Autonomous Ethics

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Autonomous Ethics


a moral system based on the concept of the independence of moral principles and demands from any conditions, interests, and goals external to morality as such.

Autonomous ethics was developed in The Critique of Pure Reason (1788) by Kant, who opposed it to the ethical theory of the French Enlightenment. Kant tried to establish the independence of personal conscience, which formulates moral laws for all of mankind, not under external constraint but according to internal conviction; he attempted to explain the specific nature of moral precepts as distinguished from simple expediency and the command of social authorities. However, the complete isolation of moral laws from social practice led Kant to a priority, to the thought that it is only possible to postulate these laws but not to prove them, and then to formalism—that is, to the impossibility of defining the concrete content of moral needs. This postulation of the problem was later accepted by neo-Kantians, as well as by intuitivists, existentialists, and dialectical theologians, who juxtaposed moral laws to the laws of being and of social reality. Marxist ethics explains the specific character of morality and the independence of personal conscience by the unique way in which social laws are reflected in moral consciousness.


Lange, N. Istoriia nravstvennykh idei XIX v. St. Petersburg, 1888. Chapter 1.
Mirtov, D. Nravstvennaia avtonomiia po Kantu i Nitsshe. St. Petersburg, [1905].
Drobnitskii, O. G., and T. A. Kuz’mina. Kritika sovremennykh burzhuaznykh eticheskikh kontseptsii. Moscow, 1967. Pages 33–66, 77–82, 100–41, 184–218, 240–53, 271–306, 337–48.

O. G. DROBNITSKII [1—465–1]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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God talk and its relevance for moral theology have often been sidetracked by a debate between the so-called autonomous ethics and an ethics of faith.

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