Conscience and Its Critics

Conscience and Its Critics: Protestant Conscience, Enlightenment Reason, and Modern Subjectivity

Edward G. Andrew
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442673243
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  • Book Info
    Conscience and Its Critics
    Book Description:

    An eloquent and passionate examination of the opposition between Protestant conscience and Enlightenment reason in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7324-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares: ′All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.′ The Preamble to the Declaration asserts that violations of human rights ′have outraged the conscience of mankind,′ and the 18th Article declares the right to freedom of conscience.¹ My aim in this book is to consider the meanings that have been attached to the word ′conscience′ and to establish whether we can glean any stable and consistent meaning from...

  5. Chapter 1 Christian Conscience and the Protestant Reformation
    (pp. 12-33)

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience. A difficulty with this formulation is that the word ′conscience′ (orsyneidesis, orGewissen,conscientiaand its derivatives) is a Western and almost exclusively Christian word. Despite Hitler′s claim that ′conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish, like circumcision,′¹ the Old Testament equivalent for conscience wasleb(heart).² There are no Sanskrit, Chinese, or Japanese words for conscience, although the Chineseliang xingand the Japaneseryo shin(both literally mean ′good heart′) are used to translate the foreign idea. Could...

  6. Chapter 2 Conscience Makes Cowards of Us All
    (pp. 34-49)

    A conceptual analysis of the meaning of conscience in the seventeenth century might begin with an analysis of Hamlet, and particularly of the statement in his celebrated soliloquy that ′conscience makes cowards of us all.′ The same proposition is advanced inRichard IIIby one of the murderers of Clarence (I.iv.134). Still later (V.iii.211), Richard exclaims, ′O coward conscience! how dost thou afflict me′ when it assails him in his sleep. Just before his downfall, Richard III fortifies his resolve to continue in his criminal ambition:

    For Conscience is a word that Cowards use,

    Devis′d at first to keepe the...

  7. Chapter 3 Conscience Makes Heroes of Us All
    (pp. 50-62)

    At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare seemed to be saying that conscience inhibits decisive and heroic action; toward the end of the century, John Dryden asserted that professions of conscience were incompatible with those of humility.¹ Bishop Stillingfleet referred Dryden to a work by Thomas Allen, rector of Kittering in Northhamptonshire, that praised both conscience and humility. The obscurity of both the author and the work seemed to Dryden more to verify than to falsify his claim that conscience and humility were incompatible. Dryden expressed a Catholic scepticism about Protestant claims that conscience was a counterpart to an...

  8. Chapter 4 Hobbes on Conscience outside and inside the Law
    (pp. 63-78)

    W.K. Jordan and Gordon Schochet have distinguished freedom of conscience, which is a principle mandating separation of church and state, from religious toleration, which is a pragmatic state policy aiming to secure civil peace between warring sects.¹ Freedom of conscience is an entitlement, whereas toleration is a privilege granted by the state (which has the authority to permit or suppress dissenting sects and thus favours a dominant religion, whether or not it is officially established). Immanuel Kant praised Frederick the Great for renouncing ′the haughty name of tolerance′ in favour of genuine freedom of conscience.² Freedom of conscience is claimed...

  9. Chapter 5 Enlightened Reason versus Protestant Conscience in John Locke
    (pp. 79-98)

    The Cambridge Companion to Lockeasserts: ′John Locke is the most influential philosopher of modern times.′¹ Certainly Locke′s writings were widely read and admired in the eighteenth century. Benjamin Franklin stated that he read and digested Locke′sEssay concerning Human Understandingbefore he was sixteen years old.² Franklin′s claim is more credible than if he had claimed to have read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, or Leibniz at that age. Locke′s writings are popular philosophy. Nathan Tarkov wrote: ′Americans can say that Locke isourpolitical philosopher.′ David Wootton universalized Tarkov′s assertion: ′Almost all of us can now...

  10. Chapter 6 Aristocratic Honour, Bourgeois Interest, and Anglican Conscience
    (pp. 99-113)

    After the Restoration of 1660, the hegemony of the language of conscience and its rights was contested by a political vocabulary of interests.¹ Yet Jonathan Swift wrote in 1720 that ′there is no word more frequently in the Mouths of Men, than that ofConscience,′ a word that was ′generally understood′ but often abused by partisan interests.² Swift went on to argue that moral conduct, based on conscience guided by religion, cannot be replaced by a morality based on reputation and public credit. For him, the other false principle was honour: ′This is usually the Stile of Military men; of...

  11. Chapter 7 Professors and Nonprofessors of Presbyterian Conscience
    (pp. 114-130)

    David Hume characterized the Presbyterian conscience as follows:

    The genius of that religion which prevailed in Scotland ... was far from inculcating deference and submission to the ecclesiastics, merely as such: or rather, by nourishing in every individual the highest raptures and ecstacies of devotion, it consecrated, in a manner, every individual, and in his own eyes bestowed a character on him much superior to what forms and ceremonious institutions could alone confer.¹

    Hume of course was no friend of what he took to be the dismal devotion, self-laceration, and egalitarianism of the Presbyterian conscience. Of the remarkable set of...

  12. Chapter 8 Conscience as Tiger and Lamb
    (pp. 131-152)

    InA Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote: ′Our own conscience is the most enlightened philosopher.′¹ In this chapter I explore the place of conscience in radical thought from the time of the American and French revolutions. In doing so, I hope to clarify the relationship between enlightened reason and Protestant conscience in what could be called the Radical Enlightenment, or what I should prefer to call the radical opposition to the mainstream of Enlightenment thought.

    To clarify the meaning of Wollstonecraft′s thought, we must touch on the place of conscience in the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,...

  13. Chapter 9 Individualist Conscience and Nationalist Prejudice
    (pp. 153-176)

    William Wordsworth tied together Protestant conscience and the English tongue: ′We must be free or die, who speak the tongue / That Shakespeare spake; the faith and morals hold / Which Milton held.′¹

    Although John Stuart Mill associated ′the noblest language′ with the love of freedom,² he did not explicitly support Wordsworth's view that Protestantism informed the English character – that indeed it constituted, as much as the language, Englishness. (Perhaps if we excluded the Irish we could link Protestantism to the British character; but Mill, although of Scots background and with Scottish connections, considered himself English.) He did think...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-190)

    In this book I have contended that the liberal tradition of the Englishspeaking world has simultaneously attempted to deconstruct conscience and to champion its rights. British philosophers have tended to explain away conscience, presenting it as a contingent acquisition, the product of childrearing, education, and social environment, rather than attempting to understand the call of conscience as an interesting phenomenon, in the manner of Montaigne, Bayle, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, and Foucault. Richard Rorty has tried to open the horizons of Anglo-American liberalism to continental philosophy, but he has done so by separating philosophy from politics....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 191-228)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-246)
  17. Index
    (pp. 247-259)