"Concerning The Guidance Of The Conscience In Matters Of Belief"
Religion Within The Bounds Of Sheer Reason.
Translated by Philip McPherson Rudisill
January 27, 2005 and edited September 21, 2012
[Paragraphs and sentences are numbered.]
1.1 The question here is not how the conscience is to be led (for this admits of no leadership; it is enough to have one), but rather how this itself can serve as a cue in the most extreme moral decisions imaginable.--
2.1 The conscience is a consciousness which is a duty of itself.
2.2 But how is it possible to imagine such a duty since the consciousness of all our representations seems to be necessary only in a logical intention, hence only in a conditional way, i.e., if we wish to make our representations clear, and so it cannot be unconditional duty?
3.1 It is a moral principle which has need of no proof, namely that a person is not to proceed with anything if there is a risk that it is unjust (quod dubitas, ne feceris! Plin.).
3.2 The consciousness, therefore, that an action which I wish to undertake is just, is unconditional duty.
3.3 Whether an action in general be right or not is a judgement made by the understanding, and not by the conscience.
3.4 It is also not utterly necessary to know whether all possible actions be right or not.
3.5 But I must not only judge and believe, but also be certain, that the action I intend to take is not unjust, and this requirement is a postulate of the conscience, in opposition to which we can position probablism, i.e., the principle that the mere opinion that an action might be just is already sufficient for taking it.--
3.6 One might define the conscience in this way: it is a capacity for moral judgment which governs itself; except this definition would be very much in need of a preceding explanation of a concept contained in it.
3.7 The conscience does not direct actions as cases which stand under laws; for that is the work of reason to the extent reason is subjectively practical (hence the casus conscientiae and casuistry, as a form of dialectic of the conscience): but rather reason directs itself here as to whether it has also undertaken the evaluation of the action with due consideration (as to whether it be just or unjust), and itself stands as a witness to the human, whether for or against itself, that this has or has not happened.
4.1 Take, for example, an inquisitor who adheres steadfastly to the uniqueness of his statutory belief, even to the point of martyrdom, and is to judge a so-called heretic accused of disbelief (and who is otherwise a good citizen); now assuming he were to sentence him to death, can we say he judged him in conformity with his conscience (albeit error-ridden), or should we accuse him of being utterly devoid of conscience, be it through error or an intentional act, because we could tell him to his face that in such a case no one can ever be entirely sure he were not acting unjustly?
4.2 He was, of course, presumably of the adamant belief that a supernaturally revealed, divine will (perhaps according to the saying of compellite intrare) permitted him, even if he were not compelled by duty, to eradicate the alleged disbelief along with the unbelievers.
4.3 But then was he actually so convinced of such a revealed doctrine and also of this sense of the doctrine, which he would have to be, that he could proceed to destroy a human in accordance with that confidence?
4.4 That it is not right to take a person's life due to religious belief is certain to the inquisitor: assuming (for the sake of the extreme case) that a divine will, which has been made known to him in an extraordinary way, has not ordained it otherwise.
4.5 But that God had ever expressed this terrible will rests upon historical documents and is never abolutely certain.
4.6 The revelation has still come to him only through humans, and through the interpretation of humans, and even if it seemed to him to have come from God Himself (as the command given to Abraham to butcher his own son like a sheep), it is still at least possible that an error persists here.
4.7 But then it would be dangerous to do something which were greatly improper, and it is precisely in this that he acted unconscionably.--
4.8 It is the same with all historical and specter-based beliefs, namely there is always the possibility of an error in this, and so it is unconscionable to permit the inquisitor free compliance, given the possibility that perhaps what God requires or permits is unjust, i.e., upon the risk violating a human duty which is certain to him.
5.1 And even more: to assert that an action which such a positive (at least held as such) revelatory law commands, is permitted on its own, raises a question as to whether spiritual leaders or teachers may, according to their alleged conviction, impose a confession of it by the people as an article of belief (at the risk of their standing)?
5.2 Since conviction has no other basis of proof than historical, and since in the judgment of this people (if they will but subject the matter to the least test) there always remains the absolute possibility of an error involved with it or arising from its classical interpretation, it follows that the priests would be requiring people to confess something, at least internally as true, as it believes a God, i.e., as though before the face of God, which it still does not know with certitude to be true, e.g., to acknowledge the establishment of a certain day for the periodic, public promotion of devotion as a religious act ordained immediately by God.
5.3 In such a way, compelling something, which he can never be completely convinced about himself, upon others as a belief, the spiritual leader would even act against conscience himself, and should hence rightly consider what he does, because he must answer for all misuse from such a compelled belief.-
5.4 Therefore there can perhaps be truth in what is believed, but at the same time an insincerity in the belief (or even merely in its internal confession) and this is damnable on its own.
6.1 Even though, as indicated above, humans, who have made even the least beginning in thinking about freedom,* since they were formerly under a yoke of servitude to the faith (e.g., the Protestants), immediately hold themselves as ennobled, as it were, the less (of the affirmative and of that pertaining to the precepts of the priests) they are necessitated to believe, it remains precisely the opposite with those who have been unable even to desire to make any attempt of this kind; for their principle is: better believe too much than too little.
6.2 For whatever is done beyond what is required, at least does no damage and might even help.--
6.3 It is upon this delusion that the so-called safe-harbour maxims in matters of belief (argumentum a tuto) are based, a delusion making dishonesty in religious confessions a principle (to which people are all the more easily dedicated because the religion makes good every flaw, including therefore also that of dishonesty), for if what I confess of God is true, then I have hit the target; but if it is not true, but if also not forbidden as such, then I have only believed more than was necessary, and thus have only increased my own burden, but that is no crime.
6.4 The danger of an insincerity in his conduct, the violation of conscience, the representation of something even to God as certain while being conscious that it is not of a character to be asserted with unconditioned confidence, all this is counted as nothing by the hypocrite.--
6.5 The authentic maxim of safe conduct, alone reconcilable with religion, is precisely the reverse of this, namely: what as means to, or as condition of, hallowed happiness cannot be known to me through my own reason, but only through revelation and taken up into my confession only by means of an historical belief, but which also does not contradict pure, moral principles, I cannot indeed believe and avow as certain, but with just as little certainty can I reject as false.
6.6 Nonetheless, without being able to determine anything about this revelation, I can count on this much: whatever in this revelation may bring salutary happiness will come to my good to the extent that I do not make myself unworthy through a lack of the moral disposition in Right Living.
6.7 In this maxim there is genuine, moral security, namely to my conscience (and nothing more can be demanded of the human); while in contrast there is the greatest danger and insecurity with the alleged means of prudence through cunning in avoiding the disadvantageous consequences which may arise to me through a lack of knowledge, and, by consorting with both parties, spoils both.
[* Kant's annotation:
1. I admit that I cannot easily reconcile myself to the expression even quite intelligent men utilize: a certain people (which is included in the treatment of a legal freedom) is not mature enough for freedom; the bond slaves of a property owner are not yet mature enough for freedom; and hence also humans in general are not yet mature enough for freedom in belief.
2. According to such a presupposition, however, freedom will never appear; for one cannot mature enough for this if one has never previously been placed into liberty (one must be free in order to be able to avail himself purposely of his powers in freedom).
3. The first attempt will be crude, of course, commonly also bound with a difficult and dangerous situation as when one still remainded under the command, but also the patronage, of others; but no one ever matures for self reasoning in any other way than by attempting it on his own (which one must be free to dare to do).
4. I have nothing against the idea that those who have power are necessitated by temporal circumstances widely to forestall, very widely, an emancipation from these three chains.
5. But a principle that those who are once subjected to them are in general not suited to freedom, and that therre is ample justification for keeping them from that emancipation forever, encroaches upon the prerogative of the divinity itself, who thrust the humans into freedom.
6. In the government of state, home and church it is of course more comfortable, if one is authorized to apply such a principle.
7, But more just?]
7.1 If the author of a symbol, if the teacher of a church, indeed if every person, to the extent he will admit to himself about how convinced he is of statements as divine revelations, should ask himself: do you trust yourself to assert the truth of these statements in presence of the Knower of Hearts and upon the renunciation of everything you hold dear and holy? then my concept of human nature (at least one not entirely incapable of good) would have to be very faulty for me not to foresee that even the most dedicated teacher of faith would have to tremble at this.*
7.2 But if that is so, then how does it accord with sincerity in conscience if we still insist upon such an explanation of belief which admits of no limitation and to proclaim the conformability of such affirmations itself as a duty and a devotion, but then in doing so to crush the freedom of the human, which is thoroughly required by everything which is moral (such as the acceptance of a religion), and not even leaving room for a good will to say, "I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief!"**
[* Kant's annotation:
1. The very man who is so quick to say that whoever does not believe this or that historical doctrine as a cherished truth, is damned, would then also have to say, if that which I teach you is not true, then I wish to be damned myself!--
2. If there ever were anyone who could make such a frightful utterance, then I would advise people around him to be guided by the Persian proverb about a Hadgi: if anyone has ever been to Mecca (as a pilgrim), then abandon the house where he resides; if he has been there twice, then move from the same street where he lives; but if he has been there three times, then desert the city, or indeed the country where he may be found.]
[** Kant's annotation
1. Oh, sincerity! Thou Astrial who has winged from earth to heaven, how do we draw thee back from there to us, O thou fundament of the conscience, and thus of all internal religion?
2. I can admit how much it is to be lamented that candor (speaking the entire truth that we know) is not to be encountered in human nature.
3. But sincerity (everything said being said in truthfulness) we must be able to require of each of us, and if there were no structure for that in our nature such that its development were merely neglected, the human race would have to be an object of the greatest contempt in our own eyes.--
4. But that mandatory mental property is of a sort that is beset by many temptations and costs numerous sacrifices, hence also requires moral strength, i.e., virtue (which must be won), but which must be watched and cultivated earlier than any other because the contrary disposition, if allowed once to take root, is most difficult to eliminate.--
5. Now if we compares that with our way of schooling, particularly in matters of religion or, even better, in the teaching of belief, where the faithfulness of the memory in answering questions relating to it is already taken as adequate for producing a believer, without considering the faithfulness of the confession (concerning which no test is ever made), a believer who does not even understand what he sacrosanctly affirms, we will no longer wonder about the lack of sincerity which makes outright hypocrites in the soul.]