Slides in this set
Most people probably understand conscience as something
which tells right from wrong, but when the issues are
considered in more depth the actual nature and function
are hard to establish.
Is conscience intuitive, acquired or some sort of tool we use
to make ethical decisions? Is it a voice in our head, a feeling
or process of reasoning out the right action? Is it God-given
or learnt from our parents and society?
Our consciences come to different conclusions on moral
issues such as abortion so it would seem that morality is
relative and if God is the author then why does he tell us
different things?…read more
For some philosophers it is the actual voice of God that
talks to them through conscience such as Butler, Newman
and St. Augustine.
For others it is combined with the ability to determine
right and wrong action such as Aquinas, St. Paul and St.
This distinction is important when considering
accountability of God if he has directed us to a certain
EARLY CHRISTIAN IDEAS
The teaching of the Bible suggests that our conscience is given to us by
Paul outlined this in his letter to the Romans when he talks about the
gentiles: "...who do not have law, do by nature things require by law... since
they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their
consciences also being witness". (Romans 2:12-15)
Pauls' other main contribution was to say that conscience was an
awareness of good and bad that it can sometimes be weak and therefore
St Augustine saw conscience as the voice of God speaking to us from
within, it is the law of God in our hearts that we use to understand right
Traditional Christian teaching is based on the fact everyone knows what is
right and wrong as God has given us this ability and everyone can follow
divine law…read more
THOMAS AQUINAS - REASON
For Aquinas, conscience was the `recto ratio'. (right reason)
"Reason in man is rather like God in the world"
He believed that all people aim for what is good and try to avoid the bad he
called this the syndersis rule.
Aquinas didn't agree that conscience was an inner voice telling us what was right
and wrong. Sometimes we make the wrong choices due to our faulty reasoning or
weakness of the will that leads us to believe they are good.
Aquinas understood conscience as having 2 essential parts:-
Syndersis right reason
Conscienta the actual ethical ethical judgement which can be distinguished
For many Christians Aquinas' approach does not sit well with their beliefs in God's
divine revelation. However, it is more rational when we think of conscience leading
us to mistakes rather than God intentionally doing so.…read more
JOSEPH BUTLER - INTUITION
He saw conscience as the final moral decision maker.
"There is a principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish
between approval and disapproval of their own actions.. This principle in
mans... is conscience" (Sermon 1.8, Joseph Butler)
According to Butler, humans are motivated by 2 basic principles:-
Conscience encourages humankind away from selfish love and towards
focusing on interests and happiness of other humans.
He believed conscience was given to us intuitively and that it exerts itself at
the correct time. Butler gave conscience the ultimate and binding authority,
it originated in God so therefore must be obeyed.…read more