Critical Examination of Conscience When I hear the word “conscience” the first scenario that comes to mind is a guilty looking child standing next to a broken vase. Mom told the little boy that playing baseball in the house is not allowed, but he did not listen to her and proceeded to run around throwing his baseball throughout the house. A shatter could be heard coming from the living room. The boy’s stomach is in knots and his palms are sweaty. He knows what he did was wrong, and he feels horrible.
This scene is an example of how conscience works, but it does not fully explain exactly how or why we feel the way we do. There are a few things that I am going to examine and try to answer about this complex concept. First, we should try to define conscience. Can it be clearly defined? Next, I will examine what factors shape our consciences. Last, I will examine whether it would be Justifiable to criticize other people’s consciences, whether we are always responsible for the actions caused by conscience and if following our consciences can ever go wrong.
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I studied and examined the works of E. W. A. Koehler and Vincent Ruggeri. They both wrote on the topic of conscience, and while they had different viewpoints, I found their opinions to e very helpful to better understand the concept of conscience. To be able to critically examine the idea of conscience, it is important to first understand and define what conscience is. The word “conscience” comes from the Latin word “Conscientious” meaning knowing, or knowledge. Ruggeri believes that the word “conscience” is so often misused and overused that it has little meaning anymore.
It could be compared to the usage of the word “literally. ” The word “literally’ is so often overused and misused that the true definition has become blurry to many. Just one example of how the word literally has been misused: “l eternally died when I saw the grade I got on my Ethics paper! ” If the word was used correctly, then one will have to start planning a funeral for the unfortunate Ethics student. According to the Modern Eclectic Dictionary, conscience “signifies knowledge along with-but whether with a thing or a person or a being, it is difficult to determine” (Koehler, 1).
Webster definition of conscience is “knowledge of sensations and mental operations; what passes in one’s mind” (Koehler, 1). Young Analytical Concordance defines conscience as “knowing oneself,” knowledge of obtaining knowledge or being aware of the knowledge that I have. Legal- dictionary. Com defines conscience the following way: “The moral sense, or that capacity of our mental constitution, by which we irresistibly feel the difference between right and wrong. ” Ruggeri believes that the closest thing to a good definition of conscience is to say that it “is a special sense, a moral sense, that is innate in human beings. (Ruggeri, 36) These definitions are all very well but they do not delve deeply into the true meaning of conscience. What I took away from these definitions is that conscience is having an awareness of what is right and wrong. It is important to understand this simple concept of conscience before trying to Now that the general definition of conscience is understood, it is time to examine the inner parts of conscience. Obviously we as individual human beings have the choice whether or not to follow what we believe is right and wrong, but why do we feel the need to follow our consciences?
What is the core reasons for listening to one’s conscience? Does it have something to do with the idea of Gages’ Ring and only acting in a respectable and responsible manner when you know others are watching you? Or would we act differently if we knew others were not watching us? I think that there is a conscience in us to follow what the law tells us to do because that is our duty and obligation as citizens. Even if we knew that no one was watching us, I believe that people would do the right thing Just because that is what they were taught and what they know to do.
Religion also brings an aspect of conscience into our lives. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as a guide to what we ought to do. It is similar to civil law, and God commands that we follow both. It is helpful to have that guide as to what is right and wrong and what is expected of us. However, loud our conscience not bother us if there wasn’t these rules or guidelines to follow? Logically, it would make sense that without a law, our consciences wouldn’t exist. However, in the Bible, there is proof of it being otherwise. SST.
Paul writes in Romans 2:14-15: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. ” These two short verses tells us that a universal law is not needed in order for our conscience to function. God’s Law is written in the hearts of everyone and is something that all are born with.
Koehler views conscience as a gift from God that is not equal in all people, but that the primary function of a conscience is the same in all people. It acts as a logical and moral guide for us. There would be little morality without the presence of our consciences. What I mean when I say that consciences are “not equal in all people” is that people have different morals and opinions. Culture, religion, and upbringing can eave a huge impact on how our consciences are shaped. The idea of relativism is a good example of how culture impacts our consciences.
Ruggeri gives the example of how cultures differ in what they view as right and wrong. What would seem to be “wrong” in our culture may be a cultural norm in a different culture. For example, in the United States, it is widely known that marriage is a union between two people, and polygamy is considered unethical. However, in Siberia, women view it as being selfish and undesirable if they don’t share their husband with other women (Ruggeri, 50). It may be hard to tell the people of Siberia hat they are wrong, because that is what their culture practices, so they do not feel like they are doing wrong in their consciences.
Whether it is actually right or wrong is a completely different matter, but the main thing to understand about different cultures is that they have different viewpoints on things and they practice traditions that differ from ours so their consciences will not always bother them when they may bother us. Ten Commandments act as the Law that is written inside our hearts. Some people believe that religion does not have an impact on how our consciences are shaped, but I believe that it does. It is not the only thing that shapes our consciences, but it is influential in our decision making.
Without any knowledge of the law, spiritual or otherwise, what would be the base of our consciences? Therefore, conscience does need a guideline determining between what is right and wrong. Our upbringing and society also has a great impact on our consciences. Parent’s or guardians have a huge impact on us, especially in our early years. They teach us the difference between right and wrong and what is acceptable behavior. Not only are the actions of our friends and family members influential, but their reactions also eave an impact on us. For example, if you see your mother run a red light, you may be conflicted as to what is right or wrong.
The law tells you that it is wrong to run a red light, but if your mother runs one, you may believe that it is okay. There is that internal struggle with yourself when trying to distinguish between right and wrong and it can be especially difficult when you have two conflicting situations. If I were to cheat on a test or quiz for a class, how my parent’s react would affect how my conscience would feel. If they said: “Well, I understand why you did that, it’s impossible to get good grades these days, and with the amount of money you’re spending on school, you can’t afford a bad grade! I would feel like my cheating was justifiable and that maybe it wasn’t wrong because my parent’s felt it wasn’t. However, if they were to be disappointed in me and say that they can’t control my actions, but what I did was not what they would have expected me to do, my conscience would make me feel bad. Not because I was caught, but because my parent’s felt a disappointment and that there is a reason for that disappointment. Society has a huge impact on our actions, also. With the advancements of technology, e are always connected to what everyone is doing and where they are.
Celebrities are set under the microscope for all to observe and Judge. Magazines, books, music, and television all have huge impacts on swaying our consciences whether we are aware of it or not. Are we Justified in Judging other people’s consciences? That is a tricky question because what our consciences tells us is such a personal thing and differs from person to person. The main function of a conscience is the same in all people, but what our consciences tell each of us is an individual thing, and can differ greatly from one to another.
So in short, I do not think it would be fair to Judge other people’s consciences, because that is not our Job and it would be hypocritical of us to Judge when we ourselves do not have perfect consciences. However, there are instances where a Judgment made by our consciences may be wrong and goes against morals and laws. Can following our conscience ever be wrong? Of course, it can be. We are all humans and we do not always know the right things to do. However, that does not mean that our consciences are useless. I believe that our conscience is a tool that God has given us to act as a monitor in making decisions.
It is not a good idea to follow our consciences blindly. It can be risky to ignore our consciences, but it is possible our consciences can be misguided. The best situation would be to take the believes that conscience is not Just a intellectual knowledge of the law, but a primary function of man. It can be compared to a Judge in court: it upholds the law, applies it to any offenses, and then announces a sentence. The difference between knowledge and conscience is that knowledge can always be forgotten, but our conscience cannot. In conclusion, the conscience is a very powerful tool that is often overlooked or misunderstood.
It is not easily defined. It is difficult to know what it is. It may be easier to understand how it works. We know that our conscience is working when we feel a sense of guilt. Guilt may feel bad at the time, but it may actually be a good thing for it signals to us that our conscience is working. Our consciences can become dulled and we can learn to tune it out, but we pray we never fully lose the function of our consciences. The term “conscience” may be hard to define, and there are many factors that shape our consciences. The idea of a conscience can be a personal thing, and it may be hard to Judge others’ consciences.
I believe that the conscience is not an infallible moral guide. However, though imperfect, I believe that it is the best guide that a human has to determine right and wrong when used in conjunction with God’s revealed Word-the Bible. Works Cited Ruggeri, Vincent Ryan. Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues. 6th Deed. New York : McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2004. 224. Print. Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers. 6th Deed. Boston: Bedford/SST. Martin’s , 2009. 615. Print. Koehler, E. W. A. “Conscience . ” 1941: 3. Print. “Conscience Legal Definition. ” legal-dictionary. Defenestration. Com. Farley. Web. 22 Par 2013..