Autonomy and dependence

Authored by: Tom Grimwood

The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Theory

Print publication date:  July  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415793438
eBook ISBN: 9781315211053
Adobe ISBN:


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The concept of autonomy, in the context of social work values, is constructed from several interlinking aspects. Politically, to exercise autonomy is to claim authority over one’s own actions; it is a right to self-determination and self-governance, rooted in the Greek autos (self) and nomos (laws). Physically, to exercise autonomy is the freedom to initiate one’s own actions; an independence from the constraints or supports of others. Morally, autonomy is crucial to the capacity not only to act according to one’s own reasoning and not under external influence, but also, in the Kantian tradition of moral philosophy, to follow rational, universal moral laws. Across all three, the key point is that autonomy does not simply describe particular actions, behaviours or choices made but rather a particular way in which the authority to act, behave and choose is exercised.

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