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Conscience revision summary

Conscience revision summary

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Conscience revision summary

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  1. Conscience revision summary

  2. Key Words to be happy with • Synderesis rule • Mature conscience (Freud) • Authoritarian conscience (Fromm) • Super-ego • Intuitive conscience (Butler) • Atheistic conscience • Altruism

  3. Key assumption • Conscience is a God-given faculty (Aquinas, Butler). • Conscience is developed from our upbringing (Freud, Piaget, Fromm). • Conscience is a process of reasoning (Aquinas in his second meaning of conscience, conscientia).

  4. Summary diagram

  5. Innate theories: Butler • Conscience is final arbiter in a struggle to include others’ interests. • We are influenced by two principles: self-love and benevolence. • Conscience moves us to focus on others (benevolence) rather than just ourselves. • Conscience is more like an instinct…we don’t need to think deeply about it. • It’s “our natural guide assigned to us by the author of nature”.

  6. Conscience as guilt: Freud • The human psyche has three components: ego, id and superego. • The id represents passions and desires. • The ego is created in childhood as we learn to take account of the world and society. • The super-ego develops as we internalise the disapproval and approval of others, particularly our parents, who give us a sense of shame. • Guilty conscience can grow from this, and become pathological (irrational) eg obsessive compulsive tidying. • The mature conscience is the ego’s reflection on the best ways of achieving integrity (wholeness).

  7. Conscience as reason: Aquinas • Aquinas saw synderesis as a capacity to exercise reason to “do good and avoid evil” and conscientia as “reason making right decisions” or something like practical wisdom or phronesis - a virtue. • Synderesis is an inclination given by God, and phronesis a judgement practised and developed by reason. • So synderesis makes us aware of a moral principle like “thou shalt not kill” and conscientia teaches us how and when to apply it (eg we kill in time of war). • People do evil because they pursue apparent goods believing them to be real goods.

  8. Dawkins: an interesting case • Dawkins believes we have self-promoting genes (the selfish gene) that are programmed for survival. • But…we have also evolved an altruistic (concern for others) gene as part of this survival strategy. • Our ancestors found that co-operation is often more successful than competition (as reflected eg in some ape behaviour today). • He calls this a lust to be nice, and says “we have the capacity to transcend our selfish genes”. • So conscience is biologically programmed into us.

  9. The issues • Where does conscience come from? God, our upbringing or our evolved genes? • Can we disobey our conscience? Is this a process of development, as Freud argues, or our God-given reason exerting itself, as Aquinas thought? • What is guilt? As a feeling, is it our enemy (Freud) or our friend (Butler)? • For Eric Fromm’s theory of authoritarian conscience click on this link: •

  10. Evaluating conscience • Conscience is either friend or enemy: • Friend: guides, prompts, advises (Butler, Aquinas). • Enemy: misleads, orders, causes pain and irrational guilt (Freud, Fromm). • What does it depend on? - God - Reason - Irrational shame feelings - A sense of integrity?