What is heteronomy?

What Does Heteronomy Mean

We explain what heteronomy is both in its moral and legal sense. In addition, various examples and differences with autonomy.

A heteronomous being lives obeying the laws imposed by another.

What is heteronomy?

By heteronomy (from the Greek heteros, "other", and nomos , "law") we mean, in general, the legal, moral or philosophical condition , according to which an entity governs itself according to instructions or imperatives that come from the outside , that is, they have not originated in itself. In that sense, it is the opposite of autonomy .

Thus, a heteronomous being is one who lives life not according to his own self-determination, but obeying the laws imposed by another, whether that other is an individual, society or some kind of power. It may be that you do it against your will, or with some margin of indifference.

From a certain point of view, all human beings live according to heteronomous criteria , in the sense that we are governed by a learned set of norms , rules and criteria, which are imparted to us by our ancestors, or by the institutions of society itself.

However, we can choose when and if to disobey the laws imposed from outside. Therefore, it can be argued that respect for these rules occurs to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual, and this shows, at the same time, that we are autonomous.

It can serve you: Conventionalism

Moral heteronomy

The moral is the philosophical field in which the difference is torn between good and evil, understood as abstract concepts that govern the behavior human. In that sense, moral heteronomy is the learning of what is good and what is bad , typical of when we are children: a learning that is generally dictated to us from the outside, that is, that our parents teach us, at school and is reinforced by discourses of society.

However, its purpose is to build morally autonomous individuals : that they do not require the vigilance of third parties to be able to determine what is good and what is evil, but that they already have the norm incorporated, and can exercise individual freedom based on it. and conscience.

Heteronomy in law

In a society we must all obey laws and regulations that are external to us.

In the legal field it is where heteronomy is most easily perceived, because all the laws that exist are mandatory for life in society. This obligation also includes legal regulations and contracts .

The State forces us to abide by those norms that we did not propose, nor do they come from our social experience, but which are much earlier. It guarantees its obligatory nature through the monopoly of violence and coercion.

Since we are born we are inserted in a regulated world, regulated, with laws drawn up in advance and collected in different bodies of laws, whose purpose is to guarantee social peace. If we refuse to comply with the laws by which society as a whole has agreed to govern itself, it will have the right to punish us in some way, or in the worst case we will lose the right to live in society.

As will be seen, legally we are all heteronomous beings .

Heteronomy and autonomy

The fundamental difference between heteronomy and autonomy has to do with the place of origin of the norms that govern the individual, as the case may be. When the norms come from the individual himself, he is said to be an autonomous individual ; but when they do not come from him, but from others, then we speak of a heteronomous individual.

There has been much philosophical debate between this distinction, and where the limits of individual freedom lie. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant or Cornelius Castoriadis have dabbled in the matter.

More in: Autonomy

Heteronomy example

Slaves were constantly subject to their master's will.

A radical example of heteronomy is the condition of slavery : slaves were legally incapable of governing themselves, as they could not own property, or exercise individual freedom. Instead, they were constantly subject to the will of their master, who gave them all kinds of instructions and determined, for them, what was good for them and what was not.

Follow on: Slavery


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