Kant and erring Conscience

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Abstract

Kant famously claims that an erring conscience is an absurdity. A number of Kantians have recently tried to make sense of this infallibility claim and this claim has informed debates about Kant’s conception of conscience. I believe this is mistaken. We do not find an infallibility claim concerning conscience in Kant for two reasons. Firstly, the claims concerning the infallibility of conscience are different in the Theodicy essay and the Metaphysics of Morals, thus there is not a unified infallibility claim in Kant. Secondly, and more importantly, the infallibility claims, as far as we can make sense of them, do not actually entail that conscience, as we should understand it, is infallible. In fact, another function of practical reason that is related to the workings of conscience seems infallible according to these claims. In my paper, I first argue that we should understand conscience in Kant as a faculty that is concerned with higher-order judgements about an agent’s moral reasoning, not with concrete moral cognition, and I then show how, when we apply this interpretation to the infallibility claims, it turns out that there is no infallibility of conscience in Kant. This can help ward off misunderstandings of Kant’s theory of conscience, moral judgement and moral failure.
Translated title of the contributionKant and erring Conscience
Original languageGerman
Title of host publicationKasuistik und Theorie des Gewissens
Subtitle of host publicationVon Pascal bis Kant
Editors di Giulio, Frigo
Publisherde Gruyter
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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