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Academic Year 2023/2024

Autonomy as a Philosophical Problem (PHIL40840)

Social Sciences & Law
4 (Masters)
Module Coordinator:
Professor Brian O'Connor
Mode of Delivery:
Internship Module:
How will I be graded?
Letter grades

Curricular information is subject to change.

The exercise of autonomy is among the most valued of human capacities. Civilized societies aspire to the rational exercise of freedom. Scanlon defines autonomous persons as "sovereign in deciding what to believe and in weighing competing reasons for action." And the sovereign persons operates under their "own canons of rationality" and "cannot accept without independent consideration the judgment of others" about the actions they are expected to undertake.

This module will explore the theory of autonomy and the wide range of difficulties that attach to it. (1) The Metaphysics of the Self. The theory of autonomy is committed to a notion of the self in which reasons can prevail over passions. (2) The Source of Normativity. If sovereignty over our own reasons is a characteristic of autonomy we need to be confident that they are genuinely our own and that they are reasons which we are free to endorse or reject. Explanations of these two pivotal features of the theory of autonomy have yet to be unproblematically provided by philosophy. This will be seen through critical readings of materials selected from a range of authors (including, Kant, Korsgaard, Hegel, Adorno, Freud, Honneth, Geuss, Friedman, McDowell).

About this Module

Learning Outcomes:

Students will have acquired knowledge of the most influential theories of autonomy through readings of primary texts.Students will understand what is distinctive about autonomy as a concept of freedom.Students will have developed a critical perspective on at least one of the positions considered.The significance of the concept of autonomy to the history of nineteenth century philosophy will be understood.Students will appreciate the ongoing significance of the concept of autonomy for contemporary theories of normativity. Problems in the very concept of autonomy will also be understood.

Student Effort Hours:
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning


Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Seminars based on distrubuted readings

Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Essay: Essay 1 - 2500 words Week 6 n/a Graded No


Essay: Essay 2 - 3500 words Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components

Resit In Terminal Exam
Summer No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 

Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.