Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

L&FP, 48 – i: The conscience factor in consciousness


Conscience is a major aspect of our consciousness, one of the “first facts” of our embodiment in the world, thus part of the start-point for sound thinking. Hence, Cicero’s recognition that it was consensus even in his day that “[sound] conscience is a law”:

Given word games that may crop up, let us note a high quality dictionary:


(kŏn′shəns)n.1. a. An awareness of morality in regard to one’s behavior; a sense of right and wrong that urges one to act morally: Let your conscience be your guide.b. A source of moral or ethical judgment or pronouncement: a document that serves as the nation’s conscience.c. Conformity to one’s own sense of right conduct: a person of unflagging conscience.

2. The part of the superego in psychoanalysis that judges the ethical nature of one’s actions and thoughts and then transmits such determinations to the ego for consideration.

3. Obsolete Consciousness or awareness of something. [–> A distinction was recognised some 300 years ago]

Idioms: in (all good) conscience In all fairness; by any reasonable standard. on (one’s) conscience Causing one to feel guilty or uneasy.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin cōnscientia, from cōnsciēns, cōnscient-, present participle of cōnscīre, to be conscious of : com-, intensive pref.; see com- + scīre, to know; see skei- in Indo-European roots.]

con′science·less adj.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

SEP Observes:

Through our individual conscience, we become aware of our deeply held moral principles, we are motivated to act upon them, and we assess our character, our behavior and ultimately our self against those principles. Different philosophical, religious and common sense approaches to conscience have emphasized different aspects of this broad characterization. The resulting more specific understandings of conscience will be presented in the sections below. On any of these accounts, conscience is defined by its inward looking and subjective character, in the following sense: conscience is always knowledge of ourselves, or awareness of moral principles we have committed to, or assessment of ourselves, or motivation to act that comes from within us (as opposed to external impositions). This inward looking and subjective character of conscience is also reflected in the etymological relation between the notion of “conscience” and that of consciousness. Only after the 17th Century did “consciousness” start to be used with a distinct meaning referring to the psychological and phenomenal dimension of the mind, rather than to its moral dimension (for an account of the terminological shift, see Jorgensen 2014).

Clearly, conscience is an inner sense and sometimes a voice or even vision of witness that observes our behaviour and evaluates against an intuitive standard, a law written on our hearts, so to speak. It can become over-sensitive, or mo0re often, defective or crushed (just as can our sight or hearing), hence the matter of soundness. It can be instructed, and so it can be desensitised and warped, indeed, this is clearly related to what is now called grooming behaviour designed to dull the sensitivity of especially vulnerable young people to the wrongs involved in sexual, ideological or military indoctrination and exploitation.

The notorious Rotherham case is a yardstick, where Wikipedia is forced to admit:

The Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal consisted of the organised child sexual abuse that occurred in the town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, Northern England from the late 1980s until the 2010s and the failure of local authorities to act on reports of the abuse throughout most of that period.[8] Researcher Angie Heal, who was hired by local officials and warned them about child exploitation occurring between 2002 and 2007, has since described it as the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”.[9] Evidence of the abuse was first noted in the early 1990s, when care home managers investigated reports that children in their care were being picked up by taxi drivers.[10] From at least 2001, multiple reports passed names of alleged perpetrators, several from one family, to the police and Rotherham Council. The first group conviction took place in 2010, when five British-Pakistani men were convicted of sexual offences against girls aged 12–16.[11] From January 2011 Andrew Norfolk of The Times pressed the issue, reporting in 2012 that the abuse in the town was widespread, and that the police and council had known about it for over ten years.[a]

The Times articles, along with the 2012 trial of the Rochdale child sex abuse ring, prompted the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee to conduct hearings.[14] Following this and further articles from Norfolk, Rotherham Council commissioned an independent inquiry led by Professor Alexis Jay. In August 2014 the Jay report concluded that an estimated 1,400 children,[15] had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 by predominantly British-Pakistani men (Kurdish and Kosovar men were also involved).[16][13] British Asian girls in Rotherham also suffered abuse, but a fear of shame and dishonour made them reluctant to report the abuse to authorities.[17] A “common thread” was that taxi drivers had been picking the children up for sex from care homes and schools.[b] The abuse included gang rape, forcing children to watch rape, dousing them with petrol and threatening to set them on fire, threatening to rape their mothers and younger sisters, and trafficking them to other towns.[20] There were pregnancies—one at age 12—terminations, miscarriages, babies raised by their mothers, and babies removed, causing further trauma.[21][22][23][24]

We see here, how vulnerable girls were targetted, exploited, intimidated, manipulated into massive sexual abuse. It is clear, too, that authorities turning a blind eye to outrageous abuse were also in their own way groomed by fear of being accused of racist action as well as a sense of contempt towards troubled working class girls and other factors that contributed to desensitisation.

This is also a case of shocking the conscience, showing that a community can be woken up to an evil it somehow had hitherto managed to overlook or enable. The extreme cases have to do with the holocaust, the mass slaughters of communism and the like. One hopes, the same will eventually happen with mass Abortion, which has a death tool north of 800 millions since the early 1970’s.

A sobering lesson in and of itself.

The case of sound conscience also ties to first duties, drawing on a sense of duty to neighbour to point to the issues, fairness and justice. If we are outraged when treated unfairly or unjustly, we should be ashamed if we have done the same to neighbour of like morally governed nature.

Thus, we see a way to sound establishment and reform of law and government, society, culture and institutions. But of course, this also brings to bear issues of soundness, as we can also have manipulation and desensitisation to even gross evils as the Rotherham case manifestly demonstrates. Such, once more, draws out the inescapable, legitimate force of first duties of reason: to truth, to right reason, to prudence [including warrant], to sound conscience, to neighbour, so also to fairness and to justice etc. Justice, as noted so often, being the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. These are onward matters, with much evidence from history etc.

But of course, as the reference to the now waning Freudianism shows, there are ways to argue that conscience is a form of delusion, little more than the internalised voice of potty training. Others would point to class or cultural conditioning (traditional and neo-marxists), or to operant conditioning. And so forth.

These sorts of arguments boil down to forms of appeal to being in a Plato’s Cave, grand delusion, as conscience is pervasive in our rational life. There are no firewalls and such a delusion implies self-referential discredit: Sigmund, what was your potty training like, Karl, what was so about your class/cultural conditioning, Burrhus, are you little more than a rat in a maze? And so forth.

Things that suggest or invite inference that conscience is delusion are absurd. Errors in detail, open to correction on sound rethinking, are not to be confused with delusion.

So, we see the significance and power of sound conscience in framing a worldview and moving civilisation forward. On the whole (with room for errors) it cannot be across the board delusional. It is a first fact of consciousness, pervading our whole inner life, save for clear defects. It directly testifies to our being under rule of built in law, built in moral government.

That now becomes a fact to be accounted for without sawing off the branch on which we all must sit. END

LCD, there is another thread that already has this distractor, maybe such can be discussed there. kairosfocus
Yes Democrats wouldn't have returned to power for the next 50 years without voting fraud. Covid was "prepared" for vote by mail. Fauci and Obama , gain of function . People saw also what have done to US the democrats with their toy BLM . Compare Trump full stadiums with Biden with 3 people. Lieutenant Commander Data
Sev, you can see whatever you want and -- given fatally weak libel laws, make accusations you want. Such won't change basic, quite public, decisive facts. For example, any voting system where significant players resist -- much less succeed in said resistance -- basic photo ID of voters [suppresses the vote/ racist . . . ?????????], where the system uses blackbox voting machines [don't you dare look inside] and where it plays fast and loose with chains of custody [lack of close scrutineering, 3rd party vote collection, drop boxes, "mail" em in and we count the dumps, etc] is fatally compromised.To the point of being a sick joke, if the potential downside was not so devastating. I suggest you all wake up real fast before you have to deal with real fatal disaffection. Unfortunately, the damage from such a development would be global. KF PS: Of just what relevance is the comment to issues of significance of conscience and Rotherham as illustrating grooming of vulnerable, grooming of institutions to turn a blind eye, and eventual conscience shock when the magnitude of the horror was revealed undeniably? H'mm, maybe we are seeing national desensitisation and grooming? Well, the shock is coming. kairosfocus
The pattern I saw surrounding the current US election has only one responsible explanation: massive, deeply entrenched election fraud that a mostly naive populace has been blind to . . . oh, we’re the leading country and we do things right.
The pattern I saw was that of a despotic narcissist and his cult followers who refused to accept that he lost the election fair and square. The pattern was of repeated claims of widespread electoral fraud but when challenged to provide the evidence to support them, the claimants had nothing. The pattern was filing suits on all manner of grounds in a desperate attempt to challenge the election, all but one of which failed entirely. The real challenge to those who have bought the Big Lie is to bring forward probative evidence of electoral fraud which rises to your hero Simon Greanleaf's standards of such. Seversky
PS: I find myself even more troubled overnight, regarding the twelve year old in her mother's house doing red flag things for what, 1/2 a pack of cigarettes. kairosfocus
F/N: More admissions by Wikipedia on the Rotherham conscience-shock:
The earliest reports of localised grooming in Rotherham date to the early 1990s, when several managers of local children's homes set up the "taxi driver group" to investigate reports that taxis driven by Pakistani men[47] were arriving at care homes to take the children away. The police apparently declined to act.[10][36] In 1997 Rotherham Council created a local youth project, Risky Business, to work with girls and women aged 11–25 thought to be at risk of sexual exploitation on the streets.[48][49] Jayne Senior, awarded an MBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours for her role in uncovering the abuse, began working for Risky Business as a coordinator around July 1999.[50][51] The users were overwhelmingly white girls: of the 268 who used the project from March 2001 to March 2002, 244 were white, 22 were British-Asian, and 2 were black.[52] Senior began to find evidence around 2001 of what appeared to be a localised-grooming network. Most Risky Business clients had previously come from Sheffield, which had a red-light district. Now the girls were younger and came from Rotherham. Girls as young as 10 were being befriended, perhaps by children their own age, before being passed to older men who would rape them and become their "boyfriends". Many of the girls were from troubled families, but not all. The children were given alcohol and drugs, then told they had to repay the "debt" by having sex with other men. The perpetrators set about obtaining personal information about the girls and their families—where their parents worked, for example—details that were used to threaten the girls if they tried to withdraw. Windows at family homes were smashed; threats were made to rape mothers and younger sisters. The children came to believe that the only way to keep their families safe was to cooperate.[e][53][54] One girl who came to the attention of Risky Business was repeatedly raped from age 13–15, and believed her mother would be the next victim: "They used to follow my mum because they used to know when she went shopping, what time she had been shopping, where she had gone."[55][53] A 15-year-old was told she was "one bullet" away from death.[56] Girls were doused in petrol and told they were about to die.[57] When she told her "pimp" that she was pregnant and did not know who the father was, one 15-year-old was beaten unconscious with a clawhammer.[58] A 12-year-old with a 24-year-old "boyfriend" had a mother who invited the perpetrators into the family home, where the girl would give the men oral sex for 10 cigarettes.[56] According to Senior, Risky Business ended up with so much information about the perpetrators that the police suggested she start forwarding it to an electronic dropbox, "Box Five", on the South Yorkshire Police computer network. They reportedly told her this would protect the identity of Risky Business's sources.[59] She learned later that the police had not read the reports she had left there, and it apparently could not be accessed by other forces.[54][60] Risky Business was seen as a "nuisance"[61][62] and shut down by the council[63][64] in 2011.[65] . . .
Now, presume for the moment that at least some of the men involved were instructed from basic upbringing, that girls from the lands of historic enemies (including those who betrayed their roots) are a prey of right. Where too, saying no is just part of the game. Would that suddenly confer legitimacy to their behaviour? Patently, not. Now, too, suppose that some officials were convinced that a lot of modern girls have little or no hesitancy about undertaking sexual behaviours and that it would be racist to focus on minority men enjoying such access. Where nuisance groups of activists were doing little more than making mountains out of no big deal behaviours. Would that suddenly make their unresponsiveness for years legitimate? Again, patently not. The point is, that while upbringing, education, the flow of officialdom etc may all affect how we respond to duties of moral character . . . and it's not hard to figure out that rape is violation . . . such do not change fundamentals of duty and sound conscience. KF kairosfocus
We are taught by our “elders and betters” over time what is acceptable behavior towards our fellows. If the lessons are well-learned then we don’t behave in ways that society considers immoral.
This supposes that without having been taught by elders and betters, a person would be immoral or have no moral sense or conscience at all. But there are no examples of human beings who are totally amoral, no matter what their background. There are even counter-examples of people who were taught moral norms by their elders and betters but then rejected them for reasons within themselves. There are numerous examples of people who gained religious awareness in contradiction to what society, parents and peers taught - entirely as an inner awareness from conscience. This all indicates that a moral standard, conscience and awareness is implanted within every human being. We can find it and respond to it without having been taught. Silver Asiatic
Sev, small children are very aware of being treated unfairly, the problem is usually to help with empathy, to see reciprocity. KF kairosfocus
Moral behavior is learned behavior. Small children have no qualms about lying or taking something that does not belong to them. We are taught by our "elders and betters" over time what is acceptable behavior towards our fellows. If the lessons are well-learned then we don't behave in ways that society considers immoral. The pangs of conscience are felt when we are tempted to act - or actually act - in ways that are in conflict with the moral principles we have adopted. If those have not taken root in our psyches then we are not inhibited by moral considerations - there is no conscience - as we see in the behavior of psychopaths or sociopaths. Seversky
Doubter, yes, moral training helps us organise our moral thought. I think we may profitably compare how hearing is natural, language structures are built in, mother tongue is acquired through early childhood experiences and interacts with visual experience -- especially once we learn to read -- so we see a growing conceptually structured awareness of ourselves in the world. KF kairosfocus
Blastus, yes, the apostle recognised the universality of conscience and in context likely interacted with stoic thinking, cf his interactions in Ac 17 in Athens and note that Cicero was a leading voice in Rome. Guilt is an all too familiar feeling, and is doubtless part of what motivates various cognitive dissonance defenses such as projection of blame to the despised other. The built-in, core law written in our hearts is witnessed to us by a key facet of our self-aware consciousness. This then raises the issue of dulled, benumbed or outright defective or damaged conscience which can come to characterise a community or even a civilisation not just individuals. Hence, the issue of shocking the conscience of a community, as seems to have happened over Rotherham. Though, it took too many years to break through. Indeed, even organised investigators/whistleblowers were sidelined for a long time. KF kairosfocus
Romans 2:14-15 KJV For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) Blastus
I think that conscience is indeed a sensing of a universal spiritual principle of being. However, I think that this sensing is also a mental capability that in order to be manifested must be learned as a child. I don't know if there is any research bearing on this. doubter
If you ever feel the need to get rid of your conscience, here is how to sabotage it. Google definition: choose (verb): pick out (someone or something) as being the best or most appropriate of two or more alternatives. So then if you choose to rob a bank, then the defintion of the verb "choose" says that you did your best, or what was most appropiate. No matter what you choose, according to google you did what is best or most appropiate. mohammadnursyamsu
Some will be salivating on how they will trash this obvious OP. Expect the usual suspects and their inane comments. jerry
L&FP, 48: The conscience factor in consciousness kairosfocus

Leave a Reply