Assess the view that the conscience is not the voice of God, but is learned (35)


Assess the view that the conscience is not the voice of God, but is learned (35)


  • Not the voice of God bc developed through childhood experiences. Fromm: all humans are influenced by external authorities when they are young, (parents) apply rules and punish.                                              Richard Gula: 'the conscience is nurtured' 'way of seeing the world and responding'. Moral basic commands are internalised by child. Disobedience= guilt=submission
  • Evaluation: strong bc supported by empirical evidence - child knows when they have done wrong. E.g many killers have bad role models = less developed conscience.
  • Freud: Human mind b=made up of 'ID'(basic instincts)  'ego' (balances feelings and desires) 'superego'. (feelings developed by society)  - conscience based on ID/superego conflict which makes us feel guilt etc
  • Evaluation: not religiously exclusive (secular) explains why not religious people still have a conscience.


  • Intuitionist John Henry Newman (a catholic cardinal) argued conscience is direct voice of God that gives us morality. Conscience does not invent truth but detects truth and reveals the divine laws.      - Defy conscience like defying God - feel shame/guilt etc. Pope Benedict: 'consciousness is the law of the heart written by God'
  • Evaluation: what about those who feel minimal guilt? 9/11 terror suspects claim following God's command through conscience.. raises issues of God's omnibenevolence
  • Aquinas: conscience is a God given faculty that we develop ourselves. Moves between the synderesis and conscientia to make a moral guide.
  • Evaluation: avoids problems of making people commit moral acts. Aquinas would argue that wrong doers using wrong reason but Newman criticism still stands. Why would God let people be immoral or use the wrong reason?

Overall comparison

Conclude: Credible claim conscience is learned bc empirical evidence - explain why some people have more or less prominent consciences (Fromm)


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