In a lot of Western philosophy I notice autonomy being considered as a degree of freedom. Rather than an output of conditioning, culture, etc.

In fact well being in the west means autonomy. This is not the case in the East. Has anyone been able to trace which philosopher's influence dented the direction (in the East or west) away from each other?

  • The answer spans across multiple phyla and, to make matters worse, there are finer points ta work out. To the universe, we're very simple although the converse may be true of only sophī. Thankfully, people don't seem ta give a rat's arse.
    – Hudjefa
    May 14, 2023 at 8:33
  • As to the history of the " autonomy" concept : Rousseau, Lettres écrites de la montagne ( Lettre 8) , Kant, Groundwork Of The Metaphysics Of Morals , Critique of Practical Reason. Autonomy is a middle way between (1) being submitted to ( natural)necessity and (2) arbitrariness and blindness in acts of will ; a subject ( be it individual or collective) is autonomous when he/she acts according to a rule ( therefore not arbitrarily) that he/she has given to him/herself . If you define freedom as not being subjected to natural necessity, you get a high ( the highest?) degree of freedom. May 14, 2023 at 10:15

2 Answers 2


I'd mark Martin Luther, or the Reformation collectively, as the most salient single philosopher or general philosophical movement. The shift is one of religious worldview, from a paternalistic one (in which all moral authority and a significant part of moral responsibility are invested in the patriarch and devolved through a mediating hierarchy) to an individualistic one (in which the individual has direct access to the divine source of moral authority and bears full individual moral responsibility). Luther didn't emerge from a philosophical vacuum or leave one behind afterwards. As always, the question of when something started and who started it is an infinite recursion. But if we're tracking seismic shifts, not the buildup of tectonic pressure or the subsequent aftershocks, the seismic shift in the philosophy of autonomy had its epicenter in the Holy Roman Empire in the early 16th century.

  • It's interesting to note Venice was Catholic, & had a major roll in the rise of banking, & so capitalism, & a more individualistic post-feudal ethic. Portugal was the first around Africa & the first colonial power, often forgotten because an earthquake destroyed Lisbon setting them far back.
    – CriglCragl
    May 13, 2023 at 23:09

It would be helpful I think to provide quotes and references to support the picture you assert.

I argue Socrates is paradigmatic to defining Western philosophy here: Weren't there any philosophers from Africa, America or the Middle East before Socrates? & that the traditions associated with pursuing wisdom in the West are about removing conditioning & coercion on your thoughts & actions here: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises? That's not exactly the same as arriving at wellbeing - Socrates chose hemlock over exile, after all.

The Eastern wisdom tradition is different, no doubt. Confucius is paradigmatic for defining wisdom in East Asia, and I see his thought as focused on or perhaps as coordinated as an assembly of ideas towards, minimising the harms of succession crisees, as discussed here: Why is Confucianism considered a brilliant philosophical school of thought? Confucianism first gained unique status to the Chinese state, through the rise of the very long lasting Han, after the very short lived Qin dynasty which included massacring Confucian scholars that offered very mild opposition to the Emperor - this made a paradigm for understanding Confucianism, and mutuality of obligations.

There is also the Daoist picture, in which wisdom is exemplified by softness and indirect cultivation of goals, over pursuit of power. Alchemy, and harmony of inner and outer elements had major prominence for the Daoist picture of wisdom. Overcoming dualities and the limitations of language are also key, as discussed here: Philosophers or philosophical traditions that reject symbolic reasoning

Wisdom for Buddhists is in recognising Sunyata, interdependence and impermanence, and in non-attachment. Hindu moksha is not so different, although yoga, yolking to the divine, is different to the Buddhist aim of living in Unshakeable Liberation from delusions.

There is a perspective that says the European locus of control is towards the individual, and the Asian locus of control is towards the family. That's kind of challenged by the historic power of family and lineage in Europe, to answer why the modern divergence. Sociologists would likely look at industrialisation as a driver of social atomisation and the rise of state support as furthering that - and trends in China and India towards greater individualism can be identified.

Jonathan Haidt has interesting research contrastingcultures rooted in herding and pastoralism, to those mainly rooted in agrarian crop-growing livelihoods. His research linked honour-cultures and feuding to those who could lose generational wealth to one animal rustling, so for examples cowboys, Scots border people with their 'hot trod', Afghan hill people. And a more communitarian morality about fulfilling obligations in regions that have to sow and harvest together, especially rice-growing countries. Maybe Tibet poses some challenges to the first category, though maybe not. Rice was a minority crop in China until surprisingly recently, before which millet dominated for the poor, which may have had a different dynamic. Broadly these patterns seem to fit though.

It's interesting to note writing always began with domestication of an animal that could help with agrarian cultivation: in Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica. But, the mix of agrarian and pastoral communities in close proximity in Europe, and varying in pattern a lot between North and South, coastal and continental climates, may help answer the Needham Question - why key technologies of the Modern Age were invented in China, but that age did not begin there.

I am sceptical about overgeneralising, like ignoring Confucian vs Buddhist tensions. And lesser known philosophical strands, like say the suppressed Chinese Mohist school of logic. If you look into India's history of philosophy, the profusion of different views has been huge, but many of them we only have records of from debates or disagreements from the schools which survived. It's easy to forget how close we came to losing many Ancient Greek texts, that we now consider to help define Western thought, preserved by the Islamic Golden Age bridging the European Dark Ages. The rediscovery of the two millennia old Indian Arthashastra, has shifted the needle in our thinking about the history of Indian political philosophy, for an example.

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