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

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Introduction

Siobhan Burrow 1081 To what extent, if at all, should conscience be ignored when making moral decisions? We cannot know what conscience is in absolute terms and various models of conscience have existed throughout Christian history. There are two main approaches to conscience there is the Intuitionist approach and the Rationalistic approach. The intuitionist approach is that our conscience is rooted in our intuitive or God given feelings of right and wrong. On the other hand rationalistic approaches claim that conscience is rooted in the power of reason. Many theologians have given their definition of conscience; St Augustine took an intuitionistic approach to conscience and claimed that conscience is "Gods voice whispering to us" (Considering Conscience David Torevell.) By contrast St Thomas Aquinas took a rationalistic approach to conscience claiming that conscience is synderesis or the repeated use of practical reason. Aquinas further stated that it is the solemn duty of all to follow what conscience dictates even if it leads us to err morally. St Augustine's approach to conscience simply reminds us that God should be present in all our moral decision-making. However Augustine fails to give any credit to our own power of reason in working out what is good our evil. For me I believe that conscience is not just a voice whispering in my ear or a feeling or instinct, it is my judgement to do the best thing in that situation. ...read more.

Middle

For example when conscience is defective. Enda Mc Douagh asserts that "conscience enables us to judge good and evil, reproaches us when we have done wrong and praises us when we do the right thing." (David Torevell quoted in considering conscience) This implies that conscience is an inner monitor or judge of moral behaviour and is in some sense involuntary. In many instances this reaction acts as an important guide: I do not kill because I know that it is wrong. This is because conscience is in one sense experienced as internalised moral law-giving rise to the voice of conscience. However if conscience is an internalised voice should I necessary regard this voice as authoritative in all cases? Augustine claims that God implants knowledge of "Right Conduct" in human beings and that you cannot act rightly without the grace of God directing your will in the appropriate way. He says, "to live well is nothing other than to love God with all ones heart, soul and mind." (Conscience in world religions Helen Costigane) Therefore Augustine directs us to thinking that two people could do a good a good act for example, giving up a seat for an old women, but only the person whose motive was for the love of God would have performed a morally right action. The other may have been acting out of guilt or for the recognition of those around them. ...read more.

Conclusion

Take another example, conscription in wartime. My conscience may lead me to believe that it is my duty to defend my country from a greater evil. Is it not better though to be a pacifist, even if organised violence appears to be the only effective means of limiting greater violence and evil tyrants such as Hitler? Pacifists still have a role to play perhaps Martin Luther King and Gandhi may also teach us that we are obliged to exhaust non-violent means of righting a wrong before resorting to other tactics. In conclusion I believe that it is always important to listen to our conscience. Whether we choose to use the information that it provides is a personal decision but it is better to know that we have listened to our conscience but choose not to act upon it for a good reason. Conscience no doubt plays a crucial role when we come to make moral decisions. Many theologians and philosophers have struggled to define it and how it operates. Faith points us to its central authoritative position as a guide. Also we need to educate the conscience in a reasonable way. The conscience is a gift from God that serves as a guide for moral and ethical decisions, but is not an absolute standard in itself. This inward warning system is a helper, but is subservient to the superior rules and laws handed down to us from God Himself in the Holy Scriptures. While following one's conscience most often can be a proper course of action, the conscience is not infallible. ...read more.

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