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University of San Diego Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series

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The Tenuous Case For Conscience, Steven D. Smith Sep 2004

The Tenuous Case For Conscience, Steven D. Smith

University of San Diego Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series

If there is any single theme that has provided the foundation of modern liberalism and has infused our more specific constitutional commitments to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, that theme is probably “freedom of conscience.” But some observers also perceive a progressive cheapening of conscience– even a sort of degradation. Such criticisms suggest the need for a contemporary rethinking of conscience. When we reverently invoke “conscience,” do we have any idea what we are talking about? Or are we just exploiting a venerable theme for rhetorical purposes without any clear sense of what “conscience” is or why it ...