Newman takes down Bentham and Kant

“Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives” (from Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, quoted in Ker, Genius, 263). The Utilitarians reduce morality to the greatest happiness for the greatest number (and so my obeying my conscience is really a form of enlightened self-interest), while Kant reduces morality to the categorical imperative (in its 2nd formulation: only treat as binding moral maxims that can be universalized), but the two are united in taking conscience to operate purely immanent to the relevant moral agent (for the Utilitarians, this is probably better viewed as society as a whole); the right thing to do can be characterized solely by reference to some feature internal to the moral agent (capacity for pleasure and pain, universal rationality). For Newman, by contrast, conscience is fundamentally law, the authoritative voice of another binding me to do this rather than that. It isn’t simply me, viewed under a particular aspect; it is him, speaking from beyond a veil.

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This entry was posted in Conscience, Deontological Ethics, Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Henry Newman, Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Utilitarianism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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