Conscience, in modern usage, term denoting various factors in moral experience. Thus, the recognition and acceptance of a principle of conduct as binding is called conscience. In theology and ethics, the term refers to the inner sense of right and wrong in moral choices, as well as to the satisfaction that follows action regarded as right and the dissatisfaction and remorse resulting from conduct that is considered wrong. In earlier ethical theories, conscience was regarded as a separate faculty of the mind having moral jurisdiction, either absolute or as a representative of God in the human soul.
In the Hebrew scriptures there is little
In the Hebrew scriptures there is little theoretical interest in the conscience. God scrutinizes the human heart (Psalm 139:23-24), but it is fear of Godnot self-knowledgethat is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). In the classical world, the notion of conscience first appeared in the works of Greek philosopher Democritus, an older contemporary of Plato. Democritus used the Greek word "suneidesis" to refer to consciousness of wrongdoing. Roman philosopher Cicero translated "suneidesis" as "conscientia," from which the English "conscience" is derived. According to Cicero, "conscientia" is an inner voice that speaks with greater authority than any form of public approval. In his work "Tusculan Disputations," he used the metaphor of a bite (Latin "remorsus," from which the English "remorse" is derived) to describe the feeling aroused by a troubled conscience.
Saint Paul referred to conscience as the
Saint Paul referred to conscience as the law written on the human heart (Romans 2:15; "see "Saint Paul). For Paul, the scrupulous conscience brings not only illumination but also agony: It relentlessly exposes the inner battle that human beings must wage against their own impulses (Romans 7:15-20). The Fathers of the Churchand Saint Augustine in particularmaintained Paul`s view that conscience is an inner witness to divine law and that it is common to all human beings.
According to theologians of the Middle
According to theologians of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), the conscience is divided into two parts. "Synderesis" (probably a misreading of "suneidesis") is the faculty in human beings that knows God`s moral law; this faculty remained unaffected by the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. "Conscientia" is the faculty by which human beings apply the moral to concrete cases; it dictates what should or should not be done under particular circumstances. Whereas "synderesis" cannot err, "conscientia" is fallible, but according to Italian theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas, even erroneous dictates of conscience are binding and must be followed even if they contradict the orders of a superior. At the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215, it was decreed that all Christians must make confession and receive the Sacrament once a year, a practice known as the tribunal of conscience.
In the view of the Protestant reformers
In the view of the Protestant reformers of the 16th century, the conscience had been oppressed under the Roman Catholic system during the medieval period. German theologian Martin Luther, for example, identified strongly with the sense of anguish described by Saint Paul and Saint Augustine over every action and impulse. The reformers rejected the notion of trying to please God through actions, or works, thereby rejecting the tribunal of conscience. In their view, Christians are liberated by divine grace and are given a clean conscience by God; they are in a position to gain subjective certainty of their spiritual condition by reading the Bible. In place of the medieval notion that conscience was a faculty of which a person could have more or less, the Protestant reformers tended to view the conscience as a psychological organ, infallible and inviolate. These views were upheld by French philosophers Rene Descartes and Michel de Montaigne.
Whereas 18th-century philosophers Jean
Whereas 18th-century philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant believed that the conscience could provide a basis for deliberate, autonomous moral action, in the 19th century conscience was widely disparaged. In his work Annotations to Watson, English poet William Blake wrote that Conscience in those that have it is unequivocal. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe portrayed his character Faust as laboring to purge himself of conscience. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche held that conscience merely imitates pre-existing values. In the works of Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard and Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, conscience is obsessively inward and leads to deep despair.