False Convictions and True Conscience

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 35 (2):403-425 (2015)
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Society typically shows conscientious objectors more deference than civil disobedients, on the grounds that they appear more conscientious and less strategically minded than the latter. Kimberley Brownlee challenges this standard picture in Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience, where she claims that civil disobedience is more conscientious than conscientious objection, in virtue of its communicativeness. Brownlee conceives of conscientious conviction as necessarily communicative, and distinguishes it from ‘conscience’—the set of practical moral skills involved in adequately responding to complex situations. This review article argues that Brownlee’s account of conviction is too narrow, as it excludes many core beliefs which we would want to classify as convictions although they violate one or more of the criteria of communicativeness, while her account of conscience is incomplete, because it ignores some of the persistent obstacles for the development of conscience produced by structural injustice. The article identifies these obstacles and offers some strategies for protecting against them, namely, vigilance, self-scrutiny, empathy and collaborative ambivalence
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