When the Reflective Watch-Dog Barks: Conscience and Self-Deception in Kant
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Kant’s conception of conscience has recently become a matter of intense interest and debate in the Kant literature.1 I will focus on a problem that has not yet received its due attention. Conscience can warn agents every time they are about to transgress the moral law and it retrospectively reproaches agents for transgressions, yet Kant believes that there is also a natural propensity to self-deception. Self-deception, however, is only possible if agents can successfully hide from themselves the moral implications of some of their actions or present them as morally innocent. I will begin by outlining Kant’s conception of ordinary cognition of duty and of self-deception or rationalizing (sec. 1). I will then provide a brief overview of possible functions of conscience in Kant and explain Kant’s conception of conscience as a reflective watch-dog: Conscience does not judge directly about our duty in concrete cases but it watches over or reflects about how cautiouslyan agent uses her...