Autonomy (Gr. αὐτός, self, and νόμος, law), in general, freedom from external restraint, self-government. The term is usually coupled with a qualifying adjective. Thus, political autonomy is self-government in its widest sense, independence of all control from without. Local autonomy is a freedom of self-government within a sphere marked out by some superior authority; e.g. municipal corporations in England have their administrative powers marked out for them by acts of parliament, and in so far as they govern themselves within these limits exercise local autonomy. Administrative or constitutional autonomy, such as exists in the British colonies, implies an extent of self-government which falls short only of complete independence. The term is used loosely even in the case of e.g. religious bodies, individual churches and other communities which enjoy a measure of self-government in certain specified respects.
In philosophy, the term (with its antithesis "heteronomy") was applied by Kant to that aspect of the rational will in which, qua rational, it is a law to itself, independently alike of any external authority, of the results of experience and of the impulses of pleasure and pain. In the sphere of morals, the ultimate and only authority which the mind can recognize is the law which emerges from the pure moral consciousness. This is the only sense in which moral freedom can be understood. (See Ethics; Kant.) Though the term "autonomy" in its fullest sense implies entire freedom from causal necessity, it can also be used even in determinist theories for relative independence of particular conditions, theological or conventional.