Public cartels, private conscience

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 17 (4):356-377 (2018)
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Many contributors to debates about professional conscience assume a basic, pre-professional right of conscientious refusal and proceed to address how to ‘balance’ this right against other goods. Here I argue that opponents of a right of conscientious refusal concede too much in assuming such a right, overlooking that the professions in which conscientious refusal is invoked nearly always operate as public cartels, enjoying various economic benefits, including protection from competition, made possible by governments exercising powers of coercion, regulation, and taxation. To acknowledge a right of conscientious refusal is to license professionals to disrespect the profession’s clients, in opposition to liberal ideals of neutrality, and to engage in moral paternalism toward them; to permit them to violate duties of reciprocity they incur by virtue of being members of public cartels; and to compel those clients to provide material support for conceptions of the good they themselves reject. However, so long...
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