The Bad Conscience
Vladimir Jankélévitch University of Chicago Press, 2014 Library of Congress BJ1471.J313 2015 | Dewey Decimal 171.6
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.
In a provactive work that brings new tools to the history of philosophy, Karen S. Feldman offers an elegant account of how philosophical language appears to produce the very thing it claims to describe. She demonstrates that conscience can only be described and understood through tropes and figures of langugae. If description in literal terms is impossible, as Binding Words convincingly argues, perhaps there is no such thing. But if the word "conscience" has no tangible referent, then how can conscience be constructed as binding? Does our conscience move us to do things, or is this yet another figure of speech?
Hobbes's Leviathan, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, and Heidegger's Being and Time dramatize conscience's relation to language and knowledge, morality and duty, and ontology. Feldman investigates how, within these works, conscience is described as binding upon us while at the same time asking how texts themselves may be read as binding.
Many consider conscience to be one of the most important—if not the fundamental—quality that makes us human, distinguishing us from animals, on one hand, and machines on the other. But what is conscience, exactly? Is it a product of our biological roots, as Darwin thought, or is it a purely social invention? If the latter, how did it come into the world?
In this biography of that most elusive human element, Martin van Creveld explores conscience throughout history, ranging across numerous subjects, from human rights to health to the environment. Along the way he considers the evolution of conscience in its myriad, occasionally strange, and ever-surprising permutations. He examines the Old Testament, which—erroneously, it turns out—is normally seen as the fountainhead from which the Western idea of conscience has sprung. Next, he takes us to meet Antigone, the first person on record to explicitly speak of conscience. We then visit with the philosophers Zeno, Cicero and Seneca; with Christian thinkers such as Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and, above all, Martin Luther; as well as modern intellectual giants such as Machiavelli, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud. Individual chapters are devoted to Japan, China, and even the Nazis, as well as the most recent discoveries in robotics and neuroscience and how they have contributed to the ways we think about our own morality. Ultimately, van Creveld shows that conscience remains as elusive as ever, a continuously mysterious voice that guides how we think about right and wrong.
“Brilliant . . . Should be required reading.” —Commentary
“As a critic of liberalism, George is devastating.” —National Review
“Puts George’s highly burnished philosophical and constitutional learning on full display . . . George speaks for a sizable number of conscientious objectors to America’s ruling liberal secularism.” —New York Times Book Review
“Could not be more timely. A treasure trove of thought-provoking reflections by one of the best minds of our time.” —Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law, from the foreword to the updated and expanded paperback edition of Conscience and Its Enemies
Assaults on religious liberty and traditional morality are growing fiercer. Here, at last, is the counterattack.
This revised and updated paperback edition of the acclaimed Conscience and Its Enemies showcases the talents that have made Robert P. George one of America’s most influential thinkers. Here George explodes the myth that the secular elite represents the voice of reason. In fact, it is on the elite side of the cultural divide where the prevailing views are little more than articles of faith. Conscience and Its Enemies reveals the bankruptcy of these too often smugly held orthodoxies while presenting powerfully reasoned arguments for classical virtues.
In defending what James Madison called the “sacred rights of conscience”—rights for which government shows frightening contempt—George grapples with today’s most controversial issues: same-sex marriage, abortion, transgenderism, genetic manipulation, euthanasia and assisted suicide, religion in politics, judicial activism, and more. His brilliantly argued essays rely not on theological claims or religious authority but on established scientific facts and a philosophical tradition that extends back to Plato and Aristotle.
Conscience and Its Enemies sets forth powerful arguments that secular liberals are unaccustomed to hearing—and that embattled defenders of traditional morality so often fail to marshal.
Prompted by the suicides of Jean Amery and Primo Levi, Harold Kaplan sought to ask what the Holocaust can be said to affirm even even in the face of its overwhelming negation of meaning. "I wrote this book," he explains, "to translate the Holocaust out of the moral and intellectual shock which contemplates the alienation of humanity from itself. I wished to understand the 'crime against humanity' as a viable category of the moral reason. And I wished to respond to the written testimony of Holocaust victims and survivors as if the issue of their survival were present to us today."
Kaplan simulates the response to a long visit to the new Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., which, crucially for Kaplan, is sited in direct view of the Jefferson and Lincoln monuments, powerful symbols of humanist democracy. He insists the Holocaust be viewed not only in terms of personal ethics but modern political ethics as well: for Kaplan the affirmative legacy of the Holocaust is its focus on the dangers of nationalism, racism, and all forms of separatist group identities. It challenges the historicism, cults of power, and scientistic politics of modernity. And it challenges the moral passivity and relativism of mass politics in Western and Eastern societies.
The opening of the Holocaust museum has sparked a debate that reflects a larger debate over the Holocaust's "meaning," its translatability for ordinary understanding. Some deny any possible response except that of overwhelming grief and horror. For others, the "lesson" of the Holocaust implies, in the words of Robert Nozick, that "mankind has fallen. . . . Humanity has lost its claim to continue." The moral life and political institutions will remain endlessly tormented by the Holocaust. That, Kaplan tells us, is the ultimate content of its "meaning," and is what makes the discussion of "meaning" much more than a mourner's symposium.
The Museum itself, according to Kaplan, has become an impressive memorial to the principle of humanism, instructing the collective memory of this democracy and that of nations everywhere which aspire to civil existence. Out of its awful darkness the Holocaust throws the light of conscience for those capable of receiving it.
The Conscience of the Court celebrates the work of Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who served on the United States Supreme Court for thirty-four years (1956–1990).
Stephen L. Sepinuck and Mary Pat Treuthart introduce and present selected judicial opinions written by Justice Brennan on issues involving personal freedom, civil liberties, and equality. Brennan is ranked by many as the best writer ever to have served on the Supreme Court, and his written opinions depict real people, often in desperate, emotional situations. Remarkable for their clarity of analysis, for their eloquence, and for their forcefulness and persuasiveness, his opinions demonstrate that judicial thought need not be a proprietary enclave of lawyers or the intellectual elite.
The extended excerpts selected by Sepinuck and Treuthart highlight Brennan's approach to judicial decision making. Concerned always with how each decision would actually affect people's lives, Brennan possessed a rare quality of empathy. In Brennan, the editors note, "people and groups who lacked influence in society—Communists and flag burners, children and foreigners, criminal defendants and racial minorities"—found a champion they could count on "to listen to their causes and judge them unmoved by the passions of the politically powerful."
In their introduction to each opinion, the editors provide background facts, discuss how the excerpted opinion transformed the law or otherwise fit into the realm of constitutional jurisprudence, and delve into Justice Brennan's judicial philosophy, his method of constitutional interpretation, and the language he used.
In 1989, The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) was successfully passed after a long and intense struggle. One year later, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) followed. These federal repatriation statutes—arguably some of the most important laws in the history of anthropology, museology, and American Indian rights—enabled Native Americans to reclaim human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.
Twenty years later, the controversy instigated by the creation of NMAIA and NAGPRA continues to simmer. In the Smaller Scope of Conscience is a thoughtful and detailed study of the ins and outs of the four-year process behind these laws. It is a singular contribution to the history of these issues, with the potential to help mediate the ongoing debate by encouraging all sides to retrace the steps of the legislators responsible for the acts.
Few works are as detailed as McKeown’s account, which looks into bills that came prior to NMAIA and NAGPRA and combs the legislative history for relevant reports and correspondence. Testimonies, documents, and interviews from the primary players of this legislative process are cited to offer insights into the drafting and political processes that shaped NMAIA and NAGPRA.
Above all else, this landmark work distinguishes itself from earlier legislative histories with the quality of its analysis. Invested and yet evenhanded in his narrative, McKeown ensures that this journey through history—through the strategies and struggles of different actors to effect change through federal legislation—is not only accurate but eminently intriguing.
The story of Czech theatre in the twentieth century involves generations of mesmerizing players and memorable productions. Beyond these artistic considerations, however, lies a larger story: a theatre that has resonated with the intense concerns of its audiences acquires a significance and a force beyond anything created by striking individual talents or random stage hits. Amid the variety of performances during the past hundred years, that basic and provocative reality has been repeatedly demonstrated, as Jarka Burian reveals in his extraordinary history of the dramatic world of Czech theatre.
Following a brief historical background, Burian provides a chronological series of perspectives and observations on the evolving nature of Czech theatre productions during this century in relation to their similarly evolving social and political contexts. Once Czechoslovak independence was achieved in 1918, a repeated interplay of theatre with political realities became the norm, sometimes stifling the creative urge but often producing even greater artistry. When playwright Václav Havel became president in 1990, this was but the latest and most celebrated example of the vital engagement between stage and society that has been a repeated condition of Czech theatre for the past two hundred years. In Jarka Burian's skillful hands, Modern Czech Theatre becomes an extremely important touchstone for understanding the history of modern theatre within western culture.
In Moral Conscience through the Ages, Richard Sorabji brings his erudition and philosophical acumen to bear on a fundamental question: what is conscience? Examining the ways we have conceived of that little voice in our heads—our self-directed judge—he teases out its most enduring elements, the aspects that have survived from the Greek playwrights in the fifth century BCE through St Paul, the Church Fathers, Catholics and Protestants, all the way to the 17th century’s political unrest and the critics and champions of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries.
Sorabji examines an impressive breadth of topics: the longing for different kinds of freedom of conscience, the proper limits of freedom itself, protests at conscience’s being ‘terrorized,’ dilemmas of conscience, the value of conscience to human beings, its secularization, its reliability, and ways to improve it. These historical issues are alive today, with fresh concerns about topics such as conscientious objection, the force of conscience, or the balance between freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech. The result is a stunningly comprehensive look at a central component of our moral understanding.
Based on decades of research, A Privilege of Intellect is D. A. Drennen’s portrait of the English cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–90), whose conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845 significantly boosted the presence of the Catholic Church in England and caused many Anglicans to follow his example. Newman—who will be beatified this fall—devoted his life both to the Church and to the university, demonstrating that religious faith and intellectual pursuits could exist in harmony. Drennen’s biography combines theology with psychology and philosophy and will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
The implicit questions that inevitably underlie German bioethics are the same ones that have pervaded all of German public life for decades: How could the Holocaust have happened? And how can Germans make sure that it will never happen again? In Reasons of Conscience, Stefan Sperling considers the bioethical debates surrounding embryonic stem cell research in Germany at the turn of the twenty-first century, highlighting how the country’s ongoing struggle to come to terms with its past informs the decisions it makes today.
Sperling brings the reader unmatched access to the offices of the German parliament to convey the role that morality and ethics play in contemporary Germany. He describes the separate and interactive workings of the two bodies assigned to shape German bioethics—the parliamentary Enquiry Commission on Law and Ethics in Modern Medicine and the executive branch’s National Ethics Council—tracing each institution’s genesis, projected image, and operations, and revealing that the content of bioethics cannot be separated from the workings of these institutions. Sperling then focuses his discussion around three core categories—transparency, conscience, and Germany itself—arguing that without fully considering these, we fail to understand German bioethics. He concludes with an assessment of German legislators and regulators’ attempts to incorporate criteria of ethical research into the German Stem Cell Law.
“The strength of Empire,” wrote Ben Jonson, “is in religion.” In Reforming Empire, Christopher Hodgkins takes Jonson’s dictum as his point of departure, showing how for more than four centuries the Protestant imagination gave the British Empire its main paradigms for dominion and also, ironically, its chief languages of anti-imperial dissent. From Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King,” English literature about empire has turned with strange constancy to themes of worship and idolatry, atrocity and deliverance, slavery and service, conversion, prophecy, apostasy, and doom.
Focusing on the work of the Protestant imagination from the Renaissance origins of English overseas colonization through the modern end of England’s colonial enterprise, Hodgkins organizes his study around three kinds of religious binding—unification, subjugation, and self-restraint. He shows how early modern Protestants like Hakluyt and Spenser reformed the Arthurian chronicles and claimed to inherit Rome’s empire from the Caesars: how Ralegh and later Cromwell imagined a counterconquest of Spanish America, and how Milton’s Satan came to resemble Cortés; how Drake and the fictional Crusoe established their status as worthy colonial masters by refusing to be worshiped as gods; and how seventeenth-century preachers, poets, and colonists moved haltingly toward a racist metaphysics—as Virginia began by celebrating the mixed marriage of Pocahontas but soon imposed the draconian separation of the Color Line.
Yet Hodgkins reveals that Tudor-Stuart times also saw the revival of Augustinian anti-expansionism and the genesis of Protestant imperial guilt. From the start, British Protestant colonialism contained its own opposite: a religion of self-restraint. Though this conscience often was co-opted or conscripted to legitimize conquests and pacify the conquered, it frequently found memorable and even fierce literary expression in writers such as Shakespeare, Daniel, Herbert, Swift, Johnson, Burke, Blake, Austen, Browning, Tennyson, Conrad, Forster, and finally the anti-Protestant Waugh. Written in a lively and accessible style, Reforming Empire will be of interest to all scholars and students of English literature.
Jocelyn Maclure and Charles Taylor provide a clearly reasoned, articulate account of the two main principles of secularism—equal respect, and freedom of conscience—and argue that in our religiously diverse, politically interconnected world, secularism, properly understood, may offer the only path to religious and philosophical freedom.
While most philosophers who write about punishment ask, "Why may we punish the guilty?" Jacob Adler asks, "To what extent does a guilty person have a duty to submit to punishment?" He maintains that if we are to justify any system of punishment by the state, we must explain why persons guilty of an offense are morally bound to submit to punitive treatment, or to undertake it on their own. Using Rawls's theory of social contract as a framework, the author presents what he calls the rectification theory of punishment.
After examining punishment from two points of view—that of the punisher and that of the offender who is to be punished—Adler proposes the Paradigm of the Conscientious Punishee: a repentant wrongdoer who views punishment as not necessarily unpleasant, but as something it is morally incumbent upon one to undertake. The author argues that this paradigm must play a central role in the theory of punishment. Citing community service projects and penances for sin (as required by some religions), Adler argues that punishment need not involve pain or any other disvalue. Instead he defines it in terms of its justificatiory connection with wrongdoing: punishment is that which is justified by the prior commission of an offense and generally not justified without the prior commission of an offense.
The rectification theory applies particularly to offenses involving basic liberties. It is based on the assumption that each person is guaranteed the right to an inviolable sphere of liberty. Someone who commits an offense has expanded his or her sphere by arrogating excess liberties. In order to maintain the equality on which this theory rests, an equivalent body of liberties must be given up. In discussing applications of the theory, Adler demonstrates that active service (as punishment) is more effective in safeguarding important rights and interests and maintaining the social contract than is afflictive punishment.