This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The problem with ‘primacy of conscience’

With the phrase “primacy of conscience,” we encounter the same problem we did when discussing prudence, and we have thought it wise to dwell on it for the same reason: because it is an error so common that it has become almost a popular slogan. We must consider an imaginary case. Let’s say a man’s conscience nudges him in a certain direction on the issue of abortion, which happens to be the opposite of what the Church teaches. If this is honestly the case, is it valid for him to go against the Church’s constant teaching on the matter, claiming ‘primacy of conscience?’ It depends: is his conscience well-formed? Has he taken the trouble to educate himself and to hear the arguments which underlie the Church’s position? If he has not, then it is possible he is not exercising his conscience at all, but is merely exercising his preference. Or, to say the same thing another way: one’s conscience is never formed in a vacuum, and because of this, and due to individual negligence, it may well be “misinformed,” or formed in the image of our own arbitrary desires.

The point is not to invalidate the concept of ‘primacy of conscience,’ which is one of the most noble teachings of the Catholic Tradition. But we must always keep in mind that the claim to “primacy of conscience” presupposes a constant effort to form one’s conscience, in the same way that the claim to “prudential judgment” presupposes the constant development of prudence. In both cases, laying claim to the right requires a great deal of practice and discipline. Without this discipline, both “primacy of conscience” or “prudential judgement” are simply not possible, and to claim them amounts to nothing more than escapism.

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