Birmingham Salon


Talking liberty - Taking conscience seriously

Saturday 24th June, 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm

Map Room, Cherry Reds, 88-92 John Bright Street, B1 1BN

Free entry but donations welcome. Donations help us to meet speaker travel and room hire costs for our two debate Salon events.

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In a world where talk of conscience seems rather shallow (you can both invest and party with a conscience according to two recent news items) it's heartening to read the Letter on Liberty, Taking Conscience Seriously, where Dolan Cummings argues gives a fuller account of conscience: that inner conviction about what is right or wrong. Conscience, he says, is not necessarily unchanging, is subject to external influence, and is an instinct that can be educated.  

Whether we're considering assertions about speech being free or harmful, having an argument over whether lockdowns were great for saving lives or an authoritarian measure that prioritised health over other things that make lives worth living, or weighing up the merits of car ownership against concerns about air pollution, our conscience will be involved in our deliberations and decisions. Beyond the narrow idea of freedom of conscience - live and let live - argues Cummings, conscience acts as "a bulwark against groupthink and moral conformism". 

Does conscience need a religious context, or at least some kind of religious heritage, in order to work properly? An instinct, especially a moral one, sounds a bit like something that would discard reasoning and science. Why would we value something that might challenge groupthink if it does so by disregarding evidence and deciding on something that sounds unsafe or unsound? And is conscience something that gives us pangs or is it always switched on? 

In the third of this year's series of discussions based on the Academy of Ideas Letters on Liberty, Simon Curtis will introduce the ideas and arguments put forward by Cummings.  Simon Curtis is a regular attendee of the Salon.

We strongly recommend reading Taking Conscience Seriously before coming along to this Salon.

Further reading