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The nature and role of the conscience

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  1. The nature and role of the conscience Candidates should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of: • The different views of the conscience as God- given, innate or the voice of reason or instilled by society, parents, authority figures; • Whether conscience is a reliable guide to ethical decision-making; • The views of Augustine, Aquinas, Butler, Newman, Freud, Fromm, Piaget. Candidates should be able to discuss these views critically and their strengths and weaknesses.

  2. Evaluate the claim that conscience is the voice of God. (35 marks) AO1 (21 marks) Candidates are likely to show knowledge and understanding of the views of a range of scholars, as always candidates who can address these views specifically to the question will achieve higher levels. Responses may include explanation of the views of scholars such as Aquinas, Butler and Newman and may connect these views with the concept of innateness, in order to defend the proposition in the question. Candidates may also explain the influence of sociologists such as Freud, Fromm, Piaget and Kohlberg to argue against the statement. Good responses may question the concept of ‘conscience’, and argue that there is no substance to it.

  3. Evaluate the claim that conscience is the voice of God. (35 marks) AO2 (14 marks) The proposition in the question can be argued either way and as always the conclusion reached by candidates is less important than the quality of their discussion. Some candidates may argue that the conscience is God-given, but not infallible and requires training. Others may argue that the conscience is related to revelation and the idea of ‘synderesis’ may be introduced to defend the case that is a divine voice.

  4. Assess the view that conscience need not always be obeyed. [35] AO1 Candidates could assess the tensions between individual conscience and moral absolutes, religious teaching or laws, and consider whether it is always necessary to follow conscience. Candidates could explain the different approaches to conscience eg Aquinas, Butler and Newman as opposed to Freud, Fromm and Piaget. They could examine how each scholar argues for the need – or not – to obey conscience or the reasons for following it. AO2 Analysis could compare and contrast the different reasons for following or ignoring conscience. Candidates could look at the reliability of conscience and factors that undermine it: a conscience formed by ignorance, erroneous ideas, parents or authority. They could examine the possibility of a developing conscience and the influence of guilt. They may also assess the possibility that conscience could be used to justify any actions (Aquinas’ idea of apparent goods), or that people when faced with a moral dilemma will use conscience to justify different courses of action.