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Conscience and Moral Knowing. Conscience is:. O ne’s best judgment as to what in the circumstances is the morally right thing to do. . As such, it is not a feeling. Feelings are not judgments and can be very misleading .

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Conscience is:

One’s best judgment as to what in the circumstances is the morally right thing to do.


As such, it is not

  • a feeling. Feelings are not judgments and can be very misleading.
  • Nor is it a decision. A decision involves deliberation and is an act of the will.

Conscience is in the intellect, as the word indicates (con science: from the Latin ‘scire’, to know).

It is a judgment, but also one’s best judgment, not about what is expedient, or what will create the conditions that will maximize my comfort level. Rather, it is one’s best judgment on what is the morally right thing to do.


Moral: from the Latin mores: character. Moral Identity: the kind of person one is or has made oneself to be.

Morality is not about choices that promise to bring about an external state of affairs most conducive to the quality of life one desires for oneself or others. 


Rather, it is about the making of character. 

We determine our character, our moral identity (the kind of person that we are), by the free choices that we make, and our very destiny is determined by the kind of persons we’ve made ourselves to be.

Your character is more intimately yours than anything else you may have.

character vs personality
Character vs. Personality

Character is not the same as personality. You can have a great personality, but depraved character, like serial killer Ted Bundy on the left.

You can also have a grumpy, or bland personality, but saintly character.

Much of our personality is determined, either inherited or environmental.

But character is entirely ours.

choice the relationship between what i choose and what i am doing being
Choice(the relationship between what I choose and what I am)doing & being

I choose to lie I become a liar

(even a nice liar)

I choose to stealI become a thief

(even a nice thief)

I choose to kill I become a killer

(even a nice killer)

I choose to gossipI become a gossip

(yes, even a nice gossip)


Man is an artist who sculpts his own moral identity, the kind of person he is or is becoming. By my own choice, I become either a good person, orientated towards God, who is the Supreme Good, or an evil person, disorientated with respect to the Supreme Good.

  • Conscience: Another word for prudence (the mother of the virtues).
  • the virtue which rightly directs particular human actstoward a good end (thus, one has to “know” what is man’s ultimate end or purpose). Hence, practical knowledge is founded upon the speculative, i.e., metaphysics, the philosophy of human nature, etc.

Prudence is the application of general or universal principles to particular situations. Because that is the case, one must know the most general principles of the natural moral law.


Civil law

There are different kinds of law

Natural law

Canon law

Divine law


Civil law

Civil law is founded upon natural law

Natural law

Natural law is a participation in divine law, but is naturally known

Church law is rooted in an understanding of divine law and the historical situation of the Church.

Canon law

Divine law

divine law
Divine Law

Divine Law is that which is enacted by God and made known to man through revelation. We distinguish between the Old Law, contained in the Pentateuch, and the New Law, which was revealed by Jesus Christ and is contained in the New Testament.

canon law
Canon Law

Canon law (Church law) is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members.

It comes from Christ, who said to Peter: “Receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven: what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven” (Mt 16, 18)

civil law
Civil Law

Civil law: man made law. Can be just or unjust, depending upon how it squares with natural law. I.e., one must be 18 in order to vote, 19 in order to drink, one must drive on the right side of the road, etc.

natural law
Natural Law

Cicero writes of the natural law: “Natural law is right reason in agreement with is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting.... we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and for all times, and there will be one master and one rule, that is, God, over us all, for He is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge.”

civil and natural law
Civil and Natural Law

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:“Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. …”


Prudence (conscience) is the application of general or universal principles to particular situations. Because that is the case, one must know the most general principles of the natural moral law.

general conscience
General Conscience

A natural understanding of the basic and most general precepts of Natural Law.

Good is to be done, evil is to be avoided.

We have a natural knowledge of this first principle because we have a naturalknowledge of the goods to which we are inclinedand a rational ability to draw out their basic implications.


Human Life– I know from within (I know that I know) that I have a natural inclination to preserve my life. I know that I am also inclined to beget life. If I know that I desire an end (life), I know it as a good (since the good is the object of desire).


I know that I know and that I desire to know. The human person has a desire to contemplate. Man has a natural sense of wonder. Human beings ask questions, seek answers, wonder about the causes of things. Man is a knower.


Beautiful Works of Art

Man is inclined to behold the beautiful. Beauty captivates us, whether it is beautiful music, a beautiful sunset, a beautiful painting, a beautiful face, or a beautiful life.


Man is a maker. He loves to produce or make things. He likes to build, to play (games/sports), to create, to recreate, simply for its own sake. Making and play are intrinsically good.



We are inclined to establish relationships on the basis of common qualities and common interests.



Man is inclined to marry, to give himself completely to another, to belong to another exclusively and permanently in one flesh union that is open to the begetting of new life. 


The Common Good of the Civil Community

Man is a social and political animal. He enters into relationship not only with friends and family, but with the civil community as a whole.



Man is inclined to seek integration within himself, an integration of the complex elements of himself, to bring about a more intense unity within himself, namely 1) an integration between truth and his acts,2) his actions and his character, as well as 3) his will and his emotions. 


Man aspires after what is higher than him because he is aware of his thirst, among other things.  He beholds his own finitude and the finitude of creation.  He aspires to what is beyond the temporal to the eternal.









How We Naturally Know The General Precepts of Natural Law

I have a natural knowledge of the good (life, truth, play, beauty, friendships, the common good, integrity, marriage, religion).

I see my life as a good (since goods are

aspects of myself)

I see others as another me (I am a human kind of being, and I apprehend that

the other is of the same nature as me).

So I naturally know that harming others is bad, contrary to the good.


The Most General Precepts of Natural Law

I know that I am essentially the same kind of being as other human persons

(essentially equal)

I naturally know that what I would not like done to me, the other would not like that same thing being done to him/her. I.e., deceived, alienated, slapped, etc.

I naturally know that I ought not to do to another what I would not want done to me (golden rule). Or, do unto others what you would have them do unto you.


I also know that I learn, that I have been mistaken in the past

Hence, I know that truth is something larger than me

That I am not the measure of what is true and good (I am limited)

Hence, I naturally know that I ought to seek the truth, that is, seek to know what is truly good, that is, whether my judgments are in accord with the truth or not.

I may choose to ignore this demand for the sake of a more comfortable existence. If I do so, I know I am responsible for it.


The Secondary Precepts of Natural Law

Do not harm others: one ought not to do anything that harms the common good.

Do not do to others what you yourself would not like done to you.

I ought to seek the truth of what is right and wrong and not make myself the measure of what is true and good.


If I know that God is the First Cause of all that is, and of all that is good, then in gratitude (justice) I ought to love God above all things.

  • If I know that I ought to pursue truth and the good and that my own integrity is intelligibly good, then I ought to see to know the demands of reason, and seek to order my life and emotions in accordance with those demands.
  • If I know that the common good of the civil community is a good, then I ought to choose in a way that promotes the common good and avoid choices that harm the common good.
  • One ought not to harm others.
  • One should not attack, destroy, or impede what is humanly and intelligibly good for the sake of another basic intelligible human good.
  • I ought to respect what rightfully belongs to another (external goods, i.e., property). I.e., I ought not to steal.
  • Human persons ought not to be treated as a means to an end.

One ought not to act individualistically for human goods, but in community with others when doing so would better instantiate human goods.

  • One ought not to act merely on the basis of passion (fear, desire, anger, sorrow, despair, repugnance, sensual satisfaction, daring, or the emotion of hope), but rather for the sake of rationally motivated human goods.

Although we know the most general precepts of natural law, we do not naturally know the more specific precepts of natural law and how they apply in concrete situations.

This involves effort, study, human reason, experience, foresight, and understanding of human nature, a more intense study of natural law, etc.

Conscience must be formed.

erroneous conscience
Erroneous Conscience

Since conscience is one’s best judgment about what is the morally right thing to do, here and now, one is obligated to follow it, even if it is erroneous.

One’s conscience may be erroneous through no fault of one’s own. I.e., “I did not know In Vitro was wrong. No one told me, and I thought I had a duty to have children. I saw that as the only option and thought it would be sinful not to pursue it.”


It may be erroneous through neglect, a free decision not to pursue the truth, for fear of what one may discover.

particular conscience integral parts of prudence
Particular ConscienceIntegral Parts of Prudence


Understanding of first principles



Discursive Reasoning




integral parts of prudence memory
Integral Parts of Prudence Memory

“There are none so blind as those who will not see”

I may choose to forget the evidence that presents itself to me about this man who appears to be my friend. I choose not to ponder the clues and what they could mean, for fear of what I might discover.

Memory describes the ability to learn from experience. An imprudent man may have a good memory for facts, but not for experience, because he chooses to forget what he does not want to remember.

integral parts of prudence understanding of first principles synderesis
Integral Parts of PrudenceUnderstanding of first principlesSynderesis

Intellectual knowledge Rational appetite

(knowledge of things intelligible)(intelligible goods)

  • Life
  • Truth
  • Leisure
  • Sociability
  • Religion
  • Marriage
  • Integrity

Naturally inclined to these human and intelligible goods

integral parts of prudence docility
Integral Parts of PrudenceDocility

The recognition of one’s finitude and need for advice.

The ability to learn from others, to seek out and accept their advice.

An open-mindedness

integral parts of prudence shrewdness solertia
Integral Parts of PrudenceShrewdnesssolertia

Clear-sighted objectivity in unexpected circumstances

The ability to quickly size up a situation


integral parts of prudence discursive reasoning
Integral Parts of PrudenceDiscursive Reasoning

The ability to research and compare alternative possibilities and to reason well from premises to conclusions in practical matters.

integral parts of prudence foresight
Integral Parts of PrudenceForesight

The capacity to estimate whether a particular action will lead to the realization of our goal

integral parts of prudence circumspection
Integral Parts of PrudenceCircumspection

The ability to take all relevant circumstances into account, since otherwise what seems to be a good end and a good means can be vitiated by factors that have not been considered.

integral parts of prudence caution
Integral Parts of PrudenceCaution

Care to avoid, when choosing good means to a good end--or at leastanticipate-- those evils that will likely result from a good act that we contemplate doing. So it is by caution that we take steps, if necessary, to avoid such evils. So to be cautious is to be on the lookout especially for the bad consequences of a contemplated action

potential parts of prudence
Potential Parts of Prudence

Eubulia – the perfection by which we rightly deliberate about available means that will lead to a desired good end.

Synesis – good common sense in making judgments about what to do and what not to do in ordinary matters.

Gnome – the virtue by which a person, seeking to preserve the spirit of what is just, judges it right to perform an action not required strictly by the letter of the law. Belonging to a good judge when dealing with problems not wholly covered by the law.

Counsel – inquiring into the means and circumstances.

Practical Judgment – an assent to good and suitable means.

Command – the direct application of the counseling and judging of action.

The principal act of prudence

vices contrary to prudence
Vices contrary to prudence

Impetuosity: the vice of acting too quickly – failure to consider adequately the available means.

Thoughtlessness: a defect of practical judgment – opposed to synesis and gnome

Inconstancy: (wavering) – failure to complete a moral act by refusing to command that an act be done (giving way to inordinate pleasure).

Negligence: a defect on the part of the intellect to direct the will in carrying out some good action.

Contrary to command

false prudence prudence of the flesh
False PrudencePrudence of the Flesh

The vice by which one is excessively concerned about the good of the body or sensual pleasure.

false prudence
False Prudence

Excessive thought and concern about attaining various objects of desire, or excessive solicitude about attaining power, position, wealth, fame.


Three former NatWest bankers. Gary Mulgrew, Giles Darby and David Bermingham - have each been accused of seven counts of "wire fraud" by US authorities. They all worked for Greenwich Natwest, the bank\'s capital markets division, at the time of the alleged fraud four years ago.

Cunning: the intellectual disposition by which one is able to employ improper means to attain a desired end.