Conscience, truth & action

Lorenzo Zucca*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Liberal democracies attempt to accommodate conscientious objections without having a clear understanding of the claims of conscience. This might lead to an Antigone claim, when conscience is irreconcilable with state authority. In this essay, I sketch three different models of conscience: a knowledge-based model where conscience gives priority access to moral norms; an emotional model that treats conscience as a natural capability that alerts us to wrongdoing; and a reflection model that argues that conscience works as our inner tribunal. Each model presents a different challenge to political authority. The conflict becomes tragic in Antigone’s sense only when conscience is portrayed as providing knowledge of moral norms. The other two models can be squared with political authority in various ways, but they do not offer a final case for the authority of conscientious claims; at best, they show that political authorities should hear conscientious claims and engage with them in public deliberation. Conscience thus reconstructed can provide a constructive function in any society a) by holding political authorities to account; b) by forcing them to provide reasons for their actions; and, ultimately, c) by refining our deliberative and adjudicative practices to make sure that action is always anchored to truth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-147
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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