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Word Count: 1,533
Autonomy is literally self-rule or self-government Autonomy has often been thought to bear a particularly close relation to democracy Only in a democracy it is sometimes said can an individual or a people be truly autonomous Spelling out why this should be so however takes some care In its ancient meaning autonomy was taken to be a property of states rather than of individuals An autonomous people was one that was self-sufficient and self-governing rather than being ruled by an outside force In the modern world we have not lost this understanding of the term the puppet regimes of the former Eastern bloc for example were commonly contrasted with the apparently more autonomous regimes elsewhere around the globe To have autonomy in this sense is part of what is required for a nation to be a democracy but we should remember that in the ancient world even tyrannical states were often regarded as fully autonomous The modern understanding of the term attributes autonomy or the lack of it to individuals In the philosophical literature personal autonomy has been identified with a great variety of other notions including self-government freedom responsibility morality dignity independence and self-knowledge Yet the core concept seems to be simply that an autonomous person is one who makes and acts upon his or her own decisions The relationship between autonomy and democracy was perhaps most fruitfully worked out by the eighteenth-century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau whose views inspired the moral and political works of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant with whom the term autonomy is most often associated Rousseaus ideas were also to influence Hegel and Karl Marx in different ways Rousseau makes a powerful attempt to bring together the ancient and modern understandings of autonomy The idea of individual autonomy is given perhaps its classic formulation by Rousseau in The Social Contract According to Rousseau freedom is obedience to a law that we prescribe to
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