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Critically assess the claim that conscience is the voice of reason

Aquinas believed that conscience is founded in reason and rational thought processes.
He believed that conscience was more a faculty of reflection as oppose to a voice or
an inner guide. He believed that through reason and the application of conscience,
the most fundamental moral principles can be established (primary precepts)
Although there are various different secular and religious ideas as to what conscience
is, but I shall be arguing how Aquinas view of conscience is more agreeable than
these other views.
Aquinas splits conscience into two halves: Synderesis, which is an innate knowledge
of human knowledge and primary precepts through practical reasoning and
Conscientia, which is the application of synderesis through the secondary precepts.
Therefore, your conscience is the power of moral reasoning, balanced with prudence,
which is the virtue of right reasoning this is agreeable because it means that each
human is morally responsible for their own actions, and that each human has the
capacity to develop their morality through reasoning, which is a faculty shared by all
of us
An alternative religious view would be that of Butlers, who said that conscience is the
voice of God in man. Ultimately, Butler is saying that your conscience can act as your
moral judge, and it is always right, as it is assigned to us by the author of our nature
so therefore is infallible. According to Butler, your conscience was the highest
authority in this world had it strength, as it has right; had it power, as it has manifest
authority, it would absolutely govern the world. However, I feel this view to be less
agreeable than Aquinas view. For one, it absolutely removes all moral responsibility
from the decision maker. To what extent is it actually your decision if it has already
been made for you by another party? What would be the purpose of Christ and his
teachings, if all we need do is follow our conscience, and not think for ourselves?
People claim that their conscience pulls them towards committing acts of terror,
Butlers view of conscience should mean that conscience is 100% reliable, but this
clearly isnt the case, as our conscience can be deceived
Aquinas accounts for this deception of our conscience through vincible or invincible
action. A vincible action is when we have good intentions, and do what we think is
good, but if we had thought about the decision and thought rationally and applied
reason, we would have come to a different conclusion. This is the way conscience can
be deceived with Aquinas. Our conscience can lead us to the wrong conclusions if we
havent effectively applied conscientia. So, although conscience is God-given, it is not
100% infallible and is susceptible to deception. However, it is our misguided reasoning
that leads to vincible errors; synderesis still stands true and infallible, regardless of
how we apply it.
Newman offers a similar view to Butler, in the sense that he believes that conscience
is intuitive, and is the voice of God. It is not reason, it is not a feeling of guilt and it is
separate from our will and personal desires. It is a power implanted in us before the
ability to reason. He disagrees with Aquinas on the idea on the rule of synderesis. The
conscience is not a list of commandments or laws to follow, it is a clear indication as
to what is right. A big flaw with this theory is that there appears to be people in this

world with no conscience; psychopaths. Are these people forgotten by God? Aquinas
conscience allows for everyone to develop a conscience, so long as they have the
capacity to reason.
These theories rely on conscience being innate, and not learned. However there are
some secular theories to suggest that conscience is a learned faculty, which is a result
of our upbringing and environment. Freud suggests that the conscience is just the
guilt we feel when we defy our superego, by acting contrary to the moral and ethical
values that we have internalised from society and our parents. It is part of our
unconscious mind, and therefore separate from reason. A positive of Freuds theory is
that it is based on research and evidence. He believes that conscience is a part of
personality development, and because it is independent of religion, every person can
be held morally accountable for their actions. However, a lot of Freuds work has been
criticized and discredited. He believes the superego is developed during the phallic
stage of childhood which occurs between 3-6 year olds. However, it seems that most
children this age cannot express any sexual desires or interests, which raises
speculations as to the soundness of Freuds theory of conscience. Freuds view of
conscience fails to discredit the claim that conscience is the voice of reason. He
argues that a religious conscience is unhealthy for proper psychological mental
development, however looking at examples of religious figures in the past such as
Mother Teresa and MLK would suggest otherwise. In Freuds theory, people are also
morally accountable, to an extent. Seeing as your super-ego is a product of your
upbringing and society you are raised in, according to Freuds theory, you might only
ever be able to act according to the particular set of moral values you were brought
up with. Therefore, a child brought up in a religious extremist environment may never
break out of that paradigm of morality. However, a conscience based on reason allows
anyone, regardless of upbringing, to develop their own moral code in alignment with
whatever authority they find to be most agreeable, principally Christianity and the
primary + secondary precepts
Piaget offers another secular theory on the conscience. He believes that the
conscience is just moral sense and is developed alongside other cognitive attributes.
He believed that we are led to develop moral sense through conditioning of praise and
punishment. Piaget believes that an 11 year old can have a fully developed
conscience, seeing as they seem to certain perceptions such as motive, intention and
so forth. This theory is not so totally at odds with Aquinas theory, seeing as in both
cases, conscience needs to be informed / developed to a certain degree. Piagets
theory is also based on psychological evidence and observation, which might add to
its validity. Piagets critics say that he is working with flawed data, however.
However, to say that an 11 year old has a fully developed conscience is a claim that is
susceptible to much speculation. If this were true, then 11 year olds are fully morally
responsible for their actions, and the implication is that they would have to be tried as
adults in a court of law. While they may have formed the ability to contemplate on
motive and intention of an act, they lack the necessary experience that is so vitally
conducive towards a developed conscience. However, I do not think Piagets view
directly discredits the idea that your conscience is the voice of reason. But again, the
idea that an 11 year old has sufficiently developed reasoning and logic skills to be
morally responsible for his actions seems hard to believe.

None of the theories successfully oppose the idea that conscience is the voice of
reason. Moreover, there are no criticisms to Aquinas theory that are fatal to the idea
that conscience is reason. Having said this, it doesnt seem to explain why one might
have a guilty conscience or why you might feel so bad after doing a bad action.
Feeling and emotion dont seem to be based on reason at all, so why would they be
induced by a flaw in our reasoning i.e. doing an action that is opposed to our ethical
code. While I agree that the application of reason is vital to ethical decision making, I
do not believe that conscience is the voice of reason. I find that it is much more a
principle/power of reflection, that we can learn lessons from for the future. In a sense,
I would agree with Newman in the idea that conscience is but the expression of our
moral intuition, when we follow a course of action most agreeable with our particular
ethical conduct.