sense of moral awareness or of right and wrong. The concept has been variously explained by moralists and philosophers. In the history of ethics
, the conscience has been looked upon as the will of a divine power expressing itself in man's judgments, an innate sense of right and wrong resulting from man's unity with the universe, an inherited intuitive sense evolved in the long history of the human race, and a set of values derived from the experience of the individual. Psychologists also differ in their analyses of the nature of conscience. It is variously believed to be an expression of values differing from other expressions of value only in the subject matter involved, a feeling of guilt for known or unknown actions done or not done, the manifestation of a special set of values introjected from the example and instruction of parents and teachers, and the value structure that essentially defines the personality of the individual. As a practical matter, the consciences of different people within a society or from different societies may vary widely.
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conscience a persons sense of right and wrong which constrains behaviour and causes feelings of guilt if its demands are not met. These moral strictures are learnt through SOCIALIZATION and therefore vary from person to person and culture to culture. The most important influence is that of the parents, who set standards for their child's behaviour both by example and by establishing rules, and who enforce the required behaviour by a system of rewards and punishments (see CONDITIONING). Parental and societal standards thus become internalized as the conscience.
FREUD's theory is particularly specific about the formation of the conscience, which he labels the SUPEREGO. This develops through IDENTIFICATION with the same sex parent and is essentially the child's idealization of the parent's moral values.
This emphasis on the parental and societal role may be considered limited by those who regard moral judgements as absolute. This view would suggest an innate moral sense and is particularly expressed in religion and mysticism. Compare COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.
an ethical category that refers to the ability to exercise moral self-control, to formulate moral obligations independently and to demand of oneself their fulfillment, and to evaluate one’s actions.
A manifestation of the moral consciousness of the individual, conscience is revealed in rational awareness of the moral meaning of one’s actions and in emotions, such as “the gnawings of conscience.” Idealist ethics views conscience as the voice of the “inner self,” a manifestation of the “moral sense” inherent in everyone. Marxist-Leninist ethics demonstrates the social and historical character of conscience.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
The moral, self-critical part of oneself wherein have developed, and reside, standards of behavior and performance and value judgments.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
ancient Greek personification of conscience. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 14]
haunted by guilt because he failed to respond when aware that a girl had jumped or fallen into the Seine. [Fr. Lit.: Camus The Fall]
Elder Statesman, The
dapper mite guides the callow Pinocchio. [Am. Cinema: Pinocchio in Disney Films, 32–37]
Lord Claverton ponders the shame of his past, personified by ghosts of his victims. [Br. Drama: T. S. Eliot The Elder Statesman in Magill IV, 262]
Tsar suffers pangs of conscience for having murdered the Tsarevitch in order to seize the throne. [Russ. Drama and Opera: Boris Godunov]
guilt for wishing his father’s death culminates in hallucinatory conversations with the Devil. [Russ. Lit.: Dostoevsky The Brothers Karamazov]
Valdes and Cornelius
plagued by awareness of his past ruthlessness and the guilt of defying God’s will. [Nor. Drama: Ibsen The Master Builder in Magill II, 643]
Good Angel and Evil Angel; symbolize Faustus’s inner conflict. [Br. Lit.: Doctor Faustus]
his Doppelganger irrupts at occasions of duplicity. [Am. Lit.: “William Wilson” in Portable Poe, 57–82]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
a. the sense of right and wrong that governs a person's thoughts and actions
b. regulation of one's actions in conformity to this sense
c. a supposed universal faculty of moral insight
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005