March 19, 2010
Heidegger's account of the concept of conscience, given in Being and Time , is in many respects remarkable. Since the Middle Ages only a few philosophers have thought about conscience and probably no one with a rigour that equals that of Heidegger. Nevertheless Heidegger's account is imbued with some typically philosophical flaws. In his effort to avoid becoming a spokesman of any particular interpretation of conscience Heidegger singles out, with a characteristic philosophical gesture, the formal features of conscience. However, this formalisation has the consequence that the most crucial aspect of conscience, its call to love our neighbour, is left out. In this paper I will analyse Heidegger's account in some detail, display its errors and the philosophical character of those errors as well as sketch out an alternative account of conscience. This reveals that Heidegger's account does not make any distinction between a false conscience, which is an experience of the pressure of social values, and authentic conscience, which presents my neighbour in the light of love. Also, his account cannot make sense of the authority of conscience. Finally, I raise the question whether Heidegger's flaws tell us something about philosophy.