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 understand, in general, the legal, moral or philosophical, according to which an entity governs itself according to instructions or imperatives that come from the outside, that is, that 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, the 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 Humans we live according to heteronomous criteria, in the sense that we are governed by a set learned from rules, rules and criteria, which are imparted to us by our ancestors, or by the institutions of society itself.

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

Moral heteronomy

The moral It is the philosophical field in which the difference between good and evil is debated, understood as abstract concepts, which govern the behaviour 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 speeches of the society.

However, its purpose is to build morally autonomous individuals: who 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, based on it, exercise the Liberty individual and conscience.

Heteronomy in law

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

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

The Condition It obliges us to abide by those norms that we did not propose, nor do they come from our social experience, but are much older. It guarantees its obligation through the monopoly of the violence and of coercion.

From the moment we are born we are inserted in a regulated world, regulated, with laws drawn up in advance and included 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 such as Immanuel Kant or Cornelius Castoriadis have dabbled in the field.

Heteronomy example

Slaves were constantly subject to their master's will.

A radical example of heteronomy is the condition of slaverySlaves 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.

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