The Owl of Minerva

Volume 43, Issue 1/2, 2011/2012

Martin J. De Nys
Pages 139-147

Conscience and Ethical Life
Some Remarks on "Hegel's Conscience," by Dean Moyar

The ethical theory discoverable in Hegel’s writings assigns, on Dean Moyar’s reading, an important role to the idea of conscience. Hegel’s discussion of conscience presents a theory of practical reasoning which requires that one be able to nest the particular purposes that motivate one’s actions in the objective purposes that have normative status insofar as they prevail in the institutions of modern ethical life. Those norms are legitimized by the fact that the institutions in question, most especially the state, predicate themselves on their recognition of the rights of the particular individual. Individuals are not simply passive in relation to ethical, institutional norms. Individual moral deliberation plays a key role in the ethical development of society. Nonetheless, the norms that the state requires the individual to recognize do seem to be, in the last analysis, beyond appeal. Hegel makes, and Moyar presents, a powerful case for this position. Nonetheless, pacifist arguments present this position with a serious challenge.