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Philosophy - Conscience (90/90)

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Introduction

Discuss critically the view that we should always follow our conscience when making ethical decisions It has traditionally been proposed that the conscience is an established body of authority, essentially justifying the view that it should be 'followed'. Many notable figures throughout history - Aquinas, Butler, Plato, Freud - have structurally placed it in a potent r�le. Whether this is by means of tripartite analogies, hierarchical standing or even religious eminence, the conscience serves a theoretical, and indeed practical, function as the human and societal arbiter. But then, there is also a possible disparity between the states of individual and collective conscience, contributing to the difficulties in determining which conscience is more suited to enacting 'ethical decisions'. This predicates an interesting dichotomy: the conscience either does not maintain this degree of control or, conversely, the conscience's increased social standing grants it an even greater level of authority. It can similarly be questioned whether or not the conscience's proposed supremacy necessitates an individual's reliance on it, or even, whether it is needed at all. Ideas in connection with the conscience are far-reaching. The notion of 'ethical decisions' being governed by the conscience implies that there is a principal r�le the conscience must play in enacting them. But, as addressed above, there are solid questions over its reliability: its seemingly potent position and even its existence. My argument follows an objective line, paying close attention to that factor in which man is of sole importance. The human being is the entity the conscience must work alongside, and vice versa. There is a clear discrepancy between common definitions of 'consciousness', in turn emphasising the inconsistency of thought on the matter. The Collins Dictionary, for example, defines 'consciousness' as being "aware of one's surroundings"1; in contrast with the Concise Oxford Dictionary which classifies it as being "aware of and responding to one's surroundings"2. Herein, at the outset, lies an issue. ...read more.

Middle

These two examples demonstrate the conscience of the individual being mirrored in society. It raises issues as to whether the conscience of the collective should be 'followed' when making 'ethical decisions' as opposed to that of the limited individual; "only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal"16 - drawing distinctly Marxist parallels, and, perhaps more relevantly, conforming to the Thomistic precept of 'living in a society'. One can link this to the thoughts of Soloveychik; that "conscience can't be someone's own. Conscience is both personal and universal"17. The pluralism, 'we', established in the initial proposition is markedly addressed with these connections to societal conscience. One extremity that may arise from this elitist, authoritarian ideal, however, is the issue of mind-control ("Big Brother Is Watching You"). A conscientious hierarchical society controlling the psyche of the masses may fulfil the r�le of the individual in a more oblique, inflated manner. Appetites, affection and reason being governed by class structure; bringing about a socially solidified conscience. One might apply this to F.H. Bradley's personification: "our function [is] as an organ" in a "social organism". Thus, if conscience is uniform among individuals, why might 'ethical decisions' not be carried out similarly? Baruch Spinoza believed that God's knowledge is distilled through humanity: "an idea is adequate and perfect insofar as it represents knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God"18. Giving further substance to the idea of an individual's morals (their 'ethical' make-up) being reflected on a collective level. Hume, however, argues against this, "nothing is more surprising than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few"19, pondering the dominance of a reasoned minority - the collective's core conscience - in turn eradicating the starting point for this theory. An answer to the issue in the proposition, however, is still not possible at this point. One cannot yet determine whether the conscience should be 'followed' when making 'ethical decisions' because of the sheer amount of subjectivity over the ethics of elitism. ...read more.

Conclusion

Indeed, there is a danger that reliance on appetites would encourage societal and individual regression. Hence, a viable alternative must be suggested. For me, this comes in the form of Social Darwinism ('survival of the fittest'); that mankind evolves by means of competition, "the very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason"28. Darwin appeared to prioritise appetites; using them as a means for societal progression. One might assert that this ideal comes closest to loosening the fetters of both individual conscience and societal restraint, whilst not jeopardising our future. In answering the question, the various examples presented in this essay - of the conscience being dominant in its essence - suggest to me that in any case the conscience deters our 'decision'-making. Indeed, if we feel by any means constrained we are unable to make pure, objective 'ethical decisions', ergo, we should not be subservient to the conscience when making them. 1 Collins Dictionary & Thesaurus: Two books in one, 2004 2 Concise Oxford Dictionary: Tenth Edition, 1999 3 1 Thessalonians 5:23 4 Richard D. Patterson, The Third Day Motif, The Use Of Three In The Bible 5 The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy 6 Joseph Butler. Class notes. 7 This is addressed further with the issue of guilt later on. 8 Plato, The Republic 9 Plato, Phaedrus 10 This is intended to mean the essence of God, rather than merely 'god-like' attributes. 11 Pope's Letter On Newman 12 David Hume 13 Sir Francis Bacon 14 Joseph Butler 15 Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 2, Chapter 2 16 Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 2, Chapter 2 17 Simon Soloveychik, Free Man 18 Spinoza's Ethics 19 David Hume 20 John B. Watson 21 Sigmund Freud 22 Sigmund Freud 23 Fourth Lateran Council 24 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment, Chapter 19 25 Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 3, l. 40 26 Jewish commentary 27 Jean-Paul Sartre 28 Charles Darwin ?? ?? ?? ?? 3,143 words (2,707 w/o quotations), candidate number 5635 Centre number 67213 iv ...read more.

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