If I Am Fully Autonomous – Can I Rob Banks?
Personal Autonomy and Moral Agency
What if you could throw off all the chains that hold you in place, that prevent you from climbing out of the mud and reaching for the clouds?
Then, congratulations would be in order: you Got Autonomy!
Imagine that you could take any action you wish, with no adverse consequences. You are the only being in the world that would hold yourself accountable – do you have any reason or desire to care about what is “right” or what is “wrong”? That is, do you have Moral Agency?
Why Be Autonomous If I Still Have to Be Moral?
First, let’s define some terms.
In academia, Autonomy is taken to mean the ability to make decisions without coercion. But let’s use the simple, intuitive meaning: independence, freedom.
Autonomy is derived from the Greek autos or self, and nomos or law, rule.
A civilized individual should strive to be Autonomous. But as such, can you do whatever you choose? Can you just make up your own rules?
Well yes, you can. That is pretty much the definition of Autonomy.
But you must take responsibility for your actions.
No man is free who is not master of himself. -Epictetus
This leads us to Moral Agency. In facile terms, it is the ability to know Right from Wrong.
Honesty is the best policy. -Benjamin Franklin
If you have Moral Agency, it is easy to take for granted that everyone knows the difference between Right and Wrong. If this describes you, please research Defense Against the Psychopath.
Regardless, what is “Right” and what is “Wrong” can be vague. The best way to flesh this out is by means of Natural Law, that is, the Law that is bestowed upon each of us by Nature. There is plenty to dwell upon but for our purposes here let us assume that you know the difference between Right and Wrong. That is, you possess Moral Agency. You are accountable for your actions.
Autonomy Vis-a-Vis Moral Agency
Suppose you are Autonomous. You are free to do as you choose. You live under self-rule.
So, can you rob banks?
No, you cannot rob banks. At least, you cannot do so without violating Natural Law. That is, you would be committing an act of aggression.
Natural Law: You are free to do as you choose, except that you cannot aggress against other people or property.
Is this a paradox? If you live under self-rule, why must you obey the Law?
This is really asking the wrong question. It is the other way around. You must first know the difference between Right and Wrong – you must first possess Moral Agency. Only then can you achieve Autonomy.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. -Matthew 7:12
On the flip side, without a Moral Agency, you can not be Autonomous. Without Moral Agency, you leech off of others. This rarely works. Even in cases where it “works,” it does not really work. Think of when you have seen wealth drop into someone’s lap by hook or by crook: “easy come, easy go.”
Not to mention that aggressing against others often results in either civil justice or street justice.
What goes around, comes around. -Anonymous
Conclusion: Moral Agency begets Autonomy, and Autonomy begets Moral Agency.
Autonomy is a course of action for individuals who seek to ignite their potential in ways that traditional schooling, universities, and corporate life kind of extinguish.