Conscience summary notes

Once you have read this you could use my activity book on the conscience to test your knowledge! All answers for the booklet are included in this document :-)

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  • Created on: 15-06-14 11:27
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Conscience revision notes
The answers to the activity booklet are found in these notes
What is it?
For some people, the conscience takes the form of guilty feelings and contemplating or
performing wrong actions
For others it is something different, as this quote from Christopher Reeve explains; `I think
we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I
think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice,
it will tell us the right thing to do'
Where does it come from?
Some believe it is God-given, this is the belief that at contraception God gave each
person a conscience or that it is imparted to us at some stage to enable us to
distinguish morally correct and incorrect actions, for some it is the actual voice of God
(Butler, Newman, Augustine advocate this view)
Central to this approach is that the conscience is a gift that is required in order for humans
to be moral
To work successfully, the conscience needs two things; freedom and knowledge of the
The idea that the conscience is innate within us means that it doesn't depend on our
experiences or any sort of social conditioning or learning
Others say our conscience is instilled by society, this means our conscience is a reflection of
society's values and rules
Georg Hegel referred to the idea of `the spirit' of each age that not only defined cultural
awareness but moral awareness as well
According to Piaget we accept the morality out parents teach us at least to the age of
around ten. Even after this point we will still be influenced by the morals instilled by our
Another approach suggests our conscience is formed and moulded by the authority
figures we have around us, such as police officers, teachers, parents or politicians
Many serial killers or paedophiles would claim that their reasoning and motivation for their
horrendous acts and for who they have become were due to negative authority figures in
their early years
Augustine of Hippo
Heavily influenced by Platonism
Believed in one virtue which is God and all other virtues are just aspects of this one virtue and
divine love binds all of these other virtues to God
When God's love and moral virtue are revealed, humans experience their own
One effect of his view on the conscience is to make it the most important element of moral
decision-making, more important than the moral teachings of the Church

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The conscience cannot be questioned, it is the voice of God within
John Henry Newman
Agreed with Aquinas that conscience is the ability to appreciate and apply moral
Conscience is independent of any system of authority
Used the words `the impulse of nature' to describe how human beings, as children, first
develop a moral sense
Children have an innate awareness of God and morality
Views are the complete opposite of the views of modern Neo-Darwinian atheists
Beliefs and morals of the Church are based…read more

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When he says it is always right to follow your conscience, he is saying it is always right to
apply your moral principles to each situation as best you can
Due to faulty reasoning or weakness of will, some people perform bad actions thinking
they are good
Faulty reasoning is how he explains when people do things that are wrong or sinful
Aquinas divided his understanding of the conscience into two essential parts;
1.…read more

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The ego ­ part of the human psyche that is conscious and seen by people. It is
the self or the `I'. It is the part of the psyche that evaluates and plans, restricting
the desires of the id and being advised by the superego
3. The superego ­ the ethical component of the human psyche which controls the
ego's behaviour.…read more

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Six stages;
o Doings what you are told to do by authority figures
o Wanting to gain approval
o Keepings the law
o Caring for others
o Respect for universal principles
o Respect for individual conscience
Kohlberg thought that most adults never got beyond keeping the law
Eric Fromm
Became one of the principle disciples of Freud
Human beings imagine they have free will but this is an illusion
From birth, the human is reduced to a state of obedience to forces they cannot see,…read more

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It is much better to see the conscience in terms of an attitude or an awareness
people have that there is a moral path to be followed
o MacNamara argues that the fact that people see that goodness and truth are
important is another way of describing conscience
o `It is not so much that I have a conscience ­ a special piece of equipment ­ as
that I am a conscience'
Richard Gula (holistic approach)
o Argues that to consider the conscience in terms…read more

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If we are certain that what our conscience tells us to do in any given situation is in fact God's
command, then that means we should not make mistakes as we are listening to the actual
commands of God yet it is evident that people do make errors of moral judgement
In answer to this, some might reply that God does speak to us but we have not built up a
sufficiently sensitive conscience to hear God's voice clearly
If God's voice is everyone's conscience,…read more

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Corporate or collective consciences as ethical decision makers also have their drawbacks;
it is possible for a society to make collective moral decisions and end up performing
immoral acts that are obviously wrong
Perhaps the most sensible approach is to use Aquinas' idea of reason informing our
conscience, and qualifying this with a basis in some other sort of traditional ethical
theory…read more


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