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Catholic Culture Resources

Catholic Dictionary




The theory that each person imposes the moral law on himself. It is opposed to heteronomous morality, which holds that the moral law is imposed from outside of man by another, and ultimately by the divine Other, who is God, which makes the moral law theonomous.

Developed into a system by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), autonomous morality in effect deifies each person's free will. In the Kantian understanding of freedom, liberty means not only freedom of choice but freedom of independence, on the assumption that one cannot retain free will and still be under the command of another's law. To save freedom, Kant demanded autonomy, but by demanding autonomy he destroyed all real obligation and therefore all real law. (Etym. Greek autonomos, free, living by one' own laws; Latin moralis, relating to conduct.)