Conscience and Freedom

2001 Q 5 (a) What are the characteristics of conscience? [14]

(b) Comment on the claim that conscience allows people the freedom to behave as they wish. [6]


Characteristics of conscience

  • Inner part of self where concepts of right and wrong are developed.
  • Or the way we judge our moral actions.
  • Joseph Butler: ‘principle of reflection by which [we] distinguish between and disapprove of [our] actions.’
  • The Christian view is of course that conscience comes from God and is an inner law ‘which he [man] has not laid upon himself but must obey.’ 2nd Vatican Council.
  • Kant described it as ‘ought’, a moral imperative.
  • Christians regard it as universal whether a person believes in god or not; it is imperfect as a result of the fall; can be redeemed by Christ and made fit for heaven.
  • It stimulates feelings of guilt and shame.
  • It encourages us to do the right thing because we usually feel better as a result.
  • Helps us work towards the summum bonum but only truly possible if God exists. Kant.


Conscience and Freedom to behave as we like.

  • Essentially we have free-will, the freedom to choose and that includes the ability to make the wrong choices but conscience is that bit of us that judges our actions and is disappointed with us when we fail.
  • Depends on the kind of conscience you’ve got!
  • Kant would say that ‘as they wish’ is the way that God wants us to behave and doing so is the only way we can get real pleasure.
  • The humanistic conscience would argue that since the conscience is the real us and the only way to achieve our full potential is to put into practice moral examples we have learned and applying our personal integrity gives true contentment.
  • Few people have true freedom to behave as they wish, there are always people to be pleased, authorities to exert pressure or apply sanctions.
  • Pavlov discovered a series of psychological determinants which govern our behaviour and our choices.
  • Skinner discovered that there are positive and negative reinforcers that also affect us so we are never really free.


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