third parties.

What is autonomy?

Autonomy is understood to be the ability to decide on your own, 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) thought, but always with similar meanings, linked to the capacity for self-management and independence, if not freedom.

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

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

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

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 before others, and before himself. Something linked to the psychoanalytic notion of the superego or superego: the set of norms 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, situation or event, thus determining if it is something acceptable or not. Morality is susceptible to peer pressure, of course, but to the extent that individuals possess 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.

Autonomy of the will

The autonomy of the will is a basic and primordial principle of contractual law and of relationships between individuals: the express, manifest desire, without any presence of coercion or obligation, to decide for the person or for their own assets, and to sign the contracts that are desired, or to negotiate their contents and effects.

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

  • The signed terms of a contract cannot be signed, under penalty of breaking or rendering the document null and void.
  • No clause of the contract may contradict the legal order or the jurisprudence of the rule of law.

Autonomy and heteronomy

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

Heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy: the need for the precepts and determinations of one individual, society or organization to come from another. Seen like this, it is about a form of dependency, if 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 happens 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.