Moral Conscience through the Ages: Fifth Century BCE to the Present

ISBN : 9780199685547

Richard Sorabji
288 ページ
166 x 243 mm

In Moral Conscience through the Ages, Richard Sorabji brings his erudition and philosophical acumen to bear on a fundamental question: what is conscience? Examining the ways we have conceived of that little voice in our heads - our self-directed judge - he teases out its most enduring elements, the aspects that have survived from the Greek playwrights in the fifth century BCE through St Paul, the Church Fathers, Catholics and Protestants, all the way to the 17th centurys political unrest and the critics and champions of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Sorabji traces a history of conscience over this long period and examines an impressive breadth of recurrent topics: the longing for different kinds of freedom of conscience, the proper limits of freedom itself, protests at consciences being terrorized, dilemmas of conscience, the value of conscience to human beings, its secularization, its reliability, and ways to improve it. These historical issues are alive today, with fresh concerns about topics such as conscientious objection, the force of conscience, or the balance between freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech. The result is a stunningly comprehensive look at a central component of our moral understanding.


1. Sharing knowledge with oneself of a defect: five centuries from the Greek playwrights and Plato to St. Paul and first century pagans
2. Christian appropriation and Platonist developments, 3rd to 6th centuries CE
3. Early Christianity and freedom of religion, 200-400 CE
4. Doubled conscience and double-bind: a medieval insight and a 12th century misconstrual?
5. Penitence for bad conscience in pagans and Christians, 1st to 13th centuries
6. Protesters and Protestants: 'terrorisation' of conscience and two senses of freedom of conscience, 14th-16th centuries
7. Advice on particular moral dilemmas: casuistry, mid-16th to mid-17th centuries
8. Freedom of conscience and the individual in 17th century England
9. Four rehabilitations of conscience and connexion with sentiment: 18th century
10. Critics and champions of conscience and its continuing re-secularisation: 19th to 20th centuries
11. Freedom of conscience, religion and speech: different balances in different legislations
12. Retrospect: Nature and value of conscience


Sir Richard Sorabji is Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College at Oxford University and fellow and emeritus professor at Kings College, London. He is the editor of fifteen books, and founder and general editor of the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series, in which more than a hundred volumes have been published.