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Is Conscientiousness Always—or Ever—a Virtue?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2010

Trudy Govier
Affiliation:
Trent University

Extract

On most views of the nature of moral judgments, it is possible for a person to be mistaken in the belief that it is right to act in a certain way. When someone believes that it is right to do something, does that thing on the basis of such a belief, and yet in so doing commits deeds which are wrong by moral standards other than his own, we do not quite know whether to praise him for his conscientiousness while condemning his actions. He acts according to his conscience and does what he believes to be right, but his beliefs are erroneous and his actions wrong. Shall we praise the man for his conscientiousness while condemning his actions ?

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Copyright
Copyright © Canadian Philosophical Association 1972

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References

1 The analysis of conscience upon which this paper depends is essentially that expressed by Fuss, Peter in “Conscience” (Ethics, LXXIV, No. 2, January, 1964, pp. 111120)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. According to this analysis conscience has only the second-order function of telling us that if we think that such-and-such is right, then we ought to do it. See also Hunter, J. F. M., “Conscience” (Mind, LXXII, 1963, pp. 309334).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 In Selby-Bigge, L. A., British Moralists, Volume II (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964), p. 175.Google Scholar

3 Ibid., p. 179.

4 Ibid., p. 156. See also the note on p. 180.

5 Ibid., p. 175.

6 The move under discussion seems to be a natural one, though it is not ultimately helpful. Price seems to make this move. (See Selby-Bigge, Volume II, p. 170). Lennart Aqvist interprets Price as saying that it is one's duty to intend to do that which one believes to be right. (The Moral Philosophy of Richard Price, Library of Theoria, Number V, Lund, C. W. K.Gleerup, 1960, p. 175Google Scholar). In “Duty and Ignorance of Fact,” H. A. Prichard makes a very similar move; he says that what is obligatory is to “set about to do something,” rather than to do it. (In Moral Obligation, Oxford University Press, London, 1949. pp. 1839Google Scholar).

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