The Inalienable Right of Conscience: A Madisonian Argument

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Terrance C. McConnell, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Characterizing conscience is difficult. The way that this term is often used makes it sound as if it is a special power possessed by people. Unlike Bishop Butler, however, and more like recent authors, I deny that conscience is a special faculty that is a source of moral knowledge. Instead, when we speak of conscience, we speak of the act of applying one's moral beliefs to one's own conduct. Conscience is not itself a standard; rather, appeals to conscience involve an agent reflecting on his own past or (projected) future behavior and assessing that behavior in light of his own standards. A person who, in conversation with another, invokes conscience as an apparent justification of a proposed course of action has already made a judgment about that action. Such an appeal borrows its effectiveness from the conviction that one ought (in some sense) to think for oneself about moral matters and then act on one's considered judgments.

Additional Information

Social Theory and Practice 22(3) (Fall 1996), pp. 397-416
Language: English
Date: 1996
conscience, moral judgments, moral beliefs

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