Autonomy, self-knowledge, and liberal legitimacy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

39 Scopus citations


In the Enlightenment tradition of the justification of political authority, institutions of state power are seen as legitimate only if such institutions can be freely supported by those living under them. Liberal legitimacy, then, assumes that autonomous citizens can endorse the principles that shape the institutions of political power. The conception of autonomy functioning in such a picture, moreover, requires that such citizens uniformly enjoy the capacity to rationally reflect upon and critically appraise their own values, moral commitments, and political convictions. In this way, political power is an outgrowth of autonomous personhood and choice. This traditional understanding of political legitimacy has been challenged from any number of directions, most notably from those who charge that the picture of the autonomous person underlying the mechanism of authority is parochial, exclusionary, and in tension with the sought-for legitimacy it is used to support. In this last vein, it can be charged that the requirements of general support for principles of justice in a modern, pluralistic society are in tension with the assumptions concerning individual autonomy underlying that concept. For the problem facing liberal conceptions of justice and legitimacy is that political power can be seen as justified only when supported by autonomous citizens, but the requirements of autonomy, in many construals of that term, are too stringent to be met by the majority of citizens bound by political institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAutonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism
Subtitle of host publicationNew Essays
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780511610325
ISBN (Print)0521839513, 9780521839518
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Autonomy, self-knowledge, and liberal legitimacy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this