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Conscience and Truth

Following up from the previous post on the debate between population and environment, on the grounds of women’s and reproductive rights, here comes the response of theoretical and fundamental issues. Just to enumerate some of the arguments and ideas that Goldman invoked to justify abortion and contraception:

  • Reproductive rights are about the freedom of women to decide.
  • The invocation of personal conscience to secure this freedom and of personal conviction as a source of legitimacy.
  • The right to abortion and contraception is invoked in terms of progressive vs. traditional: “All over the planet, conflicts between tradition and modernity are being fought on the terrain of women’s bodies.”
  • Those on the traditional side, including the Vatican and by extension the Pope, are labeled ‘fundamentalists’.

I think Pope Benedict, one of the so called ‘fundamentalists’ here would first of all respond that fundamentalism is indeed a problem, as I posted on another page. In his work as Cardinal called ‘Truth and Tolerance’ the Pope furthermore talks of the danger “of the pathologies of religion which are extremely dangerous and need reason as a “controlling organ”, but also of the pathologies of reason which are “an even greater threat – it suffices here to think of the atomic bomb or of man as a ‘product.’ This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind”(p. 77). The Pope is willing to recognize the dangers of religion unaided by reason which lead to fundamentalism, but Goldman’s claim that basically all religious expressions that are somewhat conservative are fundamentalist because they disagree with her own ‘progressive’ agenda ring of the pathology of reason. More importantly, many answers to Goldman’s mistaken ideas are found in Cardinal’s work Conscience and Truth, which can be fully here. Below the highlights:

  • The concept of truth has been virtually given up and replaced by the concept of progress. Progress itself “is” truth. But through this seeming exaltation, progress loses its direction and becomes nullified. For if no direction exists, everything can just as well be regress as progress.
  • Conscience appears here as the bulwark of freedom in contrast to the encroachments of authority on existence… Conscience would retain, however, the final word. Some authors reduce conscience in this its aspect of final arbiter to the formula: conscience is infallible.
  • …whether the judgment of conscience or what one takes to be such, is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth—at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject’s own truth, which would be reduced to the subject’s sincerity.
  • Liberalism’s idea of conscience… is the faculty which dispenses from truth. It thereby becomes the justification for subjectivity, which should not like to have itself called into question. Similarly, it becomes the justification for social conformity. As mediating value between the different subjectivities, social conformity is intended to make living together possible. The obligation to seek the truth ceases, as do any doubts about the general inclination of society and what it has become accustomed to. Being convinced of oneself, as well as conforming to others, are sufficient. Man is reduced to his superficial conviction and the less depth he has, the better for him.
  • the identification of conscience with superficial consciousness, the reduction of man to his subjectivity, does not liberate but enslaves… Whoever equates conscience with superficial conviction, identifies conscience with a pseudo-rational certainty, a certainty which in fact has been woven from self- righteousness, conformity and lethargy. Conscience is degraded to a mechanism for rationalization
  • In such a relativistic context, so-called teleological or consequentialist ethics ultimately becomes nihilistic, even if it fails to see this. And what is called conscience in such a worldview is, on deeper reflection, but a euphemistic way of saying that there is no such thing as an actual conscience, conscience understood as a “co-knowing” with the truth.
  • Certainly the high road to truth and goodness is not a comfortable one. It challenges man. Nevertheless, retreat into self, however comfortable, does not redeem. The self withers away and becomes lost. But in ascending the heights of the good, man discovers more and more the beauty which lies in the arduousness of truth which constitutes redemption for him. We would dissolve Christianity into moralism if no message which surpasses our own actions became discernible

5 thoughts on “Conscience and Truth

  1. There are a lot of disturbing viewpoints presented in Goldman’s statement that are both illogical and unsubstantiated. It is fitting to quote Ratzinger’s statement on replacement of Truth with progress, for Goldman begins her argument by stating that, “Women’s rights and particularly reproductive rights are really at the heart of development”. She attempts to use ambiguous terms and ill-defined terminology to present an ideological argument that most would superficially accept. But when her statement is more closely examined it is easy to see the fallacies that exist. However, as previously hinted at, the fallacies that exist in her argument are not truly the problem, for anyone using logic, or even objectively looking at the situation, could decipher the message from “reproductive rights” not as the right to reproduce, but as subliminal “pro-choice” rhetoric. Therefore, the underlying problem does not seem to be with her argument itself, but rather with the utter refusal to intellectually engage in a logical debate where terms are defined and something as simple as linear logic is employed. Furthermore, the very fact that Goldman attempts to create a some mythical divide where there is only two sides to the issue of development and women’s rights is a gross oversimplification of a serious issue, which in the end does no justice to either women or authentic pursuits of development. It rather stifles any productive discussion which could be had on the matter by emotionally engaging an audience to action without any display of an intellectual comprehension of the complexity of the issue at hand. In the end, ideas such as her’s are a waste of time and a hindrance to any communication that could lead to true progress and development.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I actually think a valuable conversation could come through these issues, but as you say there doesn’t seem to be a serious attempt to engage intelligently the underlying questions. The intellectual precision of Raztinger just blows someone like Goldman out of the water, and hints at the sort of pathology of reason that he was hinting at. I think that invoking things like this ultimately do damage to the environmental movement and the authentic pursuit of women’s rights which are good things in themselves and worthy to be sought after. But this pathological approach doesn’t help anybody.

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