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To what extent, if at all, should conscience be ignored when making ethical decisions?

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Dominic Kennedy Conscience Essay To what extent, if at all, should conscience be ignored when making ethical decisions? The exact status of conscience has been much debated by ethical theorists and theologians throughout Christian history. This is partly because conscience is not a tangible object that can be seen and isolated within the mind. Individual human experience, however, points towards what appears to be a universal characteristic in sane human beings; the ability to make moral judgements when faced with challenging ethical situations. On one level conscience may be understood as an inner conviction that informs people of what is 'right ' and 'wrong' in moral situations. Bishop Joseph Butler said, "conscience, without being consulted, magisterially exerts itself". (Considering Conscience from Dialogue Magazine by David Torevell, p.21) Such an approach understands conscience as springing from a divine source. This intuitive aspect of conscience can be difficult to ignore and can be very persuasive. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas took a more rationalistic view and asserts that conscience is "the mind of man making moral judgements". (Considering Conscience from Dialogue Magazine by David Torevell, p.21) ...read more.


The right to freedom of conscience prohibits the state from regarding itself as owning its subjects. However, conscience may not always be infallible, a conscience that is not properly informed or educated can have little authority. The source from which conscience originates is ultimately, unknown. However scholars, such as Gula and Newman, believe that God create the conscience and moral educators place the content of conscience within the individual. Therefore lack of moral input from significant moral authorities such as a parent, school or church may lead to an underdeveloped conscience. The media may also, give complex and sometimes contradictory moral messages, which may confuse an individuals conscience. All of us to a greater or lesser extent have consciences that are imperfect, if an individual's conscience is very weak we might claim that they would be better off ignoring it and sticking rigidly to other sources of moral authority such as law or church teaching. However one's duty is to make constant efforts to develop our consciences; to do this we must use conscience. However a strong case for ignoring conscience can be made when reason justifies harming people with acts of violence or terrorism, such as the Palestinian suicide bombers and the fundamentalist terrorists of September 11th 2001.These people have consciences that are in clear conflict with the values which underpin civilised human society. ...read more.


('In Solitary Witness', Gordon Zahn) In conclusion, there have been many views and ideas about the importance of following your conscience. All people, however, have a duty to educate their conscience and use it appropriately. In general conscience is our best authority as an in-built set of internalised moral laws has great authority in most moral decisions we are called upon to make. In more complicated moral dilemma's, conscience must be able to weigh up the moral alternatives and reflect upon them in the light of God's presence. Sometimes we do not know all the facts involved in a complex moral situation. It may be difficult to make an informed decision and so it may be better to delay moral actions until my knowledge is as complete as it can be. This point is relevant to the area of environmental ethics. The confusion about this issue was noticeable at the last World Summit in South Africa where there were many views about the issues involved and the true facts were hard to distinguish. Under these circumstances the actions a conscience instructs may cause more harm than good. Conscience should never be ignored, it should however put into action after waiting for the best possible decision to be discovered. (Words 2, 028) 1 Dominic Kennedy 1284 ...read more.

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