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.]
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.
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. 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”. 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. 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. 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. 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, had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 by predominantly British-Pakistani men (Kurdish and Kosovar men were also involved). British Asian girls in Rotherham also suffered abuse, but a fear of shame and dishonour made them reluctant to report the abuse to authorities. 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. There were pregnancies—one at age 12—terminations, miscarriages, babies raised by their mothers, and babies removed, causing further trauma.
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