Augustine asserted the first ideas of where the conscience comes from. He said it was when God spoke to an individual and revealed himself. Augustine believed that conscience was the most important element of moral decsion making. Many have even argued that it is more important than the Church teachings.
Luther agreed with Augustine and ended up braking away from the church as he did not agree with the Pope's view.
The problem with this view is that if it is the voice of God then it cannot be questioned. But this is hard to accept when the 'consciene' goes against the churches teachings. It also raises issues of a contradictory God, many people's conscience differ and therefore it creates a problem of who's conscience is correct.
Aquinas' view stems from the theory of Natural Law. In 'Summa Theologica' Aquinas describes the conscience as:
"The application of knowledge to activity"
It is the method by which we work out what is morally right or wrong using reason. Aquinas describes the conscience as being made of two components:
- Synderesis - intellectual process of gaining knowledge
- Conscientia - process of applying right reason
Therefore, the conscience is the application of intellectual knowledge to moral decisions.
However, many argue that this view does not take into acount multiple world views, not everyone's synderesis is the same. People will reach different conclusions due to different cultural views.
Butler defined conscience as a 'faculty of reflection'. The conscience to him is what separates human beings to other sentient beings. Other creatures do not have a conscious awareness.
For Butler the conscience is the voice of God within and he said it was selfish, rather than selfless. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). Butler states that for this to happen we must love ourselves first. The respect for ourselves will then transfer to others. Butler believed God has created the natural order and that a moral sense is embedded in all human beings. This innate sense is the conscience. Criminals, who do wrong, do not love themselves and therefore cannot do right. There is a struggle between the conscience and the passions. The passions can never be fulfilled but it is this that drives us to fulfill them.
Critics argue that self-esteem should not be the drive of conscience, it should rather be convicting humans not promoting them.
Newman describes the conscience as "messenger from God".
He believed that te conscience was literally God's words. From a young age we develop moral senses, they gather an innate awareness of God. It is nature that leads us to God, nuture can destroy this though.
Newman argued that the church should not act as an authoritarian structure, Christians should be guided by the conscience rather than the church.
Newman's view is that the conscience is agent-centred, human's should examine their conscience and they will become better judges of what ideas and values are morally good.
Freud was a modern pyschologist. He saw the conscience in terms of a guilt complex. It is a thought process that leads humans to undertake actions out of a sense of guilt.
The odeipus complex is the starting point to Freud's understanding. This is the sexual desire of a son for him mother and the sense of rivalry with the father. The other way is daughter to father sexual desire, this is called the electra complex. Both have a deep-seated feeling of guilt which is then developed into our conscience. It is therefore just a construct of the mind.
The psyche is made of 3 components:
- The Id - inner unconscious self, primitive instincts. It functions on the pleasure-pain principle.
- The Ego - conscious, it is the 'I' which interacts with the Id and superego.
- The Superego - the ethical component of psyche, moral conscience.
Freud stressed the importance of parental roles in developing our morality.
Many say that obeying the 'conscience' is meaningless as everyone's will be different, as it is a relativist view.
Freudian follower as well as Marxist. Marxist originates from Karl Marx who believed that the social worl is percieved in terms of class and economic features. Fromm's view of humanity is that we believe we have free will, yet, we are reduced into a state of obedience to forces that the individual can't see. He believed it begins at birth.
Parents control their children and people are moulded by the needs of society. The indivuidual is given a social characte and second this removal of individuality creates a social consciousness.
It is public opinion that creates the liberal society's moral conscience. Fromm believed that people's attitudes are conditioned by their socio-economic backgrounds.
"His conscience is the voice that calls him back to himself" Fromm is arguing here that the conscience along allows humans to rise above the alienation of modern society.
Michael Foucault argued that the conscience acts to condem not liberate, drawing onto the guilt complex. So he rejected Fromm's view.
Critics of Conscience
Fredrich Nietzche - explained how life is intrinsically about the ability to control their own life. Thus there is no need of a conscience, it is simply a barrier of self-realisation.
Karl Marx - founder of Communism, argued that life is about the group not the individual. Conscience creates individualism, it was a way of exerting social control.
Richard Dawkins - says that humans are controlled by genes and that is all. It is just an evolutionary process, so the conscience is simply biological.
Richard Rorty - relativist, maintained that there is no such thing as universal moral values. One person's conscience is never the same as another person's.
People argue that if it is a guilt or social conditioning then our free will is no longer a concept.