When confronted with a law that they find morally unconscionable, citizens sometimes engage in civil disobedience – they publicly break the law with a view to communicating their judgment that it is unjust. Citizens in similar situations sometimes take a different stance – they engage in conscientious objection, they quietly disobey, seeking only to keep their own conscience clear.
A common view of these matters has it that the conscientious objector is deserving of special respect, and even accommodation, whereas the civil disobedient engages in a politically risky and morally questionable practice. In her new book, Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience (Oxford University Press, 2012) Kimberley Brownlee reverses this picture. She contends that properly-conducted civil disobedience is more deserving of accommodation and respect than conscientious objection. Her case turns on a detailed and subtle analysis of the very concepts of conviction and conscience.