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Original scientific paper

On the Meaning and Some Contexts of the Term ‘Autonomy’. A Conceptual Investigation

Jan P. Beckmann ; Fernuniversität in Hagen, Faculty of Cultural and Social Sciences, Hagen, Germany

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The paper aims to analyse conceptually the meaning of the term ‘autonomy’ and to examine critically its relations with other ethical norms. The question posed is whether autonomy is a right, or an ability, or a capacity, or an achievement, and whether it ought to be distinguished from self-determination. It is shown that autonomy is an anthropological principle, and that self-determination as its manifestation is a human right. As to its relation with other ethical norms, it is shown that there are possible conflicts between a patient’s and his doctor’s autonomies, as well as between autonomy and the duty to protect life, and between autonomy and care, so that trust plays an important role. The author concludes that man is autonomous not if and only if he is able to determine himself, but rather that he has the right to determine himself because he is autonomous. This holds for everybody from their beginning to their end, irrespective of what they are able to do and the situation they may be in. Since every human being is autonomous, autonomy entails self-limitation, and so it does not mean independence, but interdependence. As to trust, autonomy is to be acknowledged, while trust is to be practiced, since autonomy is of people, while trust is in people.


autonomy; self-determination; self-limitation; duty to protect life; care; trust

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