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Title: Conscience and the Opening of Systems
Author(s): JUNKER-KENNY, Maureen
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 28    Issue: 2   Date: 2022   
Pages: 216-227
DOI: 10.2143/INT.28.2.3291371

Abstract :
The examination of the status of conscience in philosophical and theological argumentations proceeds in three steps. The first section deals with the reasons why it seems necessary in view of current philosophical approaches to social and political ethics to insist on individual conscience. The second section compares approaches in Catholic theological ethics. In the third section, consequences for the legal system and the structures of the church are discussed, concluding with the recently completed proposals of the Irish National Synod that were sent to Rome for the next stage of the 'Synodal Pathway'. In the first part, a current debate between two directions in Kantian philosophy is investigated: the discourse ethics of the Frankfurt School, and the analysis of the Austrian philosopher Herta Nagl-Docekal that the premise of Kant’s deontological ethics, the inner freedom of the subject, risks being reduced to an extent that it can no longer be distinguished from heteronomy. Restricting social ethics to the rule of 'reciprocity' privileges an external perspective focused on interactions and conflicts between citizens, leaving out the role of conscience as an internal capacity and replacing the level of moral self-scrutiny with legal criteria. Next to be examined is a perspective which is similarly in danger of reducing the evidence of conscience, that of the individual social sciences. They research its conditioned nature owing to the different contexts of the agent, at the expense of its originality, as the theological ethicist Dietmar Mieth observes. Thirdly, a confirmation of the independence of conscience is found in its elucidation by the French hermeneutical philosopher Paul Ricoeur in his theory of moral selfhood where it represents one of the instances of 'otherness' in the self. The second section recalls the decisive change of the Second Vatican Council from an objectifying concept of truth, to conscience as the 'truth of the person' and compares two positions: a reorientation of moral theology towards the concept of autonomy (Vincent MacNamara), and a postmodern rejection of a unified idea of the self, accepting instead its conditioned and fragile status (Linda Hogan). The third section examines the consequences of Vatican II’s recognition of the modern concept of freedom in its personalist understanding of the act of faith, and thus of the constitutive role of the faithful for the conception of church. To what extent the turn to the truth of the person is reflected in Canon Law is analysed by Michael Böhnke. If the protection of the freedom of religion also applies within the church, what does this encompass? In conclusion, the synodal principle as a central instrument of the universal church as composed of the local churches is concretized with the Irish 'synthesis' document of its synodal process.

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