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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 78, Issue 4, Fall 2004

Jason J. Howard
Pages 609-627

Kant and Moral Imputation
Conscience and the Riddle of the Given

This article examines a largely neglected theme in Kant scholarship, which concerns the importance of conscience in understanding Kant’s account of moral imputation. It is my contention that conscience, contrary to many traditional interpretations of Kant, plays a central role in grasping the lived experience of moral agency insofar as it brings into light the burden that autonomy places upon us. When approached from this angle, Kant’s account of conscience, far from undermining the coherence of his position, actually bolsters it by showing his sensitivity to the ambiguity that underlies our moral experiences as embodied agents. The reason that conscience plays such a pivotal role for Kant stems from its intermediating function, which serves to reflect both the ontological reality of freedom, as well as that of the summum bonum, the relationship between happiness and virtue. What the Kantian account of conscience attests, then, is that it is only in discerning the limits imposed by our own facticity—our vulnerability as willing beings—that the weight of autonomy can properly reveal itself as the inexorable trial of being free.