Manual Conscience in moral life : rethinking how our convictions structure self and society

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Lawsuits, re-call elections, dismissed superintendents, are what they see. Why stir all of this up? Mostly for two reasons:. First, applying religious liberty principles fully and fairly in public schools is not only the right thing to do, it is, as Dr. Boyer warned, urgently necessary if we are going to live with our deepest differences in the 21st century. As the religious diversity of the United States continues to expand, it will be increasingly important that public schools be places where religious liberty works, and where we learn as much as possible about one another.

Second, the survival of public education may be at stake. The exodus from public schools is fueled in large measure by dissatisfaction with how schools address issues concerning religion and values. If schools act now, this can be reversed. With the new consensus on religious liberty in schools and religion in the curriculum, it is now possible to find common ground and to re-build trust where it has been lost.

Just as there are civic and constitutional reasons for including religion in the curriculum, so there are educational reasons. And, just as those civic and constitutional reasons provide a framework for dealing with religion, so there is an educational framework that shapes how educators should deal with religion in the curriculum and in the classroom. Happily, these frameworks complement each other, for each is grounded in respect and the obligation to be fair. Our educational framework is grounded in what we have called the New Consensus.

For example, in , seventeen major religious and educational organizations including the American Jewish Congress and the Islamic Society of North America, the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches, the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association, the AFT, NEA, and the ASCD among them endorsed a document entitled: Religion and the Public School Curriculum: Questions and Answers , that describes the importance of religion in the public school curriculum in this way: Because religion plays significant roles in history and society, study about religion is essential to understanding both the nation and the world.

Omission of facts about religion can give students the false impression that the religious life of humankind is insignificant or unimportant. Failure to understand even the basic symbols, practices, and concepts of the various religions makes much of history, literature, art, and contemporary life unintelligible. First, because of the powerful influence of religion on our history and culture it is essential--and not optional--to include religion in the curriculum.

Second, the influence of religion is not limited to history; students must understand the relevance of religion to contemporary life. Third, religion is relevant to virtually all subjects of the curriculum. Finally, it is important to understand a variety of religions, not just our own. First, a good education should provide students with perspective.

I Am Human - A Moral Conscience

It should give them some sense of what is truly important, some understanding of the sources of meaning in life. Of course we disagree about what is important and what makes life meaningful, so let us put it this way. There are questions that any reasonably thoughtful person must ask: What is love-and what is the difference between sex and love?

What does justice require of me and of my country? When am I obligated to sacrifice my own good for that of someone else? What are the deepest sources of joy in life? How did the world begin? What sense can we make of suffering and of death? Is there progress in human affairs-and if so why? Is there a God? And how do I know any of this? There are, of course, both secular and religious ways of asking, reflecting on, and answering these unavoidable existential questions. Whether or not we think the various answers that religious traditions have given to these existential questions are reasonable, we must acknowledge the profundity of the attempts, their powerful influence on people's thinking and lives, and the universality of the concerns they address.

In fact, it is extraordinary to think that we can claim to educate students while ignoring religious approaches to the deepest questions of human existence. Of course we don't ignore religion completely. There is widespread agreement that students must learn about religion in their study of history--and for good reason.

Until the last several hundred years in the West, the dominant answers to these inescapable existential questions were religious. Indeed, for most of history the sacred and the secular were pervasively entwined and religion pervaded all of life: from birth to death the sustaining rituals of life were religious; people's understanding of politics, war, economics, justice, literature, art, philosophy, science, psychology, history, morality, and their hopes for a life to come were all religiously shaped and informed.

If students are to understand history they must understand religion. This is not controversial. History is not a matter of merely "academic" importance, however. The study of history locates us in "communities of memory" to use Robert Bellah's fine phrase that give definition to our identities.

We are not simply individuals, ahistorical social atoms; we are born into cultures defined by languages and institutions, ideas and ideals, and we only know who we are when we have some sense of our inheritance. Whether or not we are religious, the religious past of our culture has played a powerful role in shaping us and to be ignorant of this past is a little being an amnesiac, choosing one's future without any sense of who one has been.

History roots us in the past; it provides cultural ballast. The study of history also provides us with critical distance on the present; it liberates students from parochial "present-mindedness. Of course religion continues to possess a good deal of vitality in our culture. Indeed, because many intellectuals continue to give religious answers to the profound existential questions of life there is a vast contemporary religious literature that explores the implications of religion for virtually every subject in the curriculum: politics and economics, nature and psychology, literature and the arts, sexuality and morality.

This literature rarely finds its way into the curriculum, however; instead, we teach students to think about virtually all aspects of their lives and the world in secular categories- uncritically , as it were. And so we have our third reason for taking religion seriously: the study of religion enables students to think critically about what they learn in their secular studies. To see the significance of this a little background may prove helpful. The astronomer Arthur Eddington once told a parable about a fisherman who used a net with a three-inch mesh.

After a lifetime of fishing he falsely concluded there were no fish shorter than three inches. Eddington's moral is that just as one's fishing net determines what one catches, so it is with conceptual nets: what we find in the ocean of reality depends on the conceptual net we bring to our investigation. For example, the modern scientific conceptual net--or scientific method--allows scientists to catch only replicable events; the results of any experiment that cannot be replicated are not allowed to stand.

This means that miracles, which are by definition singular events, can't be caught; scientists cannot ask God to replicate the miracle for the sake of a controlled experiment. Or, to take another example, scientific method requires that evidence for knowledge-claims be grounded in sense experience--the kinds of experience that instruments can measure. But this rules out religious experience as a source of knowledge about the world. Theologians, by contrast, have constructed different kinds of conceptual nets for catching dimensions of reality that, they claim, escape scientific nets.

Within all religious traditions moral and religious experiences are taken to provide knowledge of a transcendent dimension of reality. In fact, how reasonable or "objective" a claim is--indeed, whether it makes sense at all--depends on the conceptual nets we bring to the discussion. There is more to a worldview than the conceptual nets or methodology used by scientists or theologians or philosophers; still, we might say that what is issue is worldviews. For most of history, the governing worldviews of civilization have been religious, but over the course of the last several centuries in the West, modern science has come to provide the dominant worldview of our civilization and, as a result, shape our educational system.

In the process, what counts as reasonable and what counts as a matter of faith has changed. Subjects and Disciplines. The usual rhetoric notwithstanding, public schools don't teach subjects. If students were taught subjects they might learn something about how different conceptual nets - or worldviews - might be used for making sense of those subjects.

But they learn about history only as modern secular historians understand it; they learn about nature only as secular scientists understand it; they learn about economics only as secular social scientists understand it. That is, they are taught to think about the world in terms of intellectual disciplines defined by secular conceptual nets. As a result, public education nurtures a secular mentality. Indeed, when educators provide students with secular conceptual nets only, when religion is ignored except in a "safely" historical context students learn, in effect, that secular nets are adequate for catching all of reality.

The conventional wisdom of modern education is that students can learn everything they need to know about every "subject" they study yet know nothing about religious ways of making sense of it. As a result, religion has been intellectually marginalized, rendered irrelevant. No doubt most educators don't intend to do this, yet this is the result. Education and Indoctrination. A distinction is often drawn between education on the one hand, and socialization, training, and indoctrination on the other.

Soldiers are trained to march and are socialized to follow the orders of their officers. Children are toilet-trained rather than educated in toiletry and, with some luck, they are socialized to obey their parents. In each of these cases, learning is more a matter of drill, discipline, and habit than of critical thinking. In matters of morality, politics, and religion we often use the word "indoctrination" rather than "training" or "socialization. We educate them, by contrast, when we provide them with a measure of critical distance on their subjects, enabling them to think in an informed and reflective ways about alternatives.

Public schools inevitably and properly train and socialize children: learning the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, for example, is largely a matter of training and drill; learning to be honest and on time is largely a matter of socialization. With older children, however, the goal should be largely educational. We don't want to socialize or indoctrinate them into accepting positions on contested issues--issues about which we disagree.

In America, for example, we are deeply divided between the Republican and Democratic parties. A public school has no business indoctrinating students into accepting the policies of either political party for both civic and educational reasons. Students can only think and act reasonably when they know something about the alternatives; indeed, we usually believe that the truth is most likely to be found when we hear both sides of the story, not one side only. As students mature and proceed through the grades, the extent to which they are trained and socialized should diminish, while their education, properly conceived, should take root and grow.

Education is the initiation of students into a discussion in which they are taught to understand, take seriously, and think critically about the contending voices in our world. This is often called liberal education - though "liberal education" is redundant, just as "liberal training" is an oxymoron. When we teach students secular ways of thinking about all "subjects" in the curriculum, when we uncritically teach them the value of secular nets only, we are in real danger of indoctrinating them. It is not enough to teach the truth as one party in the disagreement understands it; if only that view is taught students will not have the critical distance on it to make educated judgments about it.

It is one thing to believe what one takes to be the truth; it is another thing to be educated to make reasonable judgments about it. Of course, it might be argued in response, that educators have an obligation to guide the thinking of students and that modern secular scholarship provides the most reasonable way of proceeding. But we disagree about this.

We disagree deeply about what is reasonable when it comes to sexuality and politics and economics and the origins of the world. If the dominant ways of thinking of our time are secular, there continue to be religious alternatives. Indeed, what appears to be a secular consensus among scholars is artificial and misleading, for theologians aren't allowed to vote; they aren't allowed into the main quad of the academy, much less into public schools. Our argument is that when we disagree, at least when the disagreements cut deep, educators are obligated to give students some sense of what is at issue.

If students are to be educated, if they are to think critically, then religious voices must be included in our curricular conversations. If we are to take religion seriously, should we include it in existing courses "natural inclusion" or do we need new courses in religion? Religion in courses, or courses in religion? Our answer? If religion is to be taken seriously, if the importance and complexity of religion are to be acknowledged, then, we suggest, we need to carve space out of the curriculum for courses in religion - or "religious studies" which has become the term of choice in higher education.

And just as we require science teachers to be certified in science, so religious studies should become a certifiable field for teachers of religion. We believe that high school students should be required to take at least one year-long course in religious studies. Required courses are not just around the corner, however, so we suggest what may be a more realistic two-prong approach. First, we must emphasize natural inclusion. Teachers and textbooks must make clear that there are religious alternatives to secular ways of thinking.

A minimal fairness would require that a first chapter in textbooks, and an opening lecture or two in courses, include some discussion of religious ways of approaching the "subject" at hand. Ideally, those religious perspectives would again be included later, at critical points in the course. But, second, if a robust fairness is to be possible, schools must begin to offer more elective courses in religious studies, especially as certified teachers become available and as students and their parents come to appreciate the importance of religion in the curriculum.

A few communities here and there might even consider requiring courses in religious studies. From within the New Consensus a sharp distinction is drawn between unconstitutional indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion on the one hand and, on the other, constitutional teaching about religion, which is objective, non-sectarian, neutral, balanced and fair. Schempp decision in which, as we have seen, the Court affirmed the constitutionality of teaching about religion in public schools when done "objectively as part of a secular program of education.

What is clear from Schempp is that the Court's touchstone idea once again was neutrality. Teachers and texts must be neutral in dealing with religion; they must be neutral among religions, and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion. Fairness and Neutrality. As we have described it, the idea of a liberal education requires fairness but not neutrality. Just as a judge might be fair to the opposing parties in a lawsuit before passing judgment, so teachers might be fair to contending points of view before passing a reasoned judgment.

Indeed, we believe that other things being equal, educators have an obligation to guide the thinking of their students. But other things aren't equal when religion is at issue because of the First Amendment: teachers in public schools must be neutral as well as fair. And we must keep in mind that neutrality not only governs the treatment of religion when it does come up for whatever reason ; it also governs when religion should be included in the curriculum.

If students learn about ways of living and thinking about the world that conflict with religious alternatives, then neutrality requires that those alternatives also be included in the discussion, fairly. We trust that educators will also keep in mind that it is not at all obvious where the truth lies, and quite apart from civic and constitutional constraints they should show some humility in dealing with complicated and controversial matters.

When fundamentally different worldviews shape the disagreements, it is not easy to say what the truth is. To be educated about religion is to understand something of religions , of religion in its diversity, just as to be educated about politics is to understand more than one's own political party.

It is not open to educators to include only one religious tradition in the discussion. If particular courses will inevitably take some religions more seriously than others because of their relevance to the subject, there must be some overall balance in the curriculum. We no longer believe that it is educationally sound to teach American or Western history only, and just as students must know something of world cultures, so they must know something of world religions if they are to be educated.

And, as we've seen, the Establishment Clause requires neutrality among religions, as well as neutrality between religion and nonreligion. Religion from the Outside and the Inside. It is often enlightening to use the resources of modern secular scholarship to put religious texts and traditions into historical, cultural, and philosophical context. Comparative study of religions is especially interesting and important: How are religions alike and how are they different?

It is tremendously important to keep in mind, however, that the world - and any particular religious tradition - will look one way when viewed from the "outside" using the categories and conceptual nets of secular scholarship, but will look quite different when viewed from the "inside" using the religious categories of that particular tradition. This is often best done through the use of primary sources. Obviously a great deal more needs to be said - and we have said much of it elsewhere. There is not a great deal of agreement about what moral education should be.

We will argue that "moral education" is an umbrella-term for two quite different tasks. The first is to nurture in children those consensus virtues and values that make them good people.

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But, of course, good people can make bad judgments. The second task of moral education is provide students with the intellectual resources that enable them to make informed and responsible judgments about difficult and controversial matters of moral importance. Both are proper and important tasks of schools. We trust that it is uncontroversial to say that schooling is unavoidably a moral enterprise.

Indeed, schools teach morality in a number of ways, both implicit and explicit. Schools have a moral ethos embodied in rules, rewards and punishments, dress codes, honor codes, student government, relationships, styles of teaching, sports and extracurricular emphases, art and appearances, and in the kinds of respect accorded students and teachers. Schools convey to children what is expected of them, what is normal, what is right and wrong. It is often claimed that values are caught rather than taught; through their ethos, schools socialize children into patterns of moral behavior.

Textbooks and courses often address moral questions and take moral positions. Literature inevitably explores moral issues and writers take positions on those issues - as do publishers who decide which literature goes in the anthologies. In teaching history we initiate students into particular cultural traditions and identities. While economics courses and texts typically avoid overt moral language and claim to be "value-free," their accounts of human nature, decision-making, and the economic world have moral implications as we shall see.

The overall shape of the curriculum is morally-loaded by virtue of what it requires, what it makes available as electives, and what it ignores. For example, for more than a century but especially since A Nation at Risk and the reform reports of the s there has been a powerful movement to make schooling and the curriculum serve economic purposes.

Religion and art, by contrast, have been largely ignored and are not even elective possibilities in many schools. As a result, schooling encourages a rather more materialistic and less spiritual culture - a matter of some moral significance. Educators have devised a variety of approaches to values and morality embodied in self-esteem, community service, civic education, sex education, drug education, Holocaust education, multicultural education, values clarification, and character education programs - to name but a few. We might consider two of the most influential of these approaches briefly.

For the past several decades values clarification programs have been widely used in public schools. On this approach, teachers help students "clarify" their values by having them reflect on moral dilemmas and think through the consequences of the options open to them, choosing that action that maximizes their deepest values. It is unjustifiable for a teacher to "impose" his or her values on students; this would be an act of oppression that denies the individuality and autonomy of students.

Values are ultimately personal; indeed, the implicit message is that there are no right or wrong values. Needless to say, this is a deeply controversial approach. The Character Education movement has taken a markedly different tact. According to the "Character Education Manifesto" 14 "all schools have the obligation to foster in their students personal and civic virtues such as integrity, courage, responsibility, diligence, service, and respect for the dignity of all persons.

Finally, we note what is conspicuous by its absence: while all universities offer courses in ethics, very few public schools have such courses. Unlike either values clarification or character education programs, the major purpose of ethics courses is usually to provide students with intellectual resources drawn from a variety of traditions that might orient them in the world and help them think through difficult moral problems.

As important as we all agree morality to be, it is striking that ethics courses are not an option thought worth offering in public schools. We have drawn a distinction between socialization, training, and indoctrination on the one hand, and education on the other. Socialization, we suggested, is the uncritical initiation of students into a tradition, a way of thinking and acting. Education, by contrast, requires critical distance on tradition, exposure to alternatives, informed and reflective deliberation about how to think and live. Not all, but much character education might better be called character training or socialization, for the point is not so much to teach virtue and values by way of critical reflection on contending points of view, but to structure the moral ethos of schooling to nurture the development of those moral habits and virtues which we agree to be good and important, that are part of our moral consensus.

This is not a criticism of character education.

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Children must be morally trained. But there are limitations to character education as a general theory of moral education; it was not designed to address critical thinking about those "ideologically charged" debates that divide us. Character education does appeal, as the Manifesto makes clear, to a heritage of stories, literature, art, and biography to inform and deepen students' understanding of, and appreciation for, moral virtue.

Often such literature will reveal the moral ambiguities of life and discussion of it will encourage critical reflection on what is right and wrong. But if the literature is chosen to nurture the development of the right virtues and values, it may not encourage informed and critical thinking about contending values and ways of thinking and living. We would note, however, that character education often nurtures the virtues of tolerance, respect, and civility that play major roles in enabling educational discussion of controversial issues.

One of the supposed virtues of the values clarification movement, by contrast, was its use of moral dilemmas and divisive issues, and in asking students to consider the consequences of their actions it required them to think critically about them. But the values clarification movement never required students to develop an informed or educated understanding of moral frameworks of thought that could provide them with critical distance on their personal desires and moral intuitions; it left them to their own inner resources which might be meager. Let us put it this way. Character education is an essential aspect of moral education, but a fully adequate theory of moral education must also address those morally divisive "ideologically-charged" issues that are sufficiently important so that students must be educated about them.

Of course, one of these issues is the nature of morality itself; after all, we disagree about how to justify and ground those values and virtues that the character education movement nurtures. If students are to be morally educated - and educated about morality - they must have some understanding of the moral frameworks civilization provides for making sense of the moral dimension of life.

After all, morality is not intellectually free-floating, a matter of arbitrary choices and merely personal values. Morality is bound up with our place in a community or tradition, our understanding of nature and human nature, our convictions about death and immortality, our experiences of the sacred, our assumptions about what the mind can know, and our understanding of what makes life meaningful. We make sense of what we ought to do, of what kind of a person we should be, in light of all of these aspects of life - at least if we are reflective.

For any society or school to exist its members students, teachers, and administrators must share a number of moral virtues: they must be honest, responsible, and respectful of each other's well-being. We agree about this. Public schools have a vital role to play in nurturing these consensus virtues and values as the character education movement rightly emphasizes; indeed, a major purpose of schooling is to help develop good persons. If we are to live together peacefully in a pluralistic society, we must also nurture those civic virtues and values that are part of our constitutional tradition: we must acknowledge responsibility for protecting each others rights; we must debate our differences civilly; we must keep informed.

A major purpose of schooling is to nurture good citizenship.

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But when we disagree about important moral and civic issues, including the nature of morality itself, then, for both the civic and educational reasons we discussed above, students must learn about the alternatives, and teachers and schools should not take official positions on where the truth lies. The purpose of a liberal education should be to nurture an informed and reflective understanding of the conflicts.

What shape moral education should take depends on the maturity of students. We might think of a K through 12 continuum in which character education begins immediately with the socialization of children into those consensus values and virtues that sustain our communities. As children grow older and more mature they should gradually be initiated into a liberal education in which they are taught to think in informed and reflective ways about important, but controversial, moral issues.

Character education and liberal education cannot be isolated in single courses but describe dimensions of the curriculum as a whole. We also believe, however, that there should be room in the curriculum for a capstone course that high school seniors might take, in which they learn about the most important frameworks of moral thought, secular and religious, historical and contemporary, and how such frameworks might shape our thinking about the most urgent moral problems we face. This is, of course, the inevitable question: if we are going to teach values, whose values are we going to teach?


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The answer is simple, at least in principle: we teach everyone's values. When we agree with each other we teach the importance and rightness of those consensus values. When we disagree, we teach about the alternatives and withhold judgment. For example, we agree about democracy; it is proper, indeed important, to convey the value of democracy and the democratic virtues to students.

We disagree deeply about the values of the Republican and Democratic parties, however. We can't leave politics out of the curriculum simply because it is controversial. If students are to be educated, if they are to make informed political decisions, they must learn something about the values and policies of the two parties. In public schools teachers and texts should not take sides when the public is deeply divided; there should be no established political party.

Students should be taught about the alternatives, fairly. And so it should be with every other major moral or civic issue that divides us - including religion. A good liberal education will also be a moral education in three important ways. First, it will provide students with a basic cultural literacy regarding the human condition.

In studying history students should come to appreciate history as a record of social, political, moral, and religious experiments that give us insight into the causes of human suffering and flourishing. The study of literature gives students imaginative insights into the hearts and minds, the joys and suffering, of people in different times and places. History and literature provide students with a multitude of vicarious experiences so that they are not at the mercy of their limited and inevitably inadequate personal insights and experiences.

And so in various ways do most subjects in the curriculum add to our background understanding of the human condition. Second, a good liberal education will initiate students into cultural traditions, shaping their moral identifies in the process. As we have already noted, we are not social atoms, but inheritors of languages, cultures, institutions, and moral traditions. For example, from the beginning it has been a purpose of public education to make students into good citizens, good Americans.

In teaching history and civics and literature we provide students with a past, a sense of identity, a role in developing stories, a set of obligations. But, third, a good liberal education will have liberating as well as conserving effects, for it will teach students that disagreements among us run deep: we often disagree about the meaning and lessons of history--as the debate over multiculturalism makes clear. We often disagree about the justice and goodness of different cultures and subcultures.

We disagree about how to make sense of the world, about how to interpret it. Indeed, we often disagree about what the relevant facts are--or, even more basically, what counts as a fact, as evidence, as a good argument. We have quite different worldviews. A good liberal education will expose students to the major ways civilization has devised for talking about the human condition - and morality. Most moral education programs in public schools ignore religion; the implicit message is that religion is irrelevant to the development of virtue, moral judgment, and the search for moral truth. But if schools are to be built on common ground, if religious sub-cultures are to be treated with respect, if schools are to be neutral in matters of religion, and if students are to be liberally educated, then religious voices must be included in the discussion.

The character education movement is grounded in the conviction that there are consensus virtues and values. The consensus must be local, but it may also be broader; indeed, its advocates sometimes claim rightly that virtues such as honesty and integrity are universal and are found in all the world's religions. Nonetheless, because religion can't be practiced in public schools and because it is often controversial, the character education movement avoids it.

Religion is mentioned only once in the Character Education Manifesto - in the claim that character education is a joint responsibility of schools, families, communities, and churches as well, presumably, as non-Christian religious institutions. Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution Sign in. Purchase Subscription prices and ordering Short-term Access To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above.

This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. Advance article alerts. Article activity alert. Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic. Citing articles via Google Scholar. United Kingdom Materials on International Law Public International Law. Collateral Damage and the Enemy. The second problem is explaining how such responsiveness itself can arise. We have seen that theologically-informed approaches can suppose — whether convincingly or otherwise — that God ensures conscience makes us aware of fundamental moral principles.

15.1. The Sociological Approach to Religion

Secular accounts are unable to appeal to a divine origin of the relationship between conscience and moral norms. How, then, can there be a faculty of conscience that is receptive to them? An innate awareness of moral principles would be difficult to establish, especially in the absence of some analogue of natural law which, for example, we might know either immediately or through rational self-reflection, insofar as it constituted our own nature. So, some consideration needs to be given to how a conscience 16 For sympathetic discussion of challenges to natural law, see Boyle and Irwin One crucial influence on the formation and canalization of conscience will be socialisation.

Conscience is better able to be morally responsive when it is buttressed by appropriate social architecture. Even many proponents of natural law conceptions of conscience acknowledge a role for social relationships, whereby the innate disposition of conscience to recognise and kindle motivation by fundamental moral principles only becomes operative once we have been raised to adulthood or introduced to the relevant moral concepts Sorabji , Much of the social infrastructure of conscience consists in familiar ethical practices.

Similarly, a communal setting aids the sharing of moral ideas and experiences which inform how we think 17 For an alternative account of the relationship between conscience and moral education, see Howard , ch. Art, religion, and philosophy can all act as means for socialising these ethical resources. Hearing and telling stories which revolve around crises of conscience also helps us to hone our self-directed moral affect, perception, and judgement by dwelling on specific cases and not simply general principles. Of course, few would deny that there is an actual social influence on the empirical operations of the abilities we associate with conscience, or that this influence is often innocuous.

But drawing too strong a contrast between an individualistic conscience and a social and cultural world that threatens to overwhelm it comes with the risk of neglecting the positive contribution that social formation and guidance makes to conscience. Sociality is integral to a well-functioning conscience rather than being an incidental influence or trivial background condition.

Conscience can set individuals at odds with currents in their social and cultural context, but this context can also quite rightly shape both their individuality and their conscience. It would be perverse if the social orientation of conscience transformed it into a mere conduit for alien social power, blind conformity, or moribund tradition. There would be little point in discussing conscience, rather than practical reasoning, moral emotion, or ethical action more generally, without foregrounding sincere inward self-examination. The distinctive phenomenology of conscience as an inner voice or light must not be ignored when considering the ways in which sociality shapes conscience.

Our individual moral affect and self-assessment is no less important to conscience than its social infrastructure. The problem arises from inflating the contrast between these two dimensions into a dichotomy. While some social influences on conscience are benign, this does not mean that all of them are. Communities can be corrupted no less than individuals — reproducing error, spreading vice, and instilling deference. Furthermore, the brute positivity of a community, the mere existence of its beliefs and practices, lends it little normative authority.

Tradition is often deadweight. Other people can blind us with sophistry as well as kindle the inner light of conscience within us. Where then can our consciences look for social orientation which is any advance on individualism? Alasdair MacIntyre has addressed the wider problem of assessing socio-ethical traditions without lapsing into a vicious circularity that already presupposes their validity. He distinguishes between traditions of ethical enquiry e. Christianity, liberalism , While the standards by which traditions of ethical inquiry are judged are in large part their own, these are standards which they often fail to meet; even when they succeed, this does not guarantee the truth of the beliefs they embody.

MacIntyre thereby attempts to hold onto historicised standards by which to evaluate ethical traditions without thereby eschewing rationality or a weighty understanding of moral truth. The normative and social understanding of conscience being considered here may still seem to run into the problem of pluralism. We no longer — if we ever did — inhabit a society with homogeneity of moral and religious belief; nor does any single institution, such as the Catholic Church, have such tremendous power to determine orthodoxy.

In light of this, normative and social conceptions of conscience are not such an obvious fit for more diverse societies. When we lack shared standards for our particularistic self-directed moral judgements, as well as a widely-recognised arbiter which can make authoritative ethical pronouncements, then it will be harder to reach agreement on whether and how morally responsive conscience is achieved. Nevertheless, disagreement alone is not sufficient to show that there is no truth of the matter about which we are disagreeing — no more than consensus guarantees we cannot be wrong.

Both judgements about the moral responsiveness of any particular conscience and the appropriate social infrastructure to promote such responsiveness are bound to be contested, but to jettison normative and social conceptions of conscience as a result is unwarranted. We have already seen that the functions of a political liberty of conscience can be discharged while retaining an indirectly substantive understanding of moral conscience.

Thus, there is nothing necessarily illiberal about a social and normative conception of moral conscience that would undermine pluralism. The poor prospects of converging on a comprehensive and consensual understanding of the relevant moral responsiveness simply means that not everyone will agree when it is achieved or how to achieve it. Modern celebrations of conscience are rarely mindful that they are departing from a longer tradition that eschews individualism and neutrality for social embeddedness and moral responsiveness.

A lack of sensitivity to this historical shift has led to complacency in the theorisation and justification of conscientious conviction. In particular, the now orthodox view that the value of conscience arises from its role in securing personal integrity is much more doubtful when this individualism and neutrality are stressed — as cases like the coherent, wholehearted, and identity-affirming misogynist suggest.

If integrity is to explain the value of conscience, then this must be a robustly moralised integrity of a kind that stands in tension with neutral conscience. The positive understanding of conscience that emerges from this study is social and normative. It can avoid the counterintuitive implications of excessively moralised conditions for conscientious conviction by both adopting an indirect substantivism and disentangling moral conscience from the functions of political liberty of conscience.

Conscience in Moral Life

Nor does social infrastructure have to outshine the inner light of conscience or necessitate a departure from a pluralism that respects the autonomy of others. The result remains an untimely and provocative sketch rather than a comprehensive theory of conscience. Nevertheless, I hope it has challenged the reader to think again about the wisdom of forsaking its normative and social orientation in the fashion of modern moral conscience.

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