Personal Authenticity Expressing as Autonomy

Theme of the following quotations: Autonomy is the moral freedom of the person who chooses to act according to her own self-direction, not the given values and beliefs of her society. In the context of personal authenticity, this self-direction is not arbitrary. Rather it is a freedom whose direction is sourced by the values and inclinations of her own unique nature as it is experienced in the moment.

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The Philosophy of that law in Nature, which implants in man as well as in every beast a passionate, inherent, and instinctive desire for freedom and self-guidance, pertains to psychology and cannot be touched on now …. Perhaps the best synthesis of this feeling is found in three lines in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Says the “Fallen One”: –

“Here we may reign secure; and in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell!
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven ….”

Better be man, the crown of terrestrial production and king over its opus operatum, than be lost among the will-less spiritual Host in Heaven.

~ H. P. Blavatsky (1831-1891),
Russian occultist and co-founder of the Theosophical Society,
in The Secret Doctrine


Better Hell in one’s own character than Heaven as somebody else, for that would be exactly to make Hell, Heaven, and of Heaven, Hell.

~ Joseph Campbell (1904-1987),
American mythologist,
in Creative Mythology


The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A thing which is subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing.

~ Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274),
Christian theologian


Autonomy pertains to self-regulation: control and direction from within, rather than from any external authority.

Autonomy is expressed through an individual’s capacity for independent survival (supporting and maintaining one’s existence through productive work), independent thinking (looking at the world through one’s own eyes), and independent judgment (honoring inner signals and values).

Autonomy should not be interpreted as self-sufficiency in the absolute sense. It does not mean that one lives on a desert island or should act as if one did.

~ Nathaniel Branden (1930-present),
American psychologist,
in Taking Responsibility


‘Autonomy’ is in fact a more apt term than ‘moral freedom’ for capturing this conception of freedom: ‘autonomy’ means to make one’s own laws and to administer them, to be self-legislating. An autonomous being is one which ordains for itself the principles by which it shall live, and is therefore self-governing.

~ Brian Fay,
contemporary American philosopher,
in Critical Social Science


One who surpasses his fellow citizens in virtue is no longer a part of the city. Their law is not for him, since he is a law to himself.

~ Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC),
Greek philosopher,
Cited in Thoreau 1862
by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life…. True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite its being, as the ordinary man would say, only a personal feeling. But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape. The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing to one who has a vocation. He must obey his own law. Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called.

~Carl Jung (1875-1961),
Swiss depth psychologist
in The Development of Personality, CW17


Another trend which is evident in this process of becoming a person relates to the source or locus of choices and decisions, or evaluative judgments. The individual increasingly comes to feel that his locus of evaluation lies within himself. Less and less does he look to others for approval or disapproval; for standards to live by; for decisions and choices. He recognizes that it rests within himself to choose; that the only question which matters is, “Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?” This I think is perhaps the most important question for the creative individual.

~ Carl Rogers (1902-1987),
American psychologist,
in On Becoming a Person
~ also see the post “Assuming Personal Responsibility for Conscious Choice and Evaluation


Stepping into largeness will require that we discern our personal authority – rather than the authority of others or the authority of our internalized admonitions – and live this inner authority with risk and boldness.

~ James Hollis (? – ?),
British writer and Jungian analyst,
in What Matters Most


You are the master of your fate. But you must exercise this mastership.

~ Ernest Holmes (1887-1960),
American Science of Mind founder
in This Thing Called You


One has to be a light to oneself; this light is the law. There is no other law. All the other laws are made by thought and so fragmentary and contradictory. To be a light to oneself is not to follow the light of another, however reasonable, logical, historical, and however convincing. You cannot be a light to yourself if you are in the dark shadows of authority, of dogma, of conclusion.

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1996),
Indian spiritual teacher and philospher,
in Krishnamurti’s Journal


Staying within ourselves means staying within our own understanding, what we have actually realized, regardless of how deep or shallow that may be.

~ Rodney Smith (1947-),
Contemporary Buddhist teacher,
in Awakening


As you unfold.., just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feelings.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke,
(1875-1926) Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist


Drink from your own wells. Sup at your table. Speak from your own heart. Go where your legs take you. Know your own mind. See through your soul’s eyes. Follow none but your own self. For each man has his own pathway, and whoever would be your guide cannot help but lead you astray.

~ Marcus Tullius Tiro (c.103 BC-4 BC),
Roman author,
quoted in Humanistic Psychology by Tageson


I am not a Federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.

~ Thomas Jefferson (1743-1845),
American president,
in a Letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789


A saner man would have found himself, often enough “in formal opposition” to what are deemed “the most sacred laws of society,” through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolution without going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he find himself through obedience to the laws of his being, which will never be one of opposition to a just government, if he should chance to meet with such.

~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862),
American Transcendentalist, author and naturalist,
in Walden
~ also see the post, “True and False Autonomy”


I think it’s better to have my lyre [MN: harp] or a chorus that I might lead out of tune and dissonant, and have the vast majority of men disagree with me and contradict me, than to be out of harmony with myself, to contradict myself, though I’m only one person.

~ Socrates (469-399 B.C.)
Greek philosopher,
as reported by Plato in the dialogue Gorgias
~ also see the post “Love of Truth: A Skill of Authentic Living


It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~William Henley (1849-1903),
English poet, critic, author,
in Invictus


In an attempt to gain or hold love, approval, esteem, the individual relinquishes the locus of evaluation which was his in infancy, and places it in others. He learns to have a basic distrust for his own experiencing as a guide to his behavior. He learns from others a large number of conceived values, and adopts them as his own, even though they may be widely discrepant from what he is experiencing. Because these concepts are not based on his own valuing, they tend to be fixed and rigid, rather than fluid and changing.

~ Carl Rogers (1902-1987),
American psychologist,
in The Carl Rogers Reader


The free man is immoral because he is determined in everything to depend upon himself and not upon some tradition: in every primitive state of mankind, ‘evil’ signified the same thing as ‘individual’, ‘free’, ‘arbitrary’, ‘unaccustomed’, ‘unforseen’, ‘incalculable’…. What is tradition? A higher authority which is obeyed not because it commands what is useful but because it commands… Originally everything was custom, and he who wanted to raise himself above it had to become a law-giver and medicine-man and a kind of demi-god; that is to say, he had to make customs… Those moralists who, following in the footsteps of Socrates, offer the individual a morality of self-control and temperance as a means to his own advantage, as his personal key to happiness, are the exceptions — … they detached themselves from the community, as immoral men, and are in the profoundest sense evil. Thus to a virtuous Roman of the old stamp every Christian who ‘considered first of all his own salvation’ appeared evil.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900),
German philosopher,
quoted in Nietzsche by Hollingdale


Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

~ John Stuart Mill (1806-1873),
philosopher, economist,
in On Liberty


For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels,
And not the words of one who kneels;
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way!

~ Revaux, Francois, and Anka,
in the song, My Way


~ Note: If you have found these quotes to be supportive, you may be interested in my book How to Be Yourself: A Guide to Living an Authentic Life which contains more than 300 quotations such as these which are organized into different topics related to authenticity. The book is available on Amazon in print and ebook format. (See top right cover image for a link to more info). ~

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