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


  • 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

Conscientious Objection and Civil Disobedience

Kimberley Brownlee

Conscientious Objection and Civil Disobedience

From the chapter introduction

The purpose of this chapter is to consider two types of dissent that are generally described as conscientious, namely, civil disobedience and conscientious objection, both of which raise pressing normative questions not only about the proper parameters of dissenters’ rights and duties within a reasonably good society, but also about both the scope of legitimate toleration of assertions of conscientiousness and the appropriate legal and political responses to conscientious disobedience. In what follows, I begin by outlining the conceptual territory of civil disobedience and conscientious objection. I then offer a qualified endorsement of the moral justifiability of these two practices before examining both the scope and legitimacy of their status as moral rights and their grounds for legal defensibility. Among other things, I challenge the dominant liberal position that, in relation to both moral rights and legal defenses, a more compelling case can be made on behalf of private conscientious objection than on behalf of civil disobedience.

Brownlee K. Conscientious Objection and Civil Disobedience. In: Marmor A editors. The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Law. 2012;527-539.

(Book Review) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience

Alon Harel

(Book Review) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience

Kimberley Brownlee. Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Oxford University Press, 2012, 260pp. ISBN 9780199592944

In her thorough, careful and insightful discussion, Kimberley Brownlee explores the nature of conscience and conscientious convictions and draws important conclusions concerning the justifiable protection of acts of civil disobedience. The first part of her book discusses morality while the second part discusses law. In addition to its rigorous analysis, the book contains lively discussions of real-life examples and hypotheticals designed to illustrate and address all possible objections and establish the centrality of the protection of conscientious convictions and conscience in a liberal society. 

Harel A. Book Review: Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2013-02-29