Autonomy and the Sources of Political Normativity

37 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 21 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2009


Contemporary political liberals argue for extending the scope of reasonable disagreement to include also the principle of autonomy that was central in classical liberal theory. I take outset in Charles Larmore, The Autonomy of Morality (2008), which argues that liberal theory can dispense with the commitment to autonomy that one finds in Locke, Kant, and Mill, because “the essential convictions of liberal thought lie at a more fundamental level,” namely in the principle of respect for persons. The main question I address is whether we can see the commitment to respect for persons as separable from the commitment to autonomy. My focus is the Kantian conception of autonomy, and I argue for understanding this conception practically and politically, rather than metaphysically and theoretically. In this way we can separate the principle of respect for persons from the metaphysical idea of autonomy as self-origination of binding principles but not from autonomy as a necessary presupposition of our moral-political deliberations. Respect for persons and the authority of moral-political claims are internally related to the mutual affirmation of our autonomy as equal subjects and authors of binding principles.

Keywords: autonomy, Kant, Larmore, respect, political liberalism

Suggested Citation

Rostboll, Christian F., Autonomy and the Sources of Political Normativity (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Christian F. Rostboll (Contact Author)

University of Copenhagen ( email )

+45 3532-3428 (Phone)

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