Promoting a Flourishing Society
 
 

Freedom of Conscience and Religion

March 16, 2017
This paper by Professor Douglas Farrow of McGill University is both a timely and forthright contribution to the growing discussion on the impact of the autonomy doctrine on a broad range of concepts, beliefs, and our understanding of truth itself.

The powerful criticism of this doctrine offered here is insightful. The paper offers a very helpful summary of the development of the autonomy doctrine philosophically and historically. In his arguments Prof. Farrow asserts that the increasingly widely held belief in the radical autonomy of the individual is having and will have a severely constraining effect on religious freedom. For Prof. Farrow the world is being fundamentally reordered in such a way around the individual that there is no longer any room for counter claims founded upon conscience and religious faith except insofar as they may be an aspect of a given person's individuality. Under the autonomy doctrine such claims must be assessed for what damage they might cause to another person's autonomy. The paper goes on to argue that under this conception of autonomy the human individual is no longer viewed as an accountable moral agent but rather a self-creating, self-measuring, and self-terminating being and no form of perceived religious intolerance must be permitted to infringe on this new conceptualisation of the social contract.

For Prof. Farrow, this development is a disturbing one. He examines how this idea has taken root in Canada not simply as broadly-held opinion but institutionally through legislation and regulation. Finally, Prof. Farrow assesses this increasing entrenchment of the autonomy doctrine particularly in how this doctrine misunderstands the human body and how ultimately certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion and conscience, will become subservient to this self-same doctrine.