the nature and role of conscience 

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  • Created on: 20-05-11 14:29
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Conscience and Aquinas
· Aquinas believed conscience is the power of
reason, a device or faculty for distinguishing
right from wrong actions rather than an inner
knowledge of right and wrong.
· People basically tend towards good and away
from evil. Conscience is `reason making right
decisions'. (Summa Theologica, 1273)
· When making a moral decision, synderesis is right
reason, an awareness of the moral principle to do
good and avoid evil, and conscientia distinguishes
between right and wrong and makes the moral
Conscience and Joseph Butler (1692--1752)
· Butler stated that conscience is intuitive and a powerful moral
authority, the final 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 man.. .is
conscience.' (Butler, Fifteen Sermons,
· Humans are influenced by two basic principles: self-love and the
love of others. Conscience directs us towards focusing on the
happiness of others and away from focusing on ourselves.
· Conscience determines and judges the right/wrongness of
actions without introspection.
· Butler said, `Had it strength as it had right, had it power as it
had manifest authority, it would absolutely govern the world.'
Conscience is `our natural guide, the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature.'
Conscience and Freud
· Sigmund Freud saw conscience as guilt (The Outline of
Psychoanalysis, 1938). The human psyche is inspired by powerful
instinctive desires that have to be satisfied.
· Children learn that the world restricts these desires. Humans
create the ego, which takes account of the realities of the world
and society. A `superego' internalises and reflects anger and
disapproval of others.
· A guilty conscience is created, which grows into a life and power of
its own, irrespective of the rational thought and reflection of the
· The mature and healthy conscience is the ego's reflection on the best way of achieving
integrity. The immature conscience (the superego) is a mass of feelings of guilt.

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· The psychological account of conscience can undermine both Aquinas and Butler.
Newman and Piaget
· Cardinal Newman wrote: `Conscience is a law of the mind.. .a
messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us
behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives.'
· Following conscience was following divine law. Conscience is God
speaking to us and has ultimate authority: `I toast the Pope, but
I toast conscience first.…read more

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Tips for A2 exam questions
To what extent is conscience a reliable guide in sexual ethics?
You should choose a particular topic from sexual ethics, such as homosexuality, to
The tension between trusting conscience to act with integrity against the
difficulty of acting impartially in matters of a sexual nature.…read more


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