On the Moral Significance of Conscience
Jeffrey, Anne Marshall
Moral reasons are considerations that count in favor of or against actions in light of a moral standard. They can be functionally defined as authoritative guides to morally right action. Embedded in this concept is a deep tension between the two features that account for moral reasons having this unique function: namely, practicality and objectivity. On the one hand, in order for a consideration to be objective, as a conceptual matter, it must be mind independent. On the other hand, in order for a consideration to be practical, as a conceptual matter, it must be mind dependent. Since no consideration can be both mind dependent and mind independent, no consideration could be a moral reason, on the innocent functional analysis. I call this the puzzle about moral reasons. The going solutions to the puzzle require conceptual revision, foregoing the idea that moral reasons are, as a conceptual matter, either practical or objective.This dissertation defends a solution to the puzzle about moral reasons that does not require such conceptual revision. The solution takes its primary inspiration from Thomas Aquinas’s discussions of conscience. On my reading, we see him there putting forward a unique thesis about how moral reasons relate to the minds of those to whom they apply: moral reasons depend on a person’s grasp of general moral principles for their existence and they depend on a person’s practical judgments for what they are reasons to do. On the Thomistic construal of mind dependence, the connection between a person’s psychology and the moral reasons that apply to her does make such moral reasons practical in principle but also leaves intact their objectivity.
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