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40 - Individual autonomy

from VII - Political philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2014

Edited by
Edited in association with
Cary J. Nederman
Affiliation:
Texas A&M University
Robert Pasnau
Affiliation:
University of Colorado Boulder
Christina van Dyke
Affiliation:
Calvin College, Michigan
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Summary

Some readers may find it surprising to encounter a chapter on “individual autonomy” in a survey of medieval philosophy, especially in connection with political philosophy. After all, an established tradition of historical scholarship insists that the Middle Ages was a period in which hierarchy, interdependence, and communal holism were emphasized to the virtual exclusion of the individual. The recovery of Aristotle’s writings on ethics and politics during the course of the mid-thirteenth century would seem only to reinforce the generally “communitarian” and anti-individualistic orientation commonly ascribed to medieval thinkers. Recently, the image of medieval Europe as hostile to the individual has been reaffirmed by its depiction as a “persecuting society.” Thus, according to the conventional view, the Renaissance and the Reformation constituted the watershed for the appearance of the individual as a moral and political category worthy of philosophical consideration.

Yet medieval political thinkers, both before and after the dissemination of Latin translations of Aristotle’s work, were surprisingly attuned to the standing of the individual and the role of free choice in public affairs. In their emphasis on the centrality of private property and consent to government, as well as their insistence on the ability of individuals to enjoy forms of personal liberty (such as free thought, judgment, and speech), these authors resisted the supposedly hierocratic (even authoritarian) tendencies that scholarship often ascribes to the Middle Ages. In turn, the ability of high and late medieval writers to establish a firm grounding for the individual in relation to religious as well as political authority depended upon their access to a wide range of pagan and Christian sources that yielded philosophical and theological principles supporting personal autonomy. For example, the political and legal traditions inherited from Rome endorsed such values as liberty, philosophical skepticism, and economic freedom.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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  • Individual autonomy
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.049
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  • Individual autonomy
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.049
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Individual autonomy
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.049
Available formats
×