Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Conscience


  • This topic (handily or detrimentally, depending on how you feel about it) can be summarised by quoting a lot of philosophers, as, realistically, the study of the human conscience has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with opinion. Here I will simply list quotes, perhaps analysing them a little along the way.

The Dictionary

  • As quoted from the dictionary, conscience is:
    • “…a moral sense of right and wrong, especially as felt by a person and effecting behaviour or an inner feeling as to the goodness or otherwise of one’s behaviour.
    • And this is a good point to argue from and come back to in relation to various other points.


  • Judaism, according to “Heinemann Advanced Religious Studies Ethics and Religion,” by Joe Jenkins says:
    • Conscience causes humans to think about their actions as they seek approval from their own hearts.
    • This, aside from sounding like a corny line from an animé, seems to imply that the conscience acts as a separate kind of conscious which attempts to exert a certain amount of control through guilt.
    • It also aims to illustrate that the conscience is an absolute source of moral righteousness.


  • THE major player in all of this.
  • He felt that the conscience was “reason making right decisions”, which implies a kind of moral process rather than an intuitive affair. “Deduction” is a fine word to use here.
  • “Synderesis” is the moral understanding of good and evil!
  • He also claims conscience is
    • “… the natural ability of a rational human being to understand the difference between right and wrong…”
      • This shows that the conscience may be something which can be clouded by that which causes irrationality.
      • Also shows that it is only the ability to understand, not to do (which opens up lots of consequentialist/deontologist avenues)
      • Can be clouded by “passions, or by ignorance, or by long-established habits”
      • Admits people are flawed in saying that the conscience decides to the best of ones ability.


  • Conscience is innate +_ from God, a “natural guide” given by Him.
  • Says humans are self-loving and move to benevolence in following your conscience.


  • Conscience is a way of justifying who we are.
    • What we seek to do in any particular situation depends on what we seek to be.”
  • People spoke out against slavery, even though it was considered right. Ergo: conscience cannot be a moral compass in any absolute, timeless sense.

Michael Montaigne

  • Laws of conscience, which we say are born of nature, are born of custom.”
    • A socialist view.

Henry David Thoreau

  • The conscience really does not, and ought not to monopolise the whole of our lives, any more than the heart or head. It is as liable to disease as any other part.
    • It is another faculty that we must control and nurture?

Jean Jacques Rousseau

  • I need only consult myself with regard to what I wish to do.”
    • Is conscience, thus, a handy method of knowing what is right without external reference, or just a method of adding weight to your statements?


  • Conscience is not a thing to be acquired.”
    • And is thus innate.
  • The duty here is only to cultivate our conscience.”
    • So, we all start the same in our consciential faculties (like seeds, planted in soil) and it grows into something shaped by the world.


  • Conscience is a trapping of the church; a will to power used to subvert and weaken the minds of men.
  • The conscience, thus, is a thing of evil, the “bad conscience” especially so; something to overcome.
  • Listen to our inner voice in a positive light only, for personal betterment, not to feel bad for things which are socially “wrong” but still better us.
  • Altruism is a religious “sickness”.

Blaise Pascal

  • Men never do evil so fully and so happily as when they do it for conscience sake.”

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