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 persons arbitrary rules conflicting with anothers.
are nuances of autonomy we need to consider, some worthier than
others. For our purposes, Paul Tillich may have qualified
means the obedience of the individual to the law of reason, which
he finds in himself as a rational being."
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.
Ones 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
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
todays Western males are often bereft.
Autonomy is limited, however. Thats
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?