Feminist Conceptions of Autonomy

Authored by: Catriona Mackenzie

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:


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Autonomy is both a status and a capacity concept. As a status concept, it refers to the idea that individuals are entitled to exercise self-determining authority over their own lives. A foundational principle of liberal democratic societies is that each individual should be respected as having this authority. As a capacity concept, autonomy refers to the capacity to be self-defining and self-governing; that is, to make decisions and act on the basis of preferences, values or commitments that are authentically “one’s own.” Debates about autonomy in the mainstream philosophical literature seek to analyze the characteristics of self-governing agency and to explain how it can be undermined by external threats, such as coercion, manipulation or paternalistic interference, and impaired by internal threats, such as compulsion, addiction and failures of self-control, including weakness of will.

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