Two Views of Conscience for the Australian People

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Abstract
Australian democracy has recently seen a new emphasis on ‘conscience votes’ in parliament. However, despite this increasing awareness, the Australian media, public and governments have failed to examine closely the concept of a ‘conscience vote’, and the important question of what conscience really is. I will examine a number of statements made by politicians, media commentators and other groups surrounding conscience votes to show the problems that emerge from lacking a clear account of conscience. From this, I will outline two different classical views of conscience: that of Bishop Joseph Butler and that of St. Thomas Aquinas, and show the implications for politicians of adopting either view. I will suggest that the contemporary Australian usage of conscience has more in common with Butler than Aquinas, but that the Thomistic view could serve to better inform both the contemporary Australian usage, and Butler’s views. I will briefly suggest some ways that adopting the Thomistic view of conscience would impact on the Australian democratic system, and explain the problems with a philosophical view that upholds the primacy of conscience and fails to appeal to external moral truth.
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Archival date: 2016-10-06
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2012-02-13

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