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Descriptions of Conscience

Conscience is the proximate and subjective rule of morality. Conscience is from the latin compound word cum scientia meaning accompanying knowledge.

Conscience is the name given to the inner sense by which people recognize right and wrong.
Moreover, conscience can make mistakes; it can also be too carelessly consulted.

St. Augustine
He taught that God had given us conscience as a direct way of knowing the moral law.

St. Thomas of Aquinas

He argued for conscience as the power of reason, God given and exercised by people
Bishop Joseph Butler He saw human nature as constituting a hierarchy with conscience at its peak.

Self-love and benevolence had an intermediate position as important but lesser principles; while at the bottom of the hierarchy came the particular passions and appetites.

Conscience and self-love, if we understand our true happiness, always lead us the same way. Duty and interest are perfectly coincident.

A. Definition Conscience is the practical judgment of reason upon an individual act as good and to be performed, or as evil and to be avoided. i. It is a judgment of reason , that is, it is a reasoned conclusion. - an act of reasoning requires a principle or set of principles, from which the process of reasoning proceeds. - Moral principles

- Synderesis is the starting point of the reasoning process which ends in the judgment of conscience.
ii. Conscience is a practical judgment.

- This means that it has reference to something to be done, i. e., either the performance or the omission of an act. - The reasoning process always ends in a judgment, but not always in a practical judgment. - Speculative judgment is an addition of a newly recognized truth. - Practical judgment is a judgment that commands, forbids, allows, or advises, according as it declares an individual act obligatory, prohibited, permissible, or prudent.

iii. Conscience is a judgment upon an individual act.


- It applies the general moral principle in individual action.

- Before action, conscience judges an act as good and to be performed (i.e., as something obligatory, advisable, or permissible), or as evil and to be omitted.

- After action, conscience is a judgment of approval or disapproval.

B. States of Conscience i. a. Correct or true- when it judges as good that which is really good, and as evil that which is really evil. - When it is not true it is erroneous.
b. Conscience that is erroneous without the knowledge or fault of the agent, is called invincibly erroneous or inculpably erroneous. - Conscience that is erroneous through the agents fault, is culpably erroneous.

ii. a. Certain conscience- when conscience is an altogether firm and assured judgment, in which the agent has no fear whatever of being in error. b. Doubtful or dubious conscience- conscience that is not certain, that is hesitant, that is a judgment in which the agent is aware of possibility of error.
- If the doubt concerns the existence or applicability of a law or moral principle, it is called speculative. - But if the doubt concerns the lawfulness of an individual act to be performed or omitted, it is a practical doubt. - When conscience is doubtful, but grounded upon solid reasons, it is called probable conscience, and the agent is said to have a probable opinion.

- When conscience is doubtful, but grounded upon solid reasons, it is called probable conscience, and the agent is said to have a probable opinion.

C. Principles guiding Conscience


For the exercise of the prudential judgment of conscience, i.e., the application of the law (universal) to the individual human act (particular) taking into account the actual circumstances, the following principles can be stated:

1) Only the true and certain conscience is the right proximate rule of morality. If the conscience is erroneous and one realizes it, or one suspects that it is erroneous, one cannot follow it.

2) Man has the obligation, therefore, to make sure that his conscience is true, i.e. sufficiently formed and informed, educated, in agreement with reality. The means to achieve this are: religious and moral formation, the seeking of advice, prayerful meditation, upright intention, habitual examination of conscience, sincerity, humility.

3) Man has the obligation to follow not only his true conscience, but also his erroneous conscience if it is invincibly erroneous, i.e. if it is practically impossible for him to avoid the erroneous judgment: not of course if there is the slightest doubt or suspicion about it, in which case one cannot act until the truth has been clearly established, both about the law and about the facts. 4) It is not right to follow a culpably erroneous conscience or a doubtful conscience, if the doubt is based on serious reasons.

5) Doubts can be resolved by means of sincerity, upright intention, the desire to seek the Will of God in everything, and a sense of responsibility in consulting the right person, choosing what is safer, etc.

D. Conclusion

Thus, conscience is not a matter of feeling, but a judgment by the intelligence bearing on an individual human act and in the light of the principles and precepts of the moral law. It is a descent of the mind from the universal law to the particular case.

References: Christian Philosophy by Joseph M. De Torre Ethics by Rev. Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, PhD, STD www. Google.com