Decent Essays
Thomas Aquinas gave a simple definition of conscience when he called it ‘the faculty of reason making moral judgements’. From this, conscience is simply a rational faculty that enables us to understand right from wrong. The faculty works on the basis of knowledge, first a knowledge of moral principles enshrined in natural law, and ideally a knowledge of diving law as revealed in the Bible. However, Aquinas recognised that conscience is by no means an infallible voice. We can have a mistaken, erroneous or uninformed conscience, and it is a moral obligation in itself to have an informed conscience. Aquinas, like Joseph Butler, believed that we have a capacity to grasp at a basic level the moral principles that should govern the right…show more content…
If Freud is right, conscience is only a temporary restraint that remains tied to our dependence on the superego. Reality, however, shows that conscience is not so easily got rid of and the force of its voice is such that it has to be reckoned with at the moral, not just the emotional level. The breakdown of the relationships that form the superego does not mean the disappearance of moral values. We continue to hear the voice of conscience long after we have outgrown the parental or social values that we originally inherited. Aquinas and Butler would, of course, accept that conscience has an important social dimension, but would see this as following from the fact that human nature is also social. For Aquinas, the social aspect of conscience is one of essential aspects, since the common good is an important ethical consideration. To this extent, both would agree with Freud. However, they would insist that the values sensed by conscience are more profoundly based than by merely socially imposed conventions. For them, conscience is the faculty that alerts us, through nature and reason, to the moral values that shape our moral identity as human beings. If this is the case, Freud’s theory dissolves into superficiality. For J.H. Newman, conscience was more than a socially conditioned response system. Conscience was the voice of reason and nature but it was also the voice of God. Newman held that the insistent force of conscience suggests that there is someone
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