Two conceptions of conscience and the problem of conscientious objection

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Abstract

Schuklenk and Smalling argue that it is practically impossible for civic institutions to meet the conditions necessary to ensure that conscientious objection does not conflict with the core principles of liberal democracies. In this response, I propose an alternative definition of conscience to that offered by Schuklenk and Smalling. I discuss what I call the ‘traditional’ notion of conscience, and contrast this with the existentialist conception of conscience (which I take to be a close cousin of the view targeted by Schuklenk and Smalling). I argue that the traditional notion, grounded in an objective moral order, avoids the criticisms advanced by Schuklenk and Smalling; the existentialist conception, in contrast, does not. I conclude by discussing the benefits and risks of a ‘restricted view’ of respect for conscience.

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