The place of autonomy within liberalism

Gerald F. Gaus

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

35 Scopus citations


Introduction. My concern in this chapter is the place of autonomy within liberalism, understood as a public morality. To what extent is liberal morality necessarily committed to some doctrine of autonomy, and what is the nature of this doctrine? I begin (Section II) by briefly explicating my understanding of liberalism, which is based on the fundamental liberal principle – that all interferences with action stand in need of justification. Section III then defends my first core claim: given a certain compelling view of the nature of moral reasons, the fundamental liberal principle presupposes a Kantian conception of morally autonomous agents. I then consider (Section IV) an implication of the fundamental liberal principle when applied to public morality and the law – that an interference with liberty must be justified to everyone. This public justification principle, I argue, constitutes a version of Kant's categorical imperative; thus liberalism is committed to not only autonomy of the will (Section III) but a substantive morality of autonomy. By the end of Section IV, I will have shown that liberal morality is committed to what may be broadly deemed a “Kantian” conception of moral autonomy. In Section V, I show how this necessary presupposition of moral autonomy in liberal public morality implies a further commitment to one interpretation of the much-discussed ideal of “personal autonomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAutonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism
Subtitle of host publicationNew Essays
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages35
ISBN (Electronic)9780511610325
ISBN (Print)0521839513, 9780521839518
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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