8 junio, 2024

Autonomous decisions: definition, characteristics, examples

What are the autonomous decisions?

Autonomous decisions are those that a person consciously makes for himself, without being imposed by a third party. Faced with heteronomous decisions, forced by law, religion or social pressure, in autonomous decisions only the moral beliefs of the individual are important.

This concept is closely linked to moral autonomy. Only by being morally autonomous can you make your own decisions. Likewise, it is necessary to be able to analyze situations so that the decision is the most successful. In this regard, autonomy requires taking more risks than heteronomy.

However, some thinkers consider that the real margin of that autonomy is limited. This is due to the fact that every individual is educated within a certain cultural and social context, aspects that inevitably condition his decision-making.

Another fundamental characteristic of autonomous decisions is their ethical component. Strictly, making a decision that harms others would be part of this concept, but philosophers who have dealt with the subject affirm that the ethically correct must be chosen.

An autonomous decision would be, for example, deciding to study a degree without any type of external motivation, such as parental imposition or the ease of finding a job upon completion.

Characteristics of autonomous decisions

Autonomous decisions come from the morals, beliefs and purposes of the person who must make them. The will of that individual is not conditioned by any external factor, but is only due to personal determination.

Autonomy, therefore, can be defined as the ability to govern oneself, without the chosen conduct being imposed by anyone.

moral autonomy

These types of decisions are closely related to moral autonomy. It is about the set of moral norms that the individual has chosen as a guide for her conduct, either consciously or unconsciously.

This does not prevent part of those moral norms from being influenced by the society in which the person lives. Both education and the culture of society are forces that almost inevitably shape the beliefs of each individual.

On the other hand, moral autonomy also includes the ability to decide whether a decision is acceptable or not.


Autonomy is considered one of the main bioethical principles. According to his definition, it is the capacity that each person has to impose norms that govern their behavior. It is about making decisions without external coercion.

Several philosophical schools have contributed their ideas to the concept of autonomy, although almost all agree on the fundamental points. One of the most important contributions is that this autonomy should not be used against the decisions made by the rest of the people, who must be respected.

development of autonomy

Autonomy, both associated with decisions and with other areas of life, begins to develop during childhood. Younger children do not have any and are acquiring it as they grow.

A decisive stage in the formation of autonomy is adolescence. Young people begin to make their own decisions, although often that autonomy is not as real as they think.

Thus, due to the characteristics of this age range, many decisions come from their desire to form their personality in front of their parents, while others are strongly influenced by the dynamics of their social groups.

Autonomy and ethics

The philosopher Immanuel Kant is considered the author of the modern concept of autonomy. For this thinker, it was about the personal ability to govern oneself by one’s own rules, without these being imposed by any outside entity.

Although this definition emphasizes the individual, for Kant this did not mean that it was an egoistic concept. According to his approach, exclusively individual standards were classified as immoral. For this reason, decisions made from autonomy should never harm others.


The freedom offered by making decisions with autonomy is a reflection of self-confidence, as well as maturity. In this way, this autonomy makes the person live according to her ethics, without being carried away by the need to please others or submit to their desires.

When a person acts seeking to please others, that is, in a non-autonomous way, they end up causing a feeling of guilt and frustration.

Heteronomy and autonomy

Autonomous decisions are the opposite of heteronomous decisions. The first ones are only motivated by their own will, born of the morality and ethics of the person. On the contrary, the latter are those that are taken at the initiative of external factors. These can be from inherited religious beliefs, expectations created by the family or social pressure.

However, there is a line in which both types of decisions overlap. Thus, heteronomous decisions are often imposed by social factors, such as the traditions of each country, religion or customs.

Since all people grow and shape their personality within these societies, some authors affirm that autonomy is many times more apparent than real. According to this, some people believe they are deciding for themselves when, in reality, they are influenced by social conditioning.

Examples of autonomous decisions


Resisting the influence of fashion at each moment and of friends when choosing clothes is an example of autonomous decision. The same thing happens when you dress a certain way even if your parents don’t like it.


Choosing which religion to profess, without paying attention to family beliefs or the tradition of their place of birth, is one of the clearest examples of this type of decision.

choose partner

Starting or continuing with a partner that has been freely chosen despite family or social opposition.


In the opposite sense than the previous one, deciding to break up or divorce is often difficult due to factors beyond the control of the individual. Sticking with the decision demonstrates personal autonomy.

Report bad behavior

Peer or peer pressure can make it difficult to report behaviors that you personally consider wrong. An example of an autonomous decision is when a child tells his teachers that a classmate is being bullied.


Although it is never the right decision, it does not stop showing autonomy in the face of doctors’ warnings.

do not drink alcohol

In some circumstances, such as at a party or certain celebrations, there may be a lot of pressure to drink alcohol. Refusing to do so is a good example of autonomous decision.

Choose your own political beliefs

Choosing the political ideology and the direction of the vote is another autonomous decision, since sometimes there may be pressures from the person’s environment.

practice sport

Starting to practice a sport is a decision that is almost always made independently.


Becoming a volunteer to improve some social situation is also an autonomous decision of each individual.


Ministry of Education. Autonomy and moral heteronomy. Retrieved from mimosa.pntic.mec.es
Secondary 108. Characteristics of moral autonomy. Awareness of one’s own ability to judge. Criteria that justify personal actions and decisions. Retrieved from sites.google.com
Christmann, John. Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy. Retrieved from plato.stanford.edu
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. autonomy. Retrieved from encyclopedia.com
Dryden, Jane. autonomy. Retrieved from iep.utm.edu

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