violating someone's autonomy or free will raises ethical concerns, then isn't controlling own thought (that is supressing certain thoughts and nurturing specific thoughts which is function of thought itself!) unethical? Most of the Be Positive advices suggest supressing negative emotions and nurturing positive ones, in this practice certain thought is restricting other thoughts which is clearly violence of free thinking, isn't this unethical?

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    – Rushi
    Dec 7, 2023 at 17:08
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    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:21
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    Self-command is often what autonomy is taken to be, so perhaps not. As for toxic positivity, well... I'm envisioning a fuller answer to this question so I will leave off my comment at these suggestive remarks. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:22
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    I argue here that wisdom is about reconciling the different selves, of different moods or contexts: 'Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/82325/… We can't eat unhealthy food all the time, & be thin - if we desire both we need to find a way to solve that dilemma. Simply being slaves to our current impulse is not freedom, we need shirt & long term drivers of happiness
    – CriglCragl
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:53
  • Thoughts are best ignored most of the time. Byron Katie says, "The only suffering is an unquestioned thought." Don't take it seriously. When I was growing up I often saw the slogan Question Authority, and I would always respond "Why? They don't have the answers!"
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 7, 2023 at 20:32

2 Answers 2


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has at least two articles that are directly pertinent to this question:

  1. Autonomy in Moral and Political Philosophy

  2. Personal Autonomy

And the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article on autonomy "plain and simple". Now, let's start with breaking down the word "autonomy" itself: this goes back to auto to nomos in Greek, which phrasing hearkens to talk of the Forms as auto to eidos, idea(l)s in-themselves, so here we have "a law (nomos) unto itself." Note, then, that we have lawfulness/lawlikeness in play, here: autonomy is apparently not chaotic, is not simply doing whatever comes to mind. So when in Kant-speak we find reference to the form of the law, we can capitalize those words so as to refer to the Form of the Law, which is what Kant took the Form of the Good to be (or: he replaced the inchoate "image" of the one, with the relatively clearer "image" of the other). And then Kant will say (in the Doctrine of Virtue, say) that autonomy is when the higher self imposes its law on the lower self.

Still, Kant also says that this imposition is not externally legislated: there are not to be uses-of-force in social place, to corral behavior, here, but autonomy is also "eleutheronomy," AKA the law of free will. But, there's still a law, so there's still some "discipline." (Onora O'Neill, in her analysis of Kant's ethics, even isolates self-discipline, then self-criticism, as reason's "purpose" or "function" par excellence; c.f. talk of morality as about "side constraints" on action, rather than as about setting substantive ends for all action to aim at. Granted, Kant does talk about ends-that-are-also-duties, so he really has a sort of recursive self-critique in play, we should say...)

Now, as far as toxic positivity goes, let's quote from a Psychology Today article:

Emotional suppression doesn’t only fail to resolve the underlying problem, but it can also breed guilt, shame, sadness, and anxiety. It can even backfire by magnifying suppressed feelings.

Kant himself even claims that we have an indirect duty to support our own happiness, as a sort of supplement to our direct, perfect duty to perfect ourselves, so what we can say is that even if we have reason to fight against some of our feelings some of the time, including negative ones, we can also have an indirect duty to process our feelings, whatever they may be, because of how such processing can help with psychological stability. For example, Aristotle's eudaimonia is not happiness, then, but literally means "a good spirit," where our spirit is stable, effective at practicing the virtues, etc., and this means not becoming consumed with self-hatred just because we're not perfect. As John Rawls says (A Theory of Justice, §40):

Those who think of Kant's moral doctrine as one of law and guilt badly misunderstand him. Kant's main aim is to deepen and justify Rousseau's idea that liberty is acting in accordance with a law that we give to ourselves [emphasis added]. And this leads not to a morality of austere command but to an ethic of mutual respect and self-esteem.

To verify Rawls' contention, here, consider that Kant was famous for his regular walks, which to our knowledge (or at least according to legend) were interrupted only by his engagement with Rousseau's work.


No, controlling others infringes their personal rights; controlling oneself does not. The distinction has many parallels. For instance:

It is not considered immoral to lie in the your bath reading the works of Kant; however, it would be considered immoral to perform the same act in a stranger's house.

It would be considered strange, but not immoral, were you to put gaffer tape over your mouth, lock yourself in a darkened room and send text messages to yourself demanding a hefty ransom payment in return for removing the tape and unlocking the door. Kidnapping someone else is quite a different matter.

It would not be considered immoral to use your bank card to pay for a week's groceries. It would be considered immoral to use someone else's card for the same purpose.

Each of the examples I have listed serves the purpose of highlighting an important conceptual difference between the enjoyment of one's own personal rights and the infringement of others', which you seem to have conflated in your question.

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