Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 C - Conscience


Conscience: A person's sense of values, that may help the person to do the morally or ethically approved or good thing in some group or society.

Since a conscience, as defined, is part of a person's consciousness, and that person indeed may lie about the values he holds in fact and works for (as salesmen invariably pretend to serve your interests, in order to serve their own), it often is not at all clear what a person really thinks, morally speaking: See 
Moral norms - features of.

Then again, most adult persons have some sort of conscience, and indeed cannot function in human society without at least acting according to its dominant norms of behavior, whether they approve or not.

And a complicating factor is that the strength and content of individual consciences differ considerably, while some persons - often known as psychopaths, though this also tends to involve further characteristics - have no conscience at all, and feel very little empathy with others. This also allows them to rise high in any society, group or institution, if they are tolerably intelligent: They are capable of many things others tend not to do.

Finally, it should be pointed out that much that seems or feels inspired by one's own conscience is in fact mostly or wholly inspired by the knowledge that one is being watched, and will get into difficulties if those watching one disapprove of what one does. Then again, there are persons who are capable of great heroism through being a conscientious human being, who keeps trying to do what he thinks is the right thing, also in the face of strong opposition.

See also: Moral norms - features of


Gregory, Hilgard & Atkinson

 Original: Jul 14, 2004                                                Last edited:14 December 2012.   Top