In moral, political, and bioethical philosophy, autonomy is the capacity to make an informed, un-coerced decision. Autonomous organizations or institutions are independent or self-governing. For example, the Roman Catholic Church is governed by its canon law which applies to all Roman Catholic churches which are thus not considered autonomous. Various denominations of Protestant churches usually have more decentralized power, and churches may be autonomous, thus having their own rules or laws of government, at the national, local, or even individual level.
In the sociology of knowledge, a branch of sociology, a controversy over the boundaries of autonomy stopped at the concept of relative autonomy, until a typology of autonomy was created and developed within science and technology studies. According to it, the contemporary form of science's existing autonomy is the reflexive autonomy: actors and structures within the scientific field are able to translate or to reflect diverse themes presented by social and political fields, as well as influence them regarding the thematic choices on research projects.
In governmental parlence, autonomy refers to self-governance. An example of an autonomous jurisdiction was the former United States governance of the Philippine Islands. The Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916 provided the framework for the creation of an autonomous government under which the Filipino people had broader domestic autonomy than previously, although it reserved certain privileges to the United States to protect its sovereign rights and interests. Another example was the status of Kosovo as the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo under the former Yugoslav government of Marshal Tito.
Autonomy is a key concept that has a broad impact on different fields of philosophy.
In moral philosophy, autonomy refers to subjecting oneself to objective moral law.Kant (1724-1804) argued that morality presupposes this autonomy (German: Autonomie) 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 as 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. 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. 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.
In How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, philosopher Iain King developed an 'Autonomy Principle', which he defines as "Let people choose for themselves, unless we know their interests better than they can." 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.
The Swiss philosopher Jean Piaget (1896-1980) 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:
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.
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 its 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.
The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) 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. They are read in progressive sense, that is, higher levels indicate greater autonomy.
In Christianity, autonomy is manifested as a partial self-governance on various levels of church administration. During the history of Christianity, there were two basic types of autonomy. Some important parishes and monasteries have been given special autonomous rights and privileges, and the best known example of monastic autonomy is the famous Eastern Orthodox monastic community on Mount Athos in Greece. On the other hand, administrative autonomy of entire ecclesiastical provinces has throughout history included various degrees of internal self-governance.
In ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodox Churches, there is a clear distinction between autonomy and autocephaly, since autocephalous churches have full self-governance and independence, while every autonomous church is subjected to some autocephalous church, having a certain degree of internal self-governance. Since every autonomous church had its own historical path to ecclesiastical autonomy, there are significant differences between various autonomous churches in respect of their particular degrees of self-governance. For example, churches that are autonomous can have their highest-ranking bishops, such as an archbishop or metropolitan, appointed or confirmed by the patriarch of the mother church from which it was granted its autonomy, but generally they remain self-governing in many other respects.
In the history of Western Christianity the question of ecclesiastical autonomy was also one of the most important questions, specially during the first centuries of Christianity, since various archbishops and metropolitans in Western Europe have often opposed centralizing tendencies of the Church of Rome.
In a medical context, respect for a patient's personal autonomy is considered one of many fundamental ethical principles in medicine. Autonomy can be defined as the ability of the person to make his or her own decisions. This faith in autonomy is the central premise of the concept of informed consent and shared decision making. This idea, while considered essential to today's practice of medicine, was developed in the last 50 years. According to Tom Beauchamp and James Childress (in Principles of Biomedical Ethics), the Nuremberg trials detailed accounts of horrifyingly exploitative medical "experiments" which violated the subjects' physical integrity and personal autonomy. These incidences prompted calls for safeguards in medical research, such as the Nuremberg Code which stressed the importance of voluntary participation in medical research. It is believed that the Nuremberg Code served as the premise for many current documents regarding research ethics.
However, autonomy does not only apply in a research context. Users of the health care system have the right to be treated with respect for their autonomy, instead of being dominated by the power of the physician. Through the therapeutic relationship, a thoughtful dialogue between the client and the physician may lead to better outcomes for the client, as he or she is more of a participant in decision-making.
The seven elements of informed consent (as defined by Beauchamp and Childress) include threshold elements (competence and voluntariness), information elements (disclosure, recommendation, and understanding) and consent elements (decision and authorization). Some philosophers such as Harry Frankfurt consider Beauchamp and Childress criteria insufficient. They claim that an action can only be considered autonomous if it involves the exercise of the capacity to form higher-order values about desires when acting intentionally. What this means is that patients may understand their situation and choices but would not be autonomous unless the patient is able to form value judgements about their reasons for choosing treatment options they would not be acting autonomously.
There are many different definitions of autonomy, many of which place the individual in a social context. See also: relational autonomy, which suggests that a person is defined through their relationships with others, and "supported autonomy" which suggests that in specific circumstances it may be necessary to temporarily compromise the autonomy of the person in the short term in order to preserve their autonomy in the long-term. Other definitions of the autonomy imagine the person as a contained and self-sufficient being whose rights should not be compromised under any circumstance.
In certain unique circumstances government may have the right to temporarily override the right to bodily integrity in order to preserve the life and well-being of the person. Such action can be described using the principle of "supported autonomy", a concept that was developed to describe unique situations in mental health (examples include the forced feeding of a person dying from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, or the temporary treatment of a person living with a psychotic disorder with antipsychotic medication). While controversial, the principle of supported autonomy aligns with the role of government to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. Terrence F. Ackerman has highlighted problems with these situations, he claims that by undertaking this course of action physician or governments run the risk of misinterpreting a conflict of values as a constraining effect of illness on a patient's autonomy.
Despite large scale commitment to promoting patient autonomy, public mistrust of medicine in developed countries has remained.Onora O'Neill has ascribed this lack of trust to medical institutions and professionals introducing measures that benefit themselves, not the patient. O'Neill claims that this focus on autonomy promotion has been at the expense of issues like distribution of healthcare resources and public health.
The Yogyakarta Principles, a document with no binding effect in international human rights law, contend that "self-determination" used as meaning of autonomy on one's own matters including informed consent or sexual and reproductive rights, is integral for one's self-defined or gender identity and refused any medical procedures as a requirement for legal recognition of the gender identity of transgender. If eventually accepted by the international community in a treaty, this would make these ideas human rights in the law. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also defines autonomy as principles of rights of a person with disability including "the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons".
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Autonomy or Autonomous behavior is a contentious term in reference to unmanned vehicles due to the poor understanding of whether something acting without outside commands is doing so through its own ability to make decisions or through a method of decision making pre-programmed into it. It is a quality which is rather abstract in nature and rather difficult to measure. The word is used only in an analogical sense at this point, and the analogical application carries very little of the primary content, which refers to moral choices of rational beings.
An example of semi-autonomous vehicles is unmanned spacecraft. Autonomy is an increasing feature of unmanned vehicles with two objectives
An Autonomous Space Craft might make certain decisions for itself based on imagery observation and a pre-programmed algorithm that will determine the only possible logical outcome and then perform that task without having to ask controllers NAND NOR AND types of parameters. Autonomy in Space does not relate to the socio-political definitions, here we are talking about a device that can make basic or convoluted decisions based on LOGIC (in an electronic usage) - see X37b Military Space Plane for an example
To have true Autonomy however a device (or entity) would need to have a longer leash being able to complete complex missions without human intra direction. Such a system would say further automate the other elements of the total process making the whole of the "system" larger by including more devices that multicommunicate with each other without involving ground based technicians or communications. (the military might not want to send possibly interceptable signals to and from said same)
For example: If they automated the ground based tracking and control sending and or included additional satellites and/or space planes OR other devices (autonomous air and seacraft) the X37b Missions could someday become totally Autonomous.
If the ground controllers want to they can take control of the space craft at any time. A typical mission though will be preprogrammed and perform as directed and land.. OR perform a task WHILE and/or UNTIL (in a software sense) a condition is met (say a signal sent from the ground) IF/THEN Land the Un-Manned SpaceCraft without further direction from the ground. The systems so happen to interact but that is not a necessary condition for autonomy. As each device becomes more and more autonomous the total network becomes more and more intelligent and at the same time secure