Conscience, moral reasoning, and skepticism

Larry R Churchill

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

There is much to admire in Lauris Kaldjian’s explication of conscience and its uses for medical practitioners. Yet his claim that conscience is the final and best assessment of moral judgments is flawed, because it diminishes the influence of moral reasoning that balances and often corrects conscience. Skepticism about conscientious judgments is an important feature of ethics. Kaldjian’s close linkage of conscience with moral integrity blunts the necessary recognition that one’s conscience can be mistaken. His defense of physician refusals to refer patients gives insufficient weight to the idea that patients’ actions in seeking services may also reflect conscientious judgments. Analyses of cases near the end of this essay present no problems with respecting physicians’ conscientious refusals to provide services themselves, but they also mostly leave moral room for physicians to make referrals. Examination of these cases suggests other ways to resolve moral conflicts than recourse to one’s conscience.

Churchill LR. Conscience, moral reasoning, and skepticism. Perspect Biol Med. 2019 Summer;62(3):519-526.

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