Conscience and the Common Good
Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, 2010
18 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2010
Date Written: 2010
Our longstanding commitment to the liberty of conscience has become strained by our increasingly muddled understanding of what conscience is and why we value it. Too often we equate conscience with individual autonomy, and so we reflexively favor the individual in any contest against group authority, losing sight of the fact that a vibrant liberty of conscience requires a vibrant marketplace of morally distinct groups. Defending individual autonomy is not the same as defending the liberty of conscience because, while conscience is inescapably personal, it is also inescapably relational. Conscience is formed, articulated, and lived out through relationships, and its viability depends on the law’s willingness to protect the associations and venues through which individual consciences can flourish: these are the myriad institutions that make up the space between the person and the state. This essay is taken from my new book, Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State (Cambridge Univ. Press 2010). The book seeks to reframe the debate about conscience by bringing its relational dimension into focus.
Keywords: liberty of conscience, individual autonomy, common good, conscience
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