CFP: Moral Heteronomy. History, Proposals, Reasons, Arguments

Submission deadline: April 15, 2015

Topic areas


Kant famously posited two opposing approaches toward the justification of moral agency: moral autonomy and moral heteronomy. According to a Kantian moral autonomy theorist, one acts morally provided that she is able to justify her actions with necessary and universal ethical reasons that derive exclusively from her transcendental constitution. It entails that the source of normativity thus consists in there being (a) only one appropriate strategy for justifying moral actions (b) and each agent being committed to the universal and necessary use of this strategy, which (c) draws uniquely upon ethical reasons and (d) inheres in the modus essendi of human beings. On the contrary, a moral heteronomy theorist would deny this justification for moral agency.

After Kant, the moral autonomy approach became the mainstream approach of justifying moral agency (although also novel non-Kantian and anti-Kantian perspectives emerged). Historians of moral philosophy often evaluate the Kantian conception of moral autonomy as a foundational element in the moral philosophy of Enlightenment. As a consequence, much scholarship in ethics has been focused on it, but the object of Kant’s criticism, i.e. moral heteronomy approach, has became marginalised in philosophical debate.

Recently, critical voices towards autonomy have gained, however, more ground in moral philosophy. For example, Communitarianism, Divine Command Theory, and Moral Contextualism challenge the meta-ethical assumption that normativity stands in the transcendental constitution of subjectivity. And also Virtue Ethics, based on the interpretations of ancient and medieval moral theories, rejects the moral autonomy approach.

The purpose of the planned volume is to investigate whether the notion of moral heteronomy could be useful in grouping various kinds of arguments against the moral autonomy approach to the justification of moral agency. In particular, we would like to show that the heteronomous conception of moral agency could provide viable alternatives to the meta-ethical assumptions driving the autonomy approach in moral philosophy. 

We hope the book will offer an expository overview of different heteronomous approaches towards justifying moral agency, and also new arguments for moral heteronomy. The content of the volume shall be in four parts. The first part will concern the history of moral heteronomy. The papers in it should study how historical moral theories rely on, or argue for, heteronomous justifications for moral agency. For example, the communitarian interpretations of Plato and Aristotle, virtue ethical approaches to Nichomachean Ethics, medieval regulae such as St. Benedict or St. Francis’s, Montaigne or Tocqueville’s works, Berkeleian defence of the moral value of fear and hope and the Humean analysis of moral life, could provide topics for studies. Each paper should address the questions along the following lines: is X’s argument for P an argument for heteronomy? Are X’s reasons for P heteronomous reasons? Does X’s approach to P provide a heteronomous phenomenology of moral life?  

Also the second part shall be expository, but concern contemporary themes. For instance, business ethics, the ethics of ecology, bioethics, military ethics and religious ethics. Its topics could also include presentations of heteronomous meta-ethical doctrines such as communitarianism, divine command theory etc. 

The third part will be mainly theoretical and focuses on considerations and arguments for moral heteronomy. Possible questions to be investigated are: How to build an empirically informed conception of normativity? Which are the sources of moral obligations? Do we have reasons to hold that there are pro tanto obligations? How much does moral agency depend on the constitutive relational nature of human beings? What is an effective notion of moral commitment? Does research in social sciences support moral heteronomy? Does moral heteronomy imply, entail or assume moral antirealism, and if so, what are the advantages of antirealism?

The fourth part will offer room for papers addressing various objections to moral heteronomy. The authors may address, for example, Korsgaard and Dworkin’s arguments against paternalism, arguments about the supposed implications of moral heteronomy for liberalism, about the threat of moral relativism etc. Also feminist critiques of moral autonomy are welcome. 

The dealine for the submission of abstracts: 15th of April. 

Please do not exceed 750 words.

Notification of acceptance: 15th of May.

Full papers are due by the 30th of October.

The volume will be bilingual, i.e. italian and english.

Editor’s works on heteronomy

D.Bertini (2012), “Incompletezza normativa, inconsistenza normativa e responsabilitàdell'agente nell'etica religiosa”, Lo Sguardo,  8, (1);

D.Bertini (2010), “La critica berkeleiana dell’autonomia morale”, in G.Brykman, L.Jaffro, C.Schwartz, eds., Berkeley's Alciphron: context, argument, reception, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.

Editor’s page:

Editor’s mail account:

[email protected]

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)