There are many aspects of the world we live in today that prevent from doing morally wrong actions such as fines, disownment, religious teachings and prison but possible the strongest of them all is our conscience. Conscience is the final decision maker. In which it is able to distinguish between approval disproval of our own actions. The dictionary provides two main definitions on conscience a sense of right and wrong and the other simply a feeling of guilt, these both governs a person's thought and actions. There are two main types of conscience, which reflects on a person behaviour.
Judicial Conscience, which is critically assessing and evaluating one's past actions and Legislative Conscience which is deciding what needs to be done in the future. However, conscience is not as simply as choosing the good angel over the devil sitting on opposite ends of the shoulders. As sometimes we have ignore the good angel. Joseph Butler was an Anglican priest and theologian. He saw conscience as the final moral decision-maker. For example when someone sees someone getting assaulted it would be our conscience that make sure we intervene in the final decision.
Butler believed that humans were influenced by two basic principles, self-love and benevolence Conscience directs us towards focusing on the happiness or interest of others and away from focusing on ourselves. Like Aquinas, Butler held that conscience could both determine and judge the integrity and wrongness of actions. However, Butler went on to state that conscience comes into play in situations without any introspection and has the ultimate authority in ethical judgements. For Butler, conscience gives us instant intuitive judgements about what we should do.
He believed it was our guide to moral behaviour, put there by God, and it must be obeyed. Augustine of Hippo believes God gives humans innate knowledge of good and evil through conscience. What makes a person virtuous (or righteous) is following their conscience. This can be done only through the grace of God (i. e. Only believers can do this). Without this grace humans cannot be good. Even though an unbeliever may appear to do good their actions would not be considered Good. According to Butler it is imperative not to ignore our conscience as if we were to ignore our conscience then we would be ignoring God.
Butler believed that conscience had been placed in humanity by God and as such it could be fully relied on to lead people towards what they intuitively knew was the right thing to do. The fact that your conscience instructs to act in a certain way is adequate justification to behave in that way. You should not even consider alternatives. If your conscience commands, you must obey unquestioningly. St Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican priest that developed the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church including natural law.
He rejected the idea that conscience was an innate knowledge of right and wrong but described the ability to distinguish between good and evil (the power of reason). His theory was based on the 'synderesis rule', which is the idea that humans will naturally tend towards doing good and turn away from evil. Synderesis is being aware that you need to do what is right and avoid wrong. Conscientia is the act of applying the knowledge leading to right or wrong actions. However working out the good things and evil tings were the main problem.
He argued that when people go wrong this is through simply making a mistake based on an ill-informed choice. It is not deliberately done. Those who do wrong are simply pursuing an apparent rather than a real good. Therefore according Aquinas theory it is important to follow your conscience but unlike Butler you should only do this as a device for making right and wrong decisions. However it would be possible to ignore your conscience, as the synderesis rule will lead you away from evil and towards good. If we confuse right with wrong then we are simply doing it by mistake.
By using our conscience we are able to distinguish between the two. Sigmund Freud believed that a person's conscience is not dependent on God but something we develop. From an early age children understand the world restricts there desires and individuality Freud believed conscience developed as people reflected on their anger and disappointments. Humans create the ego, which takes account of the realities of the world and society. A 'super-ego' internalises and reflects anger and disapproval of others He was able to separate conscience into two different types.
The first more forward looking is a Mature Conscience (Ego) that makes decisions based on the best options rather than emotional needs and responds to new situations in a rational way. The mature and healthy conscience can be identified with the ego's reflection about the best way of achieving integrity. It can be characterised as something that's concerned with what is right and wrong, and that acts on things of value The second is Immature Conscience (Super-ego), which is backward looking, makes decision based on emotional angst arising from past guilt and disappointments, seeks approval and blindly obeys.
The immature conscience (super-ego) can be identified with the mass of feelings of guilt that have been put there at an early pre-rational stage e. g. by parents, schooling. The actions taken will always be done simply be seeking approval. Juan Piaget also believed that conscience was developed by surroundings. He stated that social conditioning of a child could mould who they will become and behave. For example children identify with authority figures such as parents and take the authority as their own. As the child becomes more like their parents, want them to be. This then limits and controls his or her actions.
There is a replacement of "external authority" with "internal authority. " This consequently provides n alternative explanation of conscience compared to the religious views expressed by Aquinas and Butler. It suggests that our conscience needs to be ignored as it just the human psyche attempting to gain peoples consent. When our conscience is not ignored it makes us weaker people as we are only doing what others presume we should be acting like. Therefore by ignoring our conscience we become free of social conditioning and hence become individual and unique beings.
To conclude which either way you look at it we all have an inbuilt sense of right and wrong. This may be Gods voice or simply created by those around us who we eventually become. We cannot ignore the fact that our upbringing does play a significant part in making us who we are today. There are also times when we all have to make a choice as to whether to listen to our conscience or not. For many these will be an important step in making their own decisions and establishing their own identity. This means that there might be times when it is right to ignore one's conscience. However if we ignore the good angel all we are left with is the devil.