Moral autonomy and moral heteronomy

Individuals tend to adopt a submissive posture in order to continue and comply with standardized life models and breaking these rules in order to express their will is not an easy task and in doing so we are talking about autonomy . The moral autonomy involves the ability to morally judge an action, a situation or an event.

Otherwise, when speaking of heteronomy , the action that is carried out by means of an external influence and not by own will is being pointed out.

Moral AutonomyMoral Heteronomy
DefinitionAbility of individuals to value aspects of moral character for themselves. To be able to morally judge an action, a situation or an event.Moral, legal or philosophical condition according to which an entity governs itself according to certain instructions or orders that come from outside, that is, they have not originated from itself.
Characteristics-They depend on the exercise of reason, apart from any non-rational influence.

-The man dictates his own rules.

-They depend on a non-rational reality, on social influence, norms and laws.

-The man receives external rules and laws.

What is autonomy?

The autonomy is the ability of human beings to decide for itself, independently and without the influence of others will . This term can be applied in different areas such as: philosophical (ethical), psychological (evolutionary psychology) and even legal and political (sovereignty) thought. As much as the areas are different, the concept is always related to the capacity for self-management and independence.

In general terms, autonomy is the condition and capacity for self – government and a certain degree of independence , that is, the condition of being able to carry out tasks independently.

Within the emotional and cognitive development of people, autonomy becomes an increasingly expected characteristic or quality of the individual. This may be due to the fact that as children we tend to be more vulnerable beings, who depend on the decisions of their parents and as we grow older we begin to become more autonomous and make our own decisions. Adult individuals do have the capacity for autonomy and this makes them subjects of rights, that is, people who are capable of making their own decisions without having to consult another person.

We can find some synonyms  of autonomy such as: sovereignty, self-government, independence, emancipation and power. As antonyms we can name heteronomy, dependence and subordination.

This concept can also be applied to politics, for example if we say that a country has autonomy in economic, legal and cultural matters, we are talking about an independent country, a free country capable of facing the international community.

 Moral autonomy

From the philosophical point of view, autonomy converges the vision of the individual before others and before himself. It is related to the psychoanalytic notion of the superego (a set of norms to which the individual decides to adhere more or less consciously), and this applies especially to certain moral issues in which the individual usually responds to the cultural tradition that he has received from his parents and their environment.

We can define moral autonomy as the ability to morally judge a situation, an action or an event, determining whether it is something that is acceptable or not for morality. The morality is a concept that is susceptible to pressure from others, but as people are forming their criteria and are aware of their ability to make decisions, are expected to do a great moral autonomy.

What is heteronomy?

The heteronomía is defined as the moral, legal or philosophical condition under which an entity is subject to the same as certain instructions or orders coming from outside, ie that have not originated himself. This concept is the opposite of autonomy.

A heteronomous person is one who lives his life obeying the laws imposed by another (be it another person, society or some kind of power), without having his own self-determination. At a certain point, all individuals live according to heteronomous criteria, since we are governed by a set of norms and rules to coexist and also imparted by our ancestors. However, we can decide when and if we want to disobey these rules imposed from outside, as long as it is in a respectful way.

Moral heteronomy

The moral heteronomy involves learning the individual to know that something is right and wrong, as when we are children that we dictates from outside (parents, teachers, etc.) learning. However, its objective is to be able to train individuals who are morally autonomous and who do not depend on other people to make decisions, but can exercise individual freedom based on the acquired norms.

The word heteronomy derives from the Greek “heteros”, which means “other” and “nomos” which means “law”. This concept refers to the dependence of a person whose behavior is under the control of another individual or external agent. It is the opposite of autonomy and is a term used in the area of ​​ethical philosophy with the aim of differentiating those individuals who develop their lives under a set of norms that have been imposed on them and who comply, in many opportunities, against of their will, but only in order to be accepted in a social group.

This term is attributed to the philosopher Kant , who has dedicated himself to the investigation of the will of people and differentiated them into two branches: reason (autonomy) and inclination (heteronomy). With this study he sought to understand the behavior of people who follow the laws and customs that characterize and govern the various societies to which they belong, which according to Kant, are people who lose their independence since their behavior does not follow their reason but to an external will.

A great example of heteronomy is the condition of slavery, where slaves were legally incapable of deciding of their own free will, they did not have individual freedom, they were permanently subject to the will of their master, who gave them all the instructions and decided for them. .

Differences between autonomy and heteronomy

Both concepts are opposite: when we speak of heteronomy we refer to a form of dependence and submission and that the criteria that predominate and are valid are those of others and not our own. It is the need for the precepts and determinations of an individual, society or organization to come from another.

On the other hand, autonomy implies the ability of people to make their own decisions or impose themselves on a set of rules independently and without the influence of other individuals. Autonomy implies a process of maturation and individual integral development.

It is common for individuals to adopt a submissive posture in order to continue and comply, as far as possible, with standardized life models. Despite them, breaking these rules in order to express your will is not as simple as it may seem and, if you do, you would be talking about autonomy.

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