People are able to sense right and wrong because God reveals it to us personally.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Classic definition
“ The mind of man making moral judgements”
Grounded in his Natural Law philosophy
Humans created with ‘recta ratio’ (right reason) of basic moral principles
This is ‘synderesis’
Conscience= applying reason to particular questions of right and wrong
Major premise (synderesis)- all evil must be avoided
Minor premise (reason)- murder is evil
Conclusion (conscientia)- murder must be avoided
Therefore- conscience can make decisions
The synderesis rule – always follow good and avoid evil
Haring points out, this is not an impersonal/ intellectual ability, but recognises the uniqueness of the individual
Conscience can be mistaken… Apparent goods followed not Real goods
Therefore, conscience is fallible (not perfect)
Example: “If a mistaken reason bids a man to sleep with another man’s wife, to do this will be evil based on ignorance of divine law he ought to know; but if the misjudgement is occasioned by thinking the woman really is his own wife and she wants him, then his will is free from fault.”
Acting according to conscience is not a guarantee of right action, but it is a guarantee of moral blamelessness
But following conscience is still absolutely necessary
God given us ability to reason (distinguish between right and wrong)
To ignore reason is “same as dismissing the command of God” = always wrong
Conscience is the ultimate moral authority for the individual
Highly influential view- supported by Catholic Church
Explains why conscience can sometimes be incorrect: wrong use of reason – following apparent goods
Clear set authority/guidance – supported by Bible
Everyone can experience reason
Included knowledge and reasoning as well as religion so everyone can apply it.
X Some acts can never be morally blameless: acts may still break the law entitle punishment – regardless of right intention/ following conscience.
X Assumes good and evil are the same for everyone
X What happens if you don’t believe in God?
X Assumes no emotion is expressed
X Are humans really that rational
X Can conscience conflict with reason? Which one do you follow in an ethical decision?
Central to our humanity-essential part of being human
Separates us from animals
“ There is a principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish between approval and disapproval of their own actions…this principle in man…is conscience” (1726)
Like Aquinas, it is what we use to judge an action good or bad
Automatic and authoritative in the way it operates
It “magisterially exerts itself” spontaneously “without being consulted”
Has the final say in moral choices-governs and orders other aspects of human nature
Person’s God-given guide to right conduct
Therefore should always be followed
It is “our natural guide, the guide assigned to us by the Author of our nature”
Intuitionism does ring true for many. Emphasis is not on reason but on instinct
X Doesn’t allow for conscience to be wrong (fallible) unlike Aquinas’ view.
X Is conscience something people all have experience of? And do people have the same experience of it?
X What about when two people have opposing ‘intuitions’ about a moral matter?
John Henry Newman
Interested in studying human knowledge
Humans do not use scientific reasoning and logic all the time
We know what is right and wrong through Illative Sense -feelings of guilt and responsibility
“ we feel responsibility, are ashamed…this implies that there is one to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear.”
Rather than through use of reason/ conditioning
Our conscience is the ‘Voice of the Lawgiver’
Conscience is therefore following the voice of God
Emphasises the importance of feelings and how these feelings e.g. of guilt are linked in with conscience
Emphasises importance of taking responsibility for our actions
Understands that conscience is based on more than just reason and can involve intuitions
X What happens if you do not believe in God? Do you not hear the voice?
X Can the voice be ignored? Or will this cause punishment?
X What happens to human freewill if God is constantly telling us what to do?
Theory of mind: Psychoanalysis
Psychodynamics of the mind- specific workings of the mind/ conflicts
Id- pleasure principle
Ego- reality principle
Superego- moral principle- controlling self- imposing rules on the ego. Partly unconscious.
Freud saw conscience as an aspect of the superego
“… observes the ego, gives it orders, judges it and threatens it with punishment, exactly like the parents whose place it has taken” (1933)
How does the superego develop?
Id, ego and superego develop in that order
part of a complex developmental process from birth to maturity
Phallic (3-5/6) (Crucial for development of superego - Oedipus/ Electra complexes occur)
Latency (5/6- puberty)
Sequence is biologically determined but also affected by others: especially parents - nature and nurture
Fixation can occur at any stage
Importance of childhood in moral development
Role of parents
X Ignores later life experiences
X Is conscience/ Morality unconscious – what about freewill – do we not have more control over it?
X People will find this development of conscience hard to believe as it does not fit with our experience of conscience?
X Poor methodology
X No proof of Oedipus/ Electra complexes
X No reference to God…
Most comprehensive theory of intellectual (cognitive) developmental psychology
Proposed a universal series of stages throughout childhood
Moral sense develops alongside other cognitive abilities
Heteronomous morality - (5-9) child looks beyond self for moral authority/ rules must be obeyed/ rules set down by higher authority/ immoral acts punished
Autonomous morality (10+) personal code of conduct develops based on social perceptions/ motive more important and punishments in proportion with actions
Most adults use mixture of two- moving more to autonomous level when less dependent on views of others
Supported by Kohlberg: 6 stages of moral development. From behaving in a socially acceptable way (told to do so by authority/ want approval) to keeping the law, to caring for others and finally to respect for universal principles.
Kohlberg felt most adults don't move past keeping the law
Piaget and Kohlberg believe conscience is developed through social interaction.
Easy to understand and observe through universally applied stages
Allows for development of moral conscience from following authority to becoming in control of own morality.
Influenced by external authority: parents, teachers, church leaders
Apply rules and punishments for breaking them
These rules internalised by person
Disobedience causes guilt = weakens our power = makes us submissive to authority.
E.G Nazi Government
This is called Authoritarian Conscience.
The Humanistic Approach: healthier approach = assesses and evaluates our behaviour
Its our real self
Lead to reach our full potential
Many would support that conscience is developed by authority figures
Looks at humans reaching their full potential – positive application
X Scary thought that our conscience can be manipulated in order to do wrong acts
X What about freewill – are we all brainwashed by authority?
Vincent MacNamara : misleading to call conscience a voice much better to see it as an attitude/ awareness.
Richard Gula : conscience as a series of laws is misleading. Conscience is about : vision and choice. Conscience is seeing then responding through the choices we make.
Timothy O’ Connell : 3 parts of conscience
Obligation to search out good
Judgment to follow what is good.
Daniel Maguire: agrees with O’ Connell also need imagination, humour and tragedy to consider what is the correct moral choice. More than human reason, its shared experience of past, culture and personal experience