The double subjectivity of conscience and the need to test conscientious objections
In spite of the collapse of the traditional objective concept of conscience and the subsequent subjectivation of conscience, conscientious objections are still often considered as a valid ground for exemption from legal and professional obligations. Conscientious objections are seen as more serious than ordinary moral objections. It is not evident why this is so. I argue, with Niklas Luhmann, that the function of conscience is to protect the moral core of a person’s identity. Overruling conscientious objections threatens this core. Claims of conscience are usually founded on the right of freedom of conscience. This right is not absolute. I discuss the view of Richard Arneson who rejects the right of freedom of conscience and defends the right against conscience. I agree with Arneson that, at the one hand, conscientious objectors may constitute a threat to the social and legal order when their objections are not recognised and, at the other hand, too easy giving in to conscientious objections may also threaten the viability of social and legal order. That is why it is needed to determine when conscientious objections cannot be taken at face value, but should be subjected to a series of tests. The aim of these tests is to contain the number of objectors. I discuss 6 criteria for determining whether conscientious objections ground an exemption to legal and professional obligations. At the end of the article I discuss the conscientious objections of medical doctors.