KIMBERLEY BROWNLEE Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience

Kimberley Brownlee

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 reverse 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.