A2 Ethics Conscience revision

Revision notes outlining the key thinkers on conscience.

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  • Created on: 14-05-12 20:38
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Conscience 13/05/12
Two different positions regarding conscience:
1. voice of God (who is the lawmaker) within
2. product of society and demands of authority
Position 1:
St Paul (1st century CE)
Conscience = the universally God given ability to know and choose good.
God's laws are "engraved upon our hearts" (Romans 2:15).
Believed it was located at the very centre of the soul where moral decisions were
made and inner convictions were held.
St Jerome (147240 CE)
Conscience enables us to distinguish between good and evil.
"...the spark of evil... with which we discern sin".
Intrinsically important for our moral wellbeing to be able to discern the leading of the
moral away from the immoral.
St Augustine (334430 CE)
Conscience = voice of God directly talking.
Conscience is something a person intuitively senses as God reveals it to them
Following our conscience enables us to become closer to God as "a good
conscience is the palace of Christ".
"Return to your conscience, question it... Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you
do see God as your witness." (Confessions)
Thomas Aquinas (12251274)
Conscience = "right reason"
Reason essential to understanding the differences between right and wrong.
Conscience not an inner voice but reason used to understand God's will.
People try to do good and avoid what is evil ­ Synderesis rule.
Due to faulty reasoning or weakness of the will people can perform bad actions
thinking they are good (following an apparent good as opposed to a real good).
Conscience divided into two essential parts:
1. Synderesis ­ the innate "right reason" that gives knowledge of the basic principles
of morality (primary precepts).
2. Conscientia ­ distinguishing between right and wrong and making appropriate
decisions (the actual choice to perform an action).
If your principles are flawed or incorrect, then your conscience must be too.

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Conscience 13/05/12
But, rationalistic approach doesn't sit v. well with importance of God's divine
Joseph Butler
Conscience = God given guide on how to behave.
What makes humans different is our ability to reason and this can be used as
evidence for the existence of conscience.
"There is a principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish between approval
and disapproval of their own actions... this principle in man... is conscience.…read more

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Conscience 13/05/12
Conscience comes from the values of different societies and cultures this explains
why people have different "consciences" of what is right or wrong.
20thC anthropologist Ruth Benedict researched values of different cultures:
The Spartans, Ancient Greece, thought stealing was morally right.
Tribe in East Africa threw deformed babies to the hippopotamus.
Some societies make it a duty for children to kill (sometimes by strangling) their
ageing parents.…read more

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Conscience 13/05/12
The first of these stages is ruled by punishment which encourages obedience as
people want to gain approval.
People then move to keeping the law, to caring for others...
The final stage is respect for universal principles "right" and "wrong" is based on a
set of selfchosen principles which a person follows in their day to day living and
Kohlberg felt that most adults don't get beyond the keeping the law stage.…read more


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