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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy




Conscience, Consciousness. Self-Consciousness

Conscience, Consciousness. Self-Consciousness. Etymologically considered, these words mean the same thing. Conscientia in Latin corresponds both in formation and meaning to συνέιδησις in Greek. In the former language it sometimes denotes the joint knowledge of several people, e. g. of those engaged in a conspiracy. When used, however, for an affection of the individual mind, it has for the most part the ethical meaning which is ordinary with us, i.e. it signifies the faculty of moral judgment.

Conscience, however, in French and Italian has a larger import, and denotes the whole of what we call consciousness. Indeed, it seems in former days to have done so in English, being that used both by Hooker and Bacon.(1)


Now, however, we avail ourselves of the two words, the generic term consciousness to denote the whole exercise of the mind's reflex action whereby it both feels and knows, and knows that it feels and knows, and the specific term conscience to denote that particular action of the former whereby it recognises the moral character of everything which we feel, say, or do, which is susceptible of such character.

It has been disputed whether consciousness is a faculty or action separable from feeling, perceiving, or knowing. To say that I feel and that I am conscious of feeling, seems saying the very same thing; and so to feel something and be conscious of feeling that thing constitute but one mental state. Sir W. Hamilton, who takes this view in opposition to Reid and Stewart, thus happily explains this difference in words where there is no difference in reality: "We require different words, not only to express objects and relations different in themselves, but to express the same objects and relations under the different points of view in which they are placed by the mind when scientifically considering them. Thus, in the present instance, consciousness and knowledge are not distinguished by different words as different things, but only as the same thing considered in different aspects. The verbal distinction is taken for the sake of brevity and precision, and its convenience warrants its establishment. Knowledge is a relation, and every relation supposes two terms. Thus, in the relation in question, there is, on the one hand, a subject of knowledge,—that is, the knowing mind,—and on the other, there is an object of knowledge,—that is, the thing known; and the knowledge itself is the relation between these two terms. Now though each term of a relation necessarily supposes the other, nevertheless one of these terms may be to us the more interesting, and we may consider that term as the principal, and view the other only as subordinate and correlative. Now, this is the case in the present instance. In an act of knowledge, my attention may be principally attracted either to the object known, or to myself as the subject knowing; and in the latter case, although no new element be added to the act, the condition involved in it,—I know that I know,—becomes the primary and prominent matter of consideration."

Self-Consciousness. This is something distinct from mere consciousness. The latter I concur with Sir W. Hamilton in considering identical with thought and feeling, and therefore it cannot be denied, I think, to the brute creation. But self-consciousness, as the term is used, implies the sense of personal identity, of a permanent ego; and we have no evidence that the brute has such as a permanent habit of his mind. He recollects an object on occasion of its renewed presence, but if he remembers anything in its absence, he does not seem to do so further than in the way of missing that to which he is used, and which he wishes to find.(2) Even with men, self-consciousness varies much both in degree and power. "Whole races seem to have much less of it than others, and to its comparative weakness we may, I think, ascribe the indifference to life independent of personal courage, exhibited by the Eastern Asiatic. And we see like variation among the men of the same race; nay, in the same man at different times. Daily accustomed actions, such as the successive steps of dressing and undressing, are gone through without reflection upon them; whereas either thought, word, or work, to which aught of moral character belongs, is always accompanied by less or more of it. I cannot see that conscience in our ordinary ethical sense of the term is more than self-consciousness of moral condition; but it is so far distinguished from other manifestations of the faculty, that it is always exercised when its materials, i. e. the right or wrong of our doings and characters, are presented. By this I do not mean that many men are not habitually guilty of wrong with undisturbed consciences; but this is because the sense of such wrong has not been awakened within them, or has been benumbed and killed. If they know what they do to be wrong, their conscience will pass judgment on it, however such judgment may be disobeyed.


Consequent. See Antecedent.


(1) See JOHNSON'S Dictionary. I more than doubt, however, his being justified in assigning this sense to conscience as used by Bacon; nor am I clear that any of his quotations bear him out except that from Hooker.

(2) Das Dämmerleben der Thierheit und der dumpfbrütende, seelische und doch bewasslose character derselben, &c.



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