Vladimir Jankélévitch was one of the most distinctive voices in twentieth-century philosophy. In The Bad Conscience—published in 1933 and subsequently revised and expanded—Jankélévitch lays the foundations for his later work, Forgiveness, grappling with the conditions that give rise to the moral awareness without which forgiveness would make no sense. Remorse, or “the bad conscience,” arises from the realization that the acts one has committed become irrevocable. This realization, in turn, gives rise to an awareness of moral virtues and values, as well as freedom and the responsibilities freedom entails. Thus, while the majority of moral systems try to shield us from remorse, the remedy for the bad conscience lies not in repentance but in the experience of remorse itself.
To this careful and sensitive English-language translation of The Bad Conscience, translator Andrew Kelley has added a substantial introduction situating the work in historical and intellectual context. Notes throughout indicate differences between this and earlier editions. A thought-provoking critique of standard conceptions of moral philosophy, The Bad Conscience restores this work by an important philosopher who has only recently begun to receive his due from the English-speaking world.