What is conscience?

A moral faculty, sense or feeling which compels individuals to believe particular activities are right or wrong. It may prompt people to go in different directions. 
     There are two types of stance that can be taken:

Religious views, includes biblical teaching, Divine Command theory, Augustine, Aquinas, Butler, Newman etc. 

Secular views, includes psychological, sociological etc. 

Biblical teaching

It's assumed by some biblical writers and and early Christian teachers that our conscience is God-given:

'..What the law requires is written on their hearts.' - Paul's letter to the Romans.

Christian teaching is based on this - God has given us the ability to know what is right and wrong. By following your conscience, everyone can follow the divine law. 

Aquinas' approach - reason seeking understanding

  • Conscience is the natural ability to understand the difference of right and wrong.
  • All people aim for what is good and try to avoid the bad (the synderesis rule) - it's innate to seek the good.
  • Sin is seeking what people think is good but is actually bad as they aren't using reason properly. 
  • Different societies have different views on what is right and wrong - people do sometimes get things wrong and make the wrong choices. 
  • The conscience is made up of synderesis and conscientia

- Synderesis means the repeated use of 'right' reason - a person acquires knowledge of basic moral principles and understands it's important to do good and avoid evil.
- Conscientia is the actual ethical judgement a person a makes which leads to the action based on these principles. 
- Conscience is distinguishing from right and wrong and make decisions when confronted with difficult moral situations.

  • It's always right to follow your conscience - it's always right to apply your moral principles to situations as best you can. 
  • ^ He doesn't mean if you follow you're always right  - as if your principles are wrong, your conscience will be wrong too.  
  • Conscience is reasoning used correctly to find out what God sees is good - it's not just a voice inside us. 
  • Some Christians would say Aquinas' approach doesn't consider revelation that comes directly from God. 

Butler's approach - conscience comes from God

  • The thing that distinguishes men and women from the animals world is the possession of the faculty of conscience. Being human involves being moral. 
  • Conscience could determine and judge the rightness and wrongness of different actions and thoughts. 
  • Conscience has a powerful position in decision making as it spontaneously 'exerts itself without being consulted' 
  • There is something authoritative and automatic about the way conscience works when making moral decisions. He gives conscience the final say - 'it would absolutely govern the world'
  • At the top of the hierachy of human nature is conscience; at the bottom are drives like drives for food that influence us without any thought for consequences, and above these are self-love and benevolence. Linked to the conscience is the 'principle of


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