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athgarvan

IS ONE'S CONSCIENCE ALWAYS ONE'S PROPER GUIDE?

I'm reflecting again! Many people today, it seems, speak of the primacy of conscience and the right to follow one’s conscience, when what they’re really arguing for, isn’t conscience as understood in the natural law tradition but in terms of a noble-sounding excuse for moral relativism. Once a person invokes the word “conscience,” we’re all expected to fall silent, and neither criticize nor question a person’s moral actions (or inactions).

This is a poor view of conscience. It reduces "morality" to one's personal feelings about this or that moral action or issue. It ignores the absolute obligation to do good and avoid evil, and some actions are,  by the their very nature, good or evil.
The work of conscience is to judge whether actions are good or evil. Some people follow the prevalent, distorted, view of conscience claiming that actions don’t have true moral qualities, but are only good or evil when I name them to be good or evil. But that’s not the proper work of conscience.

I must recognize the truly good as good and the truly evil as evil. “I’m following my conscience" as the basis of morality, is really no morality. The appeal to conscience, and the insistence on following one’s conscience, only make sense if we can know with assurance the true moral qualities of actions and can live our obligation to do what we know is good and to avoid what we know is evil.

Of course there are legitimately moral areas about which honourable people may disagree. There is a right to follow one’s conscience if we equally insist on our duty to have a well-formed conscience. At a minimum, that duty will include informing ourselves about ethical norms, acting according to it, and taking responsibility for our actions.

Comments

I wonder if it would change if more people of what the word conscience literally means.
A properly formed conscience is a proper guide.
But what do I mean by a 'properly formed conscious'?
Depends. The relations of conscious and conscience are complex. C.S. Lewis dedicated a chapter to them in Studies In Words.
I'm tempted to throw a curveball into this discussion.

I have been taking a number of courses recently in the biology of the brain and I have discovered that most of what governs our thoughts and actions originate from unconscious signals sent by our brains to our glands producing little bursts of hormones, as well as triggering neurotransmitter production.

Our brains evolved to equip us to live in a dangerous world where daily survival was not a given. The fact that we live in a completely different world than that does not change the fact that our DNA and our brains will still respond in certain ways designed to enhance our ability to survive (to procreate essentially).

When you layer that notion on top of the idea that the concepts of "good" and "evil" are very fluid and very much determined by situation or context. A person could be viewed historically as the very incarnation of evil, but may possibly have been seen as a great citizen or loyal subject in the immediate moment.

You raise a fascinating issue, but one which I cannot begin to do justice to given my current degree of exhaustion. Cheers.

Edited at 2017-05-19 06:01 (UTC)
I'm afraid you have lost me when you delve into the "biology of the brain". But I would still contest that some actions are,  by the their very nature, good or evil. Our whole judicial system is built on this.