Monday, March 9, 2020

The role of conscience in moral decision-making Essays

The role of conscience in moral decision-making Essays The role of conscience in moral decision-making Paper The role of conscience in moral decision-making Paper Conscience can be defined as something within each of us that tells us what is right and what is wrong. In Latin ’Con’ means with and ’science’ means knowledge. Therefore we should surely use our conscience when we are making decisions as we should be being told what is the right thing to do and what is wrong. This however doesn’t always seem to be the case. The problem with using your conscience is that it is not consistent. We can see this when claims have been made after someone made the wrong choice. For example at the time he was Prime minister Tony Blair took the choice to go to war with Iraq. It is widely regarded as being the wrong choice to have made and Tony Blair said in response that he was following his conscience. There are religious and secular (non-religious) views on the conscience. The religious views have been developed from biblical teaching and the divine command theory. However there is more than one interpretation about the conscience. Thomas Aquinas for example believed that people should follow their conscience totally as long as your principles are right because it is the voice of reason. On the other hand Butler argued the conscience comes form intuition. Thomas Aquinas thought that synderesis is the means of distinguishing between right and wrong. Synderesis was first used by Aristotle and is the ability of the mind to understand the first principles of moral reasoning. He noticed that people do chose the wrong choice and said that this was ‘conscientia’ which is the actual ethical judgement or decision a person makes. Aquinas said that it is important to apply your moral principles to each situation but you can still be wrong if you follow your conscience because your principles can be wrong so your conscience will be too. Conscience is reasoning used correctly to find out what God sees is good. Joseph Butler similarly to Aquinas believed that conscience could determine and judge the rightness or wrongness of different actions or thoughts. However Butler saw the conscience as being more authoritative that â€Å"magisterially exerts itself. † in such a way that it had the last say when it comes to moral decision making. Butler described a hierarchy of human nature in which the desire for food and other animal instincts are at the bottom and the conscience at the top. Self love and benevolence was above the drives and the ability to reflect was above that. Mistakes made by conscience were not seen as particularly bad to Butler as he believed that we would intuitively know what the right action to take is. However convincing yourself that a wrong action is right is more evil than the action which results from it. John Henry Newman also took Conscience from a view point and took an intuitionists approach to conscience. This meant that the mind is able to percieve abstract concepts of truths normally thought to beyond empirical evidence. He believed that we when we followed our conscience we were following some kind of divine law like a messenger from God. He believed that he could prove this when â€Å"we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies there is One to whom we are responsible. Newman also believed that the more relativist (atheist) a person is the less of a conscience they will have as they do not follow a God (an absolute unchanging moral authority). He therefore saw that our conscience will continuously change in different circumstances not making it a reliable source to make a decision on. Augustine too believed that we should take it seriously and listen to our conscience because we are hearing the word of God. Therefore Newman, Augustine and Butler take a much less rationalist view upon conscience compared to Aquinas but as all four believe that God is involved with our Conscience it is important to use it when making moral-decisions, especially if we believe in God. Due to there being Secular views on the conscience the debate over nurture or nature has risen. This is questioning whether we get our morals and our conscience before we are born or whether we develop morality as we get older. With this argument there is also the belief that we have both. For example a Secularist could hold that we are born with our natural instincts that encourage us to do good because it will encourage our survival. This would be a Darwinian approach. The same person could then argue that we also develop our morals during life that allow us to fit into society and the rules and regulations that surround it. A religious person could say the same except that we would have been given a conscience before we were born by God. Sigmund Freud was a psychiatrist that took a secular view on the conscience. He studied the human mind and its effects on the body. He also saw that human personality like Butler could be put into a hierarchy. Both Freud and Butler put drives such as sexual drives at the bottom of the triangle. However Freud then put the ‘Id’ in the space above this which represents the part of a human that is amoral (has no morality). The Id contains our wishes and instincts. Then at the top of the triangle was the ‘Ego’ which is the conscious part of a human that shows on the outside. A smaller space is taken up at the top by the ‘super-ego’ which is the set of moral controls that are given to us by outside influences. Freud explains that the super ego is often in conflict with the Id therefore our conscience, which is a construct of the mind, is shaped and influenced by our experiences. Jean Piaget a psychiatrist saw that a child’s moral development grows and the ability to reason morally depends on cognitive development. He suggested two stages which were later developed by Kohlberg. Heteronymous (other law) which a child is from the age of five to ten. The conscience is still immature and punishment is expected if a rule is broken. Autonomous (self law) is the next stage when a child reaches the age of 10 and over. At this age the child understands how rules operate in and help society, they are less dependent on moral authority Piaget down quite extensive research experiments on children by asking in which of two stories told to them the child was the naughtiest. His results showed that younger children evaluated the actions by the size of the outcome whereas the older children evaluated the stories through the intentions of the child. It is said that Piagets definition of morality is narrow. One of the reasons for this is that is becomes overly rational and disregards the function of morality in promoting human fulfilment. Kohlberg extended the stages to six and believed that the individual would have to follow them in sequence. The most important moral development occurs through social interactions. Fromm on the other hand had two approaches and didn’t think there was stages in moral development but saw that all humans are influenced by external authorities like parents, teachers and church leaders. He thought that a guilty conscience is a result of displeasing these authorities. The example of the Nazi government in Germany in the 1930’s was very successful about manipulating the conscience’s of its people to encourage them not to help the Jews. But that was his authoritarian approach and he had a humanistic approach. This was that our conscience is our real self and leads us to realise our full potential using our experiences not slavish obedience. It appears the conscience should take a large role in how we make moral decisions. However for both Secular and Religious views on the conscience we have seen that mistakes can be made. These mistakes are the products of wrong principles or bad nurturing as a child growing up or manipulations and bad influences. Therefore conscience should take a big role in making moral decisions but one should also consider the fact that they may be wrong and should compare the choice they want to make to another to see if one is greater.