Conscience and Authority

Thomas E. Hill

in Respect, Pluralism, and Justice

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780198238348
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597688 | DOI:
 Conscience and Authority

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Sketches three distinct ways of conceiving of conscience, arguing that none of these gives us reason to suppose that conscience guarantees morally justifiable decisions about when to resist authoritative orders. These are a popular religious conception, a cultural relativist conception, and a Kantian conception. In Kant's view, conscience can at best signal that our practices are at odds with our moral beliefs or that we have failed to scrutinize them sufficiently; and hence, although Kant holds that conscience cannot err, its role, in effect, is limited to warning us and punishing us for doing less than our best to live by our considered moral judgements. To justify moral judgements there can be no substitute for reasonable moral deliberation and discussion. Even from a Kantian perspective, our particular moral judgements are fallible and conscience presupposes moral judgement.

Keywords: authority; Butler; conscience; cultural relativism; justification; Kant; moral judgement

Chapter.  6281 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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