What is Autonomy?

Personal autonomy is reasonably described in terms of the ability to determine one’s own thoughts and actions unaffected by external coercion.


One common understanding of this is that autonomy is the unimpeded and self-sufficient capacity to satisfy one’s own wishes and desires. Qualified in preferentialist terms, this means that to respect someone’s autonomy is to respect what that person prefers. This idea has an important rival in the rationalist view: Conditioned by the linguistic means of distanced self-reflection, personal autonomy is identified as the ability to ground one’s thoughts and actions in a higher order deliberative evaluation.


The platonic tradition in general and plato’s own works in particular provides a robust framework for an inquiry into this field in a non-preferentialist and relational setting. His unprecedented notion of self-government establishes a link between personal autonomy and moral integrity. The platonic demand for self-knowledge and a critical appraisal of the means of discursive deliberation suggest ways in which language, reason and autonomy relate. Yet the ancient debate is significantly absent in the contemporary discussion.


One of the two goals of this project is to mend this flaw; the other is to deepen our understanding of the ancient discussion. By means of a thorough investigation of the conceptual origins of autonomy and self-government in the platonic tradition, the project aims to produce new historical knowledge and to show how this knowledge is fruitful for philosophising about autonomy today.


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