How should a liberal democracy react to conscientious objection claims?

Panel 1: Concepts of Conscience

Royal Irish Academy Symposium

Chair: Professor Bert Gordijn, Dublin City University

Panellists:

  • Professor Kimberley Brownlee, The University of British Columbia
  • Dr Katherine Furman, University of Liverpool

Discussion of concepts of conscience, freedom of conscience, conscientious objection, civil disobedience, individual and corporate conscience


Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust

Dimitra Chousou, Daniela Theodoridou, George Boutlas, Anna Batistatou, Christos Yapijakis, Maria Syrrou

Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust

Abstract

Heredity and reproduction have always been matters of concern. Eugenics is a story that began well before the Holocaust, but the Holocaust completely changed the way eugenics was perceived at that time. What began with Galton (1883) as a scientific movement aimed at the improvement of the human race based on the theories and principles of heredity and statistics became by the beginning of the 20th century an international movement that sought to engineer human supremacy. Eugenic ideas, however, trace back to ancient Greek aristocratic ideas exemplified in Plato’s Republic, which played an important role in shaping modern eugenic social practices and government policies. Both positive (encouragement of the propagation of the fit, namely without hereditary afflictions, i.e. socially acceptable) and negative (institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia) eugenics focused on the encouragement of healthy and discouragement of unhealthy reproduction.
All these practices were often based on existing prejudices about race and disability. In this article, we will focus on the rise of eugenics, starting with the publication of Origin of Species to the Holocaust. This examination will be multidisciplinary, utilizing genetics, legal history and bioethical aspects. Through this examination, we will discuss how provisional understandings of genetics influenced eugenics-based legislation. We will also discuss the
rise of biopolitics, the change of medical ethos and stance towards negative eugenics policies, and the possible power of bioethical principles to prevent such phenomena.


Chousou D, Theodoridou D, Boutlas G, Batistatou A, Yapijakis C, Syrrou M. Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust. Conatus J Philosophy; 2019 4(2); 171-204. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.12681/cjp.21061.

The Cost of Conscience: Kant on Conscience and Conscientious Objection

Jeanette Kennett

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

Abstract:

The spread of demands by physicians and allied health professionals for accommodation of their private ethical, usually religiously based, objections to providing care of a particular type, or to a particular class of persons, suggests the need for a re-evaluation of conscientious objection in healthcare and how it should be regulated. I argue on Kantian grounds that respect for conscience and protection of freedom of conscience is consistent with fairly stringent limitations and regulations governing refusal of service in healthcare settings. Respect for conscience does not entail that refusal of service should be cost free to the objector. I suggest that conscientious objection in medicine should be conceptualized and treated analogously to civil disobedience.



Kennett J. The Cost of Conscience: Kant on Conscience and Conscientious Objection. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. 2017 Jan; 26(1): 69 – 81
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0963180116000657

Book Review: Moral Conscience Through the Ages: Fifth Century BCE to the Present

THE (Times Higher Education)
Reproduced with permission

Tom Palaima

Moral Conscience Through the Ages

Richard Sorabji, Oxford University Press, 240pp, £20.00
ISBN 9780199685547. Published 30 October 2014

Always let your conscience be your guide,” sings Jiminy Cricket, conscience personified as a kindly bowler-hatted cricket, to Pinocchio in Walt Disney’s 1940 film classic about a wooden puppet being transformed into a real-life boy. It is one of the few significant social pronouncements about the role of conscience in making us human not found in Richard Sorabji’s compact history of the ideas that important thinkers and doers, beginning with Euripides and Plato and ending with Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Mahatma Gandhi, have had about how a conscience works, where it comes from, and what good it is, if any – Nietzsche had no use for conscience, believing that modern men “inherit thousands of years of the vivisection of conscience”.

Sorabji’s close reading of subtle arguments spanning 25 centuries, as he transliterates key Greek and Latin terms and does his best to define their particular meanings in different periods, enables us to see how later figures took up or rejected earlier ideas. Gandhi, for example, came to believe unshakeably in his “still small voice within” – no Jiminy Cricket for him – as “the true voice of God”, as it steeled his commitment to non-violent social actions. Gandhi’s voice of God, we learn, sounded a lot like Tolstoy in his 1894 treatise The Kingdom of God is Within You and Socrates in Plato’s Apology, set in 399BC.

The Greek word for conscience first appears in passages in the work of late 5th-century playwrights where characters wrestle with what we would call moral choices, or defects in Sorabji’s view. The Greek compound verbal formation expresses the notion of a shared knowing (sun: “with” and oida: “know”, literally “I saw and I still see”), Latin con-sciens. The precise meaning of conscience is further complicated by the abstract nouns used for it that are derived from other verbal roots, eg, sunesis and the Latinised sunderesis. The notion of with-ness is the common element.

The key question is: shared with whom? In Sorabji’s view – surprisingly given the role that conscience plays in our interactions with others – we share our thoughts about moral behaviour and moral choices with ourselves. Conscience splits us into two people. From this come expressions like “I could not live with myself” and feelings of having a voice within or a cricket or guardian angel advising from without, as in Freud’s superego or Socrates’ daimōn.

Sorabji also argues that the original concept of conscience, ie, “sharing knowledge with oneself of a defect”, was a largely secular idea. Stoics and Christians turned conscience into a religious concept associated with the law or will of gods or God. Michel de Montaigne, Hobbes and John Locke began a resecularisation process that continued through Thoreau’s civil disobedience and then on to conscientious objection to armed service during the First World War.

But what does a largely secular idea in ancient Greek look like in context? Sorabji gives few original source passages at any length. Conscience appears as a daimōn in Plato’s Apology and arguably also in Euripides’ Orestes, where grief is called a terrible goddess in a kind of chiasmus. So how the Greeks viewed daimones becomes relevant to whether conscience ab origine is secular or religious or something in between. And Hesiod’s thoughts two centuries earlier in Works and Days about daimones as immortal and beneficent guardians of justice should be relevant, too.


Tom Palaima is professor of Classics, University of Texas at Austin.

Practicing Medicine and Ethics: Integrating Wisdom, Conscience and Goals of Care

Lauris Christopher Kaldjian

Practicing Medicine and Ethics: Integrating Wisdom, Conscience and Goals of Care

To practice medicine and ethics, physicians need wisdom and integrity to integrate scientific knowledge, patient preferences, their own moral commitments, and society’s expectations. This work of integration requires a physician to pursue certain goals of care, determine moral priorities, and understand that conscience or integrity require harmony among a person’s beliefs, values, reasoning, actions, and identity. But the moral and religious pluralism of contemporary society makes this integration challenging and uncertain. How physicians treat patients will depend on the particular beliefs and values they and other health professionals bring to each instance of shared decision making. This book offers a framework for practical wisdom in medicine that addresses the need for integrity in the life of each health professional. In doing so, it acknowledges the challenge of moral pluralism and the need for moral dialogue and humility as professionals fulfil their obligations to patients, themselves, and society.


Kaldjian LC. Practicing Medicine and Ethics: Integrating Wisdom, Conscience and Goals of Care. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2014.

First and second things, and the operations of conscience in science

Bruce G. Charlton

Medical Hypotheses

Abstract: Why is modern science less efficient than it used to be, why has revolutionary science declined, and why has science become so dishonest? One plausible explanation behind these observations comes from an essay First and second things published by CS Lewis. First Things are the goals that are given priority as the primary and ultimate aim in life. Second Things are subordinate goals or aims – which are justified in terms of the extent to which they assist in pursuing First Things. The classic First Thing in human society is some kind of religious or philosophical world view. Lewis regarded it as a ‘universal law’ that the pursuit of a Second Thing as if it was a First Thing led inevitably to the loss of that Second Thing: ‘You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first’. I would argue that the pursuit of science as a primary value will lead to the loss of science, because science is properly a Second Thing. Because when science is conceptualized as a First Thing the bottom-line or operational definition of ‘correct behaviour’ is approval and high status within the scientific community. However, this does nothing whatsoever to prevent science drifting-away from its proper function; and once science has drifted then the prevailing peer consensus will tend to maintain this state of corruption. I am saying that science is a Second Thing, and ought to be subordinate to the First Thing of transcendental truth. Truth impinges on scientific practice in the form of individual conscience (noting that, of course, the strength and validity of conscience varies between scientists). When the senior scientists, whose role is to uphold standards, fail to posses or respond-to informed conscience, science will inevitably go rotten from the head downwards. What, then, motivates a scientist to act upon conscience? I believe it requires a fundamental conviction of the reality and importance of truth as an essential part of the basic purpose and meaning of life. Without some such bedrock moral underpinning, there is little possibility that individual scientific conscience would ever have a chance of holding-out against an insidious drift toward corruption enforced by peer consensus.


Charlton BG. First and second things, and the operations of conscience in science. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Jan;74(1):1-3. Epub 2009 Sep 5.