Through Narcissus' Glass Darkly: The Rise and Fall of the Modern Religion of Conscience presents a genealogy and critique of the ideal of conscience in modern philosophical theology, particularly in the writings of Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant; and it answers the question of why the apparently emancipatory rejection of heteronomy compromised the ideal of self-legislated freedom. Pacini argues that despite its advocacy of the popular political value of common understanding, the modern religion of conscience has become the Achilles' heel of both Kantian and Freudian thought: it is doomed to succumb to its own fundamentally narcissistic-or self-relating-orientation. Avoiding the tenacious clichA(c) that the luminaries of modern philosophy simply replaced God with the self and then supplied reasonable constraints for the resulting apotheosis, Through Narcissus' Glass Darkly argues that the modern religion of conscience emerges out of a far more radical kind of disenchantment, one in which both God and self are de-divinized. Bereft of its divinity, the God of modernity becomes empty; the self of modernity, in its autonomy, becomes hopelessly tied to dissociation from origins and to loss of a world.
Left only to itself, the conscientious individual has only the world it legitimates through self-relating. But as any other world is inconceivable, the conscientious individual can never know whether its world is just or merely the expression of self-interest. Paradoxically, the author argues, the most formidable proponents of the modern religion of conscience would come to share with their critics (including Wittgenstein, Freud, and Barth) a common problem: the self-legislating self has become bothindispensable and impossible within much of modern philosophy and theology, and requires a distorted perspective in order to veil its incoherence. This unique and interdisciplinary interpretation of conscience makes an important contribution for scholars and students of modern philosophy, Christian theology, psychoanalytic theory and literary criticism.