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Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Good and Conscience: will Tony Blair use 'Conscience' as justification for his decision to invade Iraq

A ticket ballot has been arranged for members of the public eager to hear former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s, evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the invasion of Iraq.

I’m interested in Mr Blair’s account of the role his conscience played in the war.

A number of arguments have been outlined to explain why we went to war. Most of the arguments have failed to convince most people that the war was justified.

Conscience appears to be Mr Blair’s ultimate justification for invasion and, if used at the inquiry, it will be fascinating to see how he makes his argument.

His evidence is clearly of interest to ordinary members of the public (hence the need to hold a ticket ballot for attendees), but I wonder if any moral philosophers will be present in the audience.

I am currently reading GWF Hegel’s argument about ‘Conscience and the Good’ contained in his Philosophy of Right (sections 129-141)

It gives an interesting account of the role that conscience plays in deciding on what is the right thing to do.

Hegel was particularly concerned that the formal, content less and abstract nature of the subjective consciousness could lead the moral subject to take up erroneous positions when judging the right or moral thing to do.

He further outlined the pitfalls that conscience can fall into, its fallibility, its susceptibility to caprice and the danger that conscience justifies arbitrary acts. Ultimately Hegel warns us that a pure reliance on conscience can serve to undermine the difference between right and wrong. For example, I might tell you that I act with a good conscience when I hold open a door for you. But I might actually hold the door open for different reasons. I might be holding it open for the person walking behind you, or in order to lock the door behind you in order to imprison you.

I don’t know whether Hegel’s account presents anything like the definitive account of the dubious operation of conscience in deciding moral questions. But if it does, then it might have important implications for what I think was Mr Blair’s motivation to go to war.

I hope to write a comprehensive blog that considers Mr Blair’s position alongside Hegel’s arguments once the former PM’s testimony is available.

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