Principle of Self Determination

Self determination is an idea of positive freedom for actions that are up to us. Such actions constitute the essence of free will. Self determination is concerned with individual freedom. And in ethics it is concerned with one's self realization of his/her ultimate freedom with respect to accepting the fact that there are other individual enjoying their own areas of freedom. Becoming self determining is being moral and making rightful decision.

The word Determinism is associated with the theory that everything in the universe is totally ruled by causal laws. That means every event has a prior condition, and all events, if their prior conditions are known, can be at least theoretically predicted.

For example: We can predict rainfall if there is heavy cloud in the sky. This principle is commonly used in various social sciences like psychology, sociology etc to study, interpret or analyze human behavior.

In Media, editorial independence fits as an example to

principle of self determination where editors are provided adequate freedoms but at the same time they are guided by the principle that they shouldn't harm others.

The concept of Self determination evolves from the doctrine of determinism that nothing can happen without a cause. In the case of human conduct, humans themselves are the cause of their act. And self- determinist implies someone who makes his or her own choices. Thus, individual's choices are the cause of their own acts. While it is true that we are strongly influenced by motives and must deliberate between them, in the final analysis we are not necessitated by them either way. In the end, we choose for ourselves. Hence, self-determination is the free choice of one’s own acts without external compulsion.

Self Determination - Rational deliberation - Acting Authoritatively (final decision)

Western Perspective

Kant's Metaphysics of Morals provides his final views on the relation between morality and right:

1. Our essence as humans is to be self-determining beings

2. Self-determination entails rational deliberation about how to act

3. Rational deliberation entails treating oneself as self-authoritative (as an ‘end’)

4. Rationally this entails that we must treat other humans as self-authoritative too (this is the essential content of morality)

5. Self-determination also entails that we may coerce each other so as to guarantee each a sphere of freedom, in the sense of external unconstraint, for their own choices, for such a sphere is necessary for self-determination

6. But in doing so we must all treat each other in the same way for we are all equally self-determining beings

7. So this coercion must conform to the principle of guaranteeing individual freedom under universal rules (the principle of right)

8. Finally, self-determination entails that we must establish a common authority to implement the principle of right in positive laws, for without this we will be unable to coerce each other in a consistent way

9. These laws must be must be such that all can support them while being true to their essence as self-determining and self-authoritative beings (a ‘principle of public right’, though he never uses that phrase)

For Rousseau humans are free in that they are:

(1) self-determining, or capable of self-determination, rather than driven by their desires or instincts,

and therefore (2) self-authoritative or ‘sovereign’, i.e. having ultimate authority over themselves.

Kant believes that when we act on morally then we are actually acting on our own true will, and in carrying out those actions we realize our own freedom which is self determination. In choosing a moral life-style, we are really defining a large part of ourselves. Any moral code we follow must be our own, not in the sense that we alone follow it, but in the sense that we have arrived at it through our powers of reason and reflection on our experience.

Eastern Perspective

For six different orthodox schools of thought in Hindu Philosophy the concept of free will entirely do not agree with each other.

Samkhya: Matter is without any freedom and soul lacks ability to control the unfolding of matter. The only real freedom consists in realizing the ultimate separateness of matter and self.

Yoga: Only Ishvara is truely free, and its freedom is also distinct from all feelings, thoughts, actions or wills and is thus not at all a freedom of will.

Nyaya and Vaisheshika: It strongly suggests a belief in determinism but doesn't seem to make explicit claims about determinism or free will.

According to Swami Vivekananda, "there cannot be any such things as free will, the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know and everything that we know is within universe, and everything within our universe is moduled by conditions of time, space and causality... to acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here."

What Vivekananda actually meant by lack of free will was that the will was not free because it was heavily influenced by the law of cause-effect. But everyone is free to make such wills.

Vivekananda's Teacher Ramkrishna Paramhansha using an analogy said that man is like a cow tied in a pole with a rope. (Amount of freedom the rope provides - spiritual progress)

Mimansha, Vedanta and more theistic versions of Hinduism such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism have often emphasized on the importance of free will. The doctrine of karma requires both that we pay for our actions in the past and that our cations in the present be free enough to allow us to deserve the future reward of punishment those we will receive for our present actions.

  • Self determination Vs Incompetence

However, there are different believes which rest on the principles of self determination. "Nabiraunu Nadaraunu" a saying in Nepali context can best equate the essence of self determination. Self determination provides us the privilege to author ourselves. Such freedom will place heavy emphasis on self-growth, especially on increasing our knowledge and awareness of self. Self determination is concerned with the motivation behind the choices that people make. Self determination is about remaining ethical to the inbuilt purpose of ourselves.


Cline, A. (n.d.). Retrieved 04 25, 2011, from

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Suber, P. (n.d.). Earlham College. Retrieved 04 26, 2011, from

Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved 04 24, 2011, from


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