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WILLIAM FLEMING - 1890 - Table of contents

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H- I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W  

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 (conscientia,  υνείδησις, Gewissen, joint or double knowledge), that power by which we have knowledge of moral law. This word is similarly compounded with "Consciousness." Conscience expresses more abstractly, "Knowledge with;" Consciousness, the state of the mind as possessing knowledge—knowledge of self and of present experience. As the name for the Moral Faculty, "Conscience" expresses (1) knowledge of the relation of action to moral law—the more-usual meaning, or (2) knowledge of the agent's relation to the Moral Governor,—knowledge with God.


In its ultimate and strictly philosophic sense it is the power revealing moral law within mind, and of sovereign practical authority on that account. The theory which draws all knowledge from experience, at the same time explaining all life by evolution, naturally makes small account of the name as that of a distinct faculty. There is considerable diversity in philosophic usage, of which examples follow. Popularly the name is given indiscriminately to the knowing power, and to the dispositions and sentiments connected with its use.

With reference to their views as to the nature of conscience or the moral faculty, modern philosophers may be arranged in two great schools, according as their respective theories may be designated the Intellectual or Intuitional; the Sentimental or Experiential.

"The principle in man by which he approves or disapproves of his heart, temper, and actions, is conscience—for this is the strict sense of the word, though it is sometimes used to take in more " (Bishop Butler, sermon I., On Human Nature). He describes it as "a superior principle of reflection or conscience," adding that "you cannot form a notion of this faculty, conscience, without taking in judgment, direction, superintendency" (sermon II.).

"Conscience is the reason, employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation, which, by the nature of man, cling inextricably to his apprehension of right and wrong" (Whewell, Syst. Mor., lect. VI.).

Adam Smith comes nearer identification of Conscience and Consciousness. " The word 'conscience' does not immediately denote any moral faculty by which we approve or disapprove. Conscience supposes, indeed, the existence of some such faculty, and properly signifies our consciousness of having acted agreeably or contrary to its directions" (Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, pt. VII. sec. 3).

"Conscience coincides exactly with the moral faculty, with this difference only, that the former refers to our own conduct alone, whereas the latter is meant to express also the power by which we approve or disapprove of the conduct of others" (Stewart, Active Powers, pt I. ch. 2. See also Reid's Active Powers, essay III. pt. III. ch. VIII.).

"The internal sanction of duty, whatever our standard of duty may be, is one and the same—a feeling in our own mind, a pain more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty... This feeling, when disinterested, and connecting itself with the pure idea of duty, and not with some particular form of it, or with any of the merely accessary circumstances, is the essence of Conscience" (J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism, p. 41).

"I entirely dissent from Dugald Stewart, and the great majority of writers on the Theory of Morals, who represent Conscience as a primitive and independent faculty of the mind, which would be developed in us although we never had any experience of external authority. On the contrary, I maintain that conscience is an imitation within ourselves of the government without us'' (Bain, Emotions and Will, 3rd ed., p. 285).

"I find that I undoubtedly seem to perceive, as clearly and certainly as I see any axiom in arithmetic or geometry, that it is 'right' and 'reasonable,' and the 'dictate of reason,' and 'my duty' to treat every man as I should think that I myself ought to be treated in precisely similar circumstances" (Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, 470; cf. Green, Introd. to Hume's Ethical Works, vol. II. 16; Cyples, Process of Human Experience, p. 319).

According to Kant, "Every man, as a moral being, has it originally within him... Conscience is man's practical reason, which does, in all circumstances, hold before him his law of duty, in order to absolve or to condemn him... An erring conscience is a chimera; for although, in the objective judgment, whether or not anything be a duty, mankind may very easily go wrong,—yet, subjectively, whether I have compared an action with my practical (here judiciary) reason, for the behoof of such objective judgment, does not admit of any mistake" (Tugendlehre, Semple, p. 248; Abbot, 217, 311).



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