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Conscience in Aquinas & Butler

The conscience compromises of 2 elelments- and everything is based on using your reason

Aquinas distinguishes between SYNDERISIS which is being inclined to do good- known as RECTO RATIO (right reason) and using reason with CONSCEINTA which is the process of applying right reason to a specific issue.

  • It's a god given ability that you utilise and apply
  • Criticsms- Cultural relativism- conscience is not a variable from person to person. 2. Natural law is not compatible with modernity.

 Butler- Conscience is the 'faculty of reflection' which seperates humans from other sentient beings

  • Conscience is part of the process which makes us aware.
  • You should litsen to your conscience as it allows us to act as a moral judge. There is that moral sense that is embedded in human beings.


  • Newman- CONSCIENCE is the 'voice of god'- independant of any AUTHORITY. Conscince is an 'impulse of nature' developing with age- even children have a INNATE sense of understanding.
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Freud saw the consciene in terms of guilt complex. The CONSCIENCE is a THOUGHT PROCESS that leads human beings to undertake ations out of a sense of guilt and embarresement for previous actions/feelings. The OEDIPUS COMPLEX is the starting point for moral development- male desire for sex with mother- resulting in rivalry with fatherThe conscience develops from this sense of guilt

  • The child knows it is wrong to remove 1 parent from the other & stage ends when child represses sexual instinct and identifies itself with parent of the same sex
  • Freud believed the pysche develops from the physical needs of the child for love and affection- rather than the soul becoming matter, it is the physical needs of the child that create his/her pyschological framework

Pysche is made up of

  • ID- primitive grrr
  • Ego- Public self
  • Superego- ethical part, controlling ego and IDs behaviour Syn: Like Chariot analogy in Plato
  • The breaking of rules is linked in the conscience to the superego- e.g Adam & Eve-  patriachy, says it's down to society

Criticsms- Relativists. Concept of conscience meaningless.

 Strenghts- Pyschological view.  Conscience directs us towards greater good

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Fromm, Piaget & Kohlberg


Free will is non existent, from birth we are put into a state of obideance to forces individuals can't see.

  • The individual is molded to the needs of society
  • 1. Given a fitting social character
  • 2. Removal of individuality makes people aware of who they belong to
  • Authotarian conscinece- e.g. church became state by which individual identified with
  • The conscience alone will allow humans to rise above society. SYN: Economic libetarians

Piaget & Kohlberg:

  • All humans do not have the same conscious
  • Heteremonous morality- childs needs to obey
  • Autonomous morality- deciding what is morally good
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Links to ethical issues

FW&D- The conscience being the 'voice of God' as Newman says means that we are determined. In the case of using our reason, which is god given like Aquinas said- then we do have free will, as the conscience is applying your knowledge using the 'right reason'. However, there is still a certain element of it coming from God- therefore, religously the consicence points to religious determinism.

When considering calvanism, and how we are all predestined- arguably you could apply the dilemma of the conscience being the 'voice of God' to murderes and serial killers, perhaps their 'voice of God' is distorted or different, meaning they are religously hardwired to act in certain ways.

To contradict this, the work of Freud shows that we are scientifically hardwired to act certain ways. However, Fromm shows a strength of free will and can be linked to the message Hayer gives from economic libetarianism.

Meta Ethics- The meaning of 'conscience' can be looked at in a non cognitive right, saying 'the consicence is developed from a guilt complex' can be simply nothing more than expressing your feelings as Ayer said.

Good & Evil- The Irenean theodicy claimed that free will develops conscience.

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