Conscience – the unseen force

My worksheet for revision on the topic of conscience isolates 3 different approaches to the origin and understanding of conscience.
1. The God Squad
2. The Shrinks
3. The Holistic People

1. The God Squad
It is assumed from New Testament times that conscience is one of the ways in which God seeks to guide the individual.
St Paul in his letter to the Romans discusses at length those who fulfil God’s wishes because they carry the law in their hearts. He saw conscience as an internal decision to follow God’s law despite the fact that the individual was not an adherent of the law of Judaism.
The Intuitionist approach
Augustine of Hippo 354-430 believed conscience was God’s voice speaking to the individual. In this he was followed by Cardinal John Henry Newman 1801-1890 who thought of conscience as the “messenger of God”.
Although Joseph Butler’s 1692-1752 ideas were more developed he also supported an intuitionist approach to conscience.
Conscience for Butler had its own self-authenticating authority. It would exert itself on the individual spontaneously and had the final say in moral decision-making. For Butler conscience was the highest form of internal authority.

Rationalism
Aquinas 1225-1274 For Aquinas conscience was the natural ability to understand the difference between right and wrong.
Synderesis – an innate sense of goodness in all people – the desire to do what is right.
Conscientia – the more practical decision-making process leading to a course of action whereby a person acts ethically.
For Aquinas the whole business of conscience is limited with the ability of the individual to use his or her reason.

2. The Shrinks
Sigmund Freud 1856-1939 Here you need to be familiar with Freud’s concept of the human personality
The id – the basic animal instinct, desires. fantasy that we all possess, but which remains largely hidden from the world.
Super-ego – the restraint first placed on us by parents to combat the potential unruly desires of the id, but taken over by our own self-restraint, sense of respect, responsibility, decency and inhibitions.
Ego – That conscious self we present to the world.
For Freud there is no such thing as a conscience. It is the name we give to those controls on human behaviour and our response of shame, embarrassment or guilt we feel when we have transgressed the imposed rules.
Piaget 1896-1960 and Kohlberg 1927-1987
Both Piaget and Kohlberg have drawn attention to the fact that a child’s conscience is subject to development.
Piaget spoke of 2 stages of moral development – Heteronomous Morality and Autonomous Morality.
Kohlberg identified 6 stages of moral development.
The social element
Fromm 1900-1980
Fromm’s thinking shows two different views of conscience. His views changed over the years.
a) Authoritarian conscience. The conscience is affected by those in authority eg church or state. They can create or banish guilt by their policies.
b) Humanistic conscience – a self-examination of behaviour leading to the creation and maintaining of personal integrity.

3. The Holistic People
These represent the latest investigations into the role of conscience mainly by Roman Catholic scholars.
Vincent Macnamara He believes that conscience is not just a voice, but represents a person’s attitude or awareness of the existence of a sense of right and wrong. Conscience is a moire holistic interpretation of our entire personality.
 Richard Gula – argues that conscience represents our sense of vision or our choices and the way in which we interact with the moral decisions of the community and the church.
Timothy O’Connell He has a sort of triple decker approach to conscience.
1. A general sense of personal responsibility.
2 A sense of obligation to search out the good.
3. Personal judgements and decisions and the carrying out of them.
It is in the third section that O’Connell claims the human conscience is infallible.
Daniel Maguire – has similar views to O’Connell, but he feels there are certain human traits and events which help to shape our personality. Both O’Connell and Maguire feel that conscience is based on reason, but it is subject to or is regulated by cultural and personal experiences as well as human disposition.

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