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When we think of the knight errant, we think of a man who carries the authority of his own conscience as he moves through life on a daily quest. Chivalry-Now refers to this authority of conscience as “moral autonomy,” which redeems an important attribute of freedom. The aspiring knight errant needs to know what this means.
     The word “autonomy” connotes self-determining independence, free of external restraints. It means owning the right and capability of governing oneself.
     If everyone were simply a law unto him- or herself, however, the result would probably lead to social anarchy – one person’s arbitrary rules conflicting with another’s.
There are nuances of autonomy we need to consider, some worthier than others. For our purposes, Paul Tillich may have qualified it best:

"Autonomy means the obedience of the individual to the law of reason, which he finds in himself as a rational being."

(Please note: obedience to the law of reason, which one finds in oneself, is also a fine example of a similar concept, that of integrity.)

     Autonomy works best when it is governed by forces that arise from the individual and lean away from chaos. The rationally intelligent, open mind, expanded by compassion and moral virtues, self-discovered and self-defined, is capable of producing an autonomy that is responsible not only to itself, but to others as well.
     This makes perfect sense when one remembers that responsibility is an integral part of freedom that is humane.
     In contrast, can a good deed that lacks free choice still be considered moral? When a good deed is forced, or performed to avoid punishment or to extricate reward, it lacks the moral authority of true virtue. A certain amount of autonomy needs to be included as a requirement of virtuous action. Even when one obeys a directive given by someone else, obeying that directive is an action that should be morally based, or not obeyed at all.
     One’s values are often shaped by the influence of other people, or a social environment that pressures one toward certain beliefs. Some never question inherited values, and instead closely identify with them. Even when these values are proven wrong, there are people who resist change as if rectifying a situation were a personal affront – even in the face of obvious hypocrisy.
     They might see this resistance as an example of personal autonomy. But is it?
     Paul Tillich might point out that moral autonomy is lost when it turns away from the law of reason on which morality is based. An autonomous person has to be open-minded in order to recognize and question moral dictates inherited from others.
     One cannot be autonomous without exercising the ability to make independent choices. The authentic human being is called to disagree when certain values of society prove themselves wrong. This is vitally important. The inability to stand up for what is right and change things for the better results in stagnation and moral decay, both personally and socially. Justice falls to the wayside. Truth becomes something we shape according to preferences. Courtesies lose their meaning. Biases gain approved status. Peer pressure chokes the life from our natural sense of integrity.
     Autonomy plays a pivotal role in generating personal authenticity. It is important both to chivalry and to being a man. We find it symbolically expressed as the “road less traveled,” or the Grail Quest, or the theme of a thousand myths. We recognize it in rites-of-passage, of which today’s Western males are often bereft.
     Autonomy is limited, however. That’s because our choices are limited. So is our knowledge. Even what we call free will. We are at once creatures determined by our past and limited by our own potential.
     What then of autonomy? We experience it only when we buck the limits of determinism, and use reason to liberate our higher aspirations. We are true to ourselves only when we think for ourselves, when we steer away from the crowd when it goes in a direction we feel is wrong.
     Despite the marketing ploys of rampant commercialism, it is impossible for us to have it “all.” Likewise, it is impossible to consistently live up to our own ideals. We can only aim in their direction and do our best.
     It is in this energy toward integrity and improvement, however, and no where else, that we achieve any sort of real autonomy.
     Isn't that what being a knight-errant is all about


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