In Corey Maley & Bradford Cokelet (eds.), The Moral Psychology of Guilt. London: pp. 243-268 (2019)

Anne Jeffrey
Baylor University
According to the Conscience Principle, it is never morally permissible to act contrary to conscience. The plausibility of this being a genuine moral principle depends on what conscience is, whether it can be mistaken, and what its role is in general moral psychology. Thomas Aquinas endorses and defends a unique version of the Conscience Principle. What’s especially interesting about his unorthodox (for his time) view on conscience is that it seems to split the difference between the views we might expect to support the Conscience Principle: On the one hand, thoroughgoing subjectivism on which all moral facts and obligations are a function of agents’ mental states, and on the other hand, objectivist intuitionism on which there is an external moral law but a faculty of conscience gives us inerrant access to it. Aquinas claims that there are objective moral truths, that conscience fallibly represents those truths, and yet, conscience always generates moral obligations, whether it is correct or incorrect. Aquinas’s view will strike many initially as puzzling, perhaps even incoherent. To make sense of it, we must understand that for Aquinas the Conscience Principle is not just one moral principle among many; instead, it falls out of a novel and philosophically powerful metaethical view of moral obligations (or what we might call requiring moral reasons).
Keywords conscience  guilt  Aquinas  moral reasons
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