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Am I My Profession's Keeper?

Authors

  • Avery Kolers


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared

Address for correspondence: Dr Avery Kolers, Philosophy Department, University of Louisville, HUM 313, 2301 S. 3rd Street, Louisville, KY 40292, T. 502-852-0453, F. 502-852-0459. Email: akolers@louisville.edu

Abstract

Conscientious refusal is distinguished by its peculiar attitude towards the obligations that the objector refuses: the objector accepts the authority of the institution in general, but claims a right of conscience to refuse some particular directive. An adequate ethics of conscientious objection will, then, require an account of the institutional obligations that the objector claims a right to refuse. Yet such an account must avoid two extremes: ‘anarchism,’ where obligations apply only insofar as they match individual conscience; and ‘totalitarianism,’ where even immoral obligations bind us. The challenge is to explain institutional obligations in such a way that an agent can be obligated to act against conscience, yet can object if the institution's orders go too far. Standard accounts of institutional obligations rely on individual autonomy, expressed through consent. This paper rejects the Consent model; a better understanding of institutional obligations emerges from reflecting on the intersecting goods produced by institutions and the intersecting autonomy of numerous distinct agents rather than only one. The paper defends ‘Professionalism’ as a grounding of professional obligations. The professional context can justify acting against conscience but more often that context partly shapes the professional conscience. Yet Professionalism avoids totalitarianism by distinguishing between (mere) injustice and abuse. When institutions are – or we conscientiously believe them to be – merely unjust, their directives still obligate us; when they are abusive, however, they do not. Finally, the paper applies these results to the problem of conscientious refusal in general and specifically to controversial reproduction cases.

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