Abstract and Keywords
The interpretation of individual freedom as autonomy or ‘self-governance’ has a long tradition reaching back at least to early modern natural law theory and, before that, the Stoic tradition of the Graeco-Roman period (Schneewind). However, in the modern era, the idea of autonomy became a central category through which the individual's relation to the world, to others, and to his own inner self or motivational structure was reconceived. Despite the fact that today the ideal of autonomy has many critics, much of the contemporary literature is best read as contributing to a refinement of that ideal rather than as a rejection of it. Modern attempts to understand freedom as autonomy produced a wave of philosophical reflection whose effects can be seen in Romanticism, in the nineteenth-century reactions of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, in the existentialist movement, and in the various contemporary attempts to refine, extend, and appropriate this radical ideal.
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