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).