Fichte on Conscience

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 95 (2):376-394 (2017)
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There is no question that Fichte's theory of conscience is central to his system of ethics. Yet his descriptions of its role in practical deliberation appear inconsistent, if not contradictory. Many scholars have claimed that for Fichte conscience plays a material role by providing the content of our moral obligations—the Material Function View. Some have denied this, however, claiming that conscience only plays a formal role by testing our moral convictions in any given case—the Formal Function View. My aim in this paper is to offer a new contribution to this debate. I begin by supplying further evidence in support of the view that conscience only plays a formal function in Fichte's ethics. Then I call attention to a deeper problem this view faces, namely, that it invites an infinite regress by making one's conviction a matter of higher-order reflection. The key to overcoming this threat, I argue, lies in Fichte's doctrine of feeling, whereby the criterion of one's conviction lies, not in a cognitive state, but in an affective state. In closing, I discuss the relevance of Fichte's theory for current debates over the nature of moral error and moral deference.

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Owen Ware
University of Toronto, Mississauga

Citations of this work

Fichte’s method of moral justification.Owen Ware - 2019 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 27 (6):1173-1193.
Conscience, conviction, and moral autonomy in Fichte’s ethics.Timothy L. Brownlee - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (4):626-645.

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References found in this work

Elements of the philosophy of right.Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - 1991 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Allen W. Wood & Hugh Barr Nisbet.
Moral uncertainty and its consequences.Ted Lockhart - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
A Defense of Moral Deference.David Enoch - 2014 - Journal of Philosophy 111 (5):229-258.
In defense of moral testimony.Paulina Sliwa - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 158 (2):175-195.

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