WHAT IS CONSCIENCE?
- Mostly understood as something which tells us right from wrong, but when issues are considered in more depth the actual nature and function of conscience are harder to establish.
- What is conscience?
- Where does conscience come from?
- Is conscience innate or acquired?
- What is its function in ethical decision-making?
- Generally seen as a moral faculty, sense or feeling which compels individuals to believe that particular activities are right or wrong.
- Conscience may also be seen to prompt different people in quite different directions.
- We consider our conscience to be a reliable guide.
- "I have noticed my conscience for many years, and I know it is more trouble and bother to me than anything else I started with". - Mark Twain
- Conscience lacks consistency.
- Even individuals are inconsistent and matters about which we once had conscientous feelings no longer affect us.
- If conscience is so changeable, how can it be a reliable guide?
- Religious views:
- Include biblical teachings, Divine Command theory, the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Butler, Newman, Bonheoffer and so on.
- Secular views:
- Include psychological, sociological, humanitarian and authoritarian.
- Assumed by some biblical writers and early Christian teachers that our conscience is God-given.
- Paul's letter to the Romans:
- "When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts."
- Everyone knows what is right and wrong, as God has given this ability.
- Implied that by following their conscience, everyone can follow the divine law.
AQUINAS' APPROACH - REASON SEEKING UNDERSTANDING
- Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) saw conscience as the natural ability of people to understand the difference between right and wrong.
- All people aim for what is good and try to avoid the bad. This is called the synderesis rule.
- Innate to seek the good - sin is a falling short of God's ideals, seeking what people think is good and is actually bad because they are not using their powers of reason properly.
- Understood that different societies have different views on what is right and what is wrong and, though he says people should always follow their conscience, he does see that people will sometimes get things wrong and make the wrong choices.
- Conscience "was the mind of man making moral judgements" and described is as containing two essential parts - synderesis and conscienta:
- Synderesis - Repeated use of what Aquinas termed as "right" reason, by which a person aquires knowledge of basic moral principles and understands that is is important to do good and avoid evil.
- Conscienta - Actual course of action based upon these principles.
- Conscience, therefore, for Aquinas, is being able both to distinguish right from wrong and to make decisions when a person is confronted with difficult moral decisions.
- When Aquinas says it is always…