Conscience Created Or Innate Essay, Research Paper
“Conscience created or innate”
To what extent do you think you are dictated by your surroundings and your up-bringing? Do you claim your opinions to be your own? Do you trust your logic and your conscience? These are questions that are seldom asked by ourselves or by others. In fact, these kinds of questions could almost be considered taboo. It seems to be generally accepted that one can trust oneself, one’s authority, and one’s conscience. Upon these premises we seem to build up everything else. We rely on our beliefs. We trust them and once we decide they are true, we put our energy towards protecting them. We find justification for obeying the things and people we beleive in. Whether it be our government, our parents, or any beleif we hold dear, we regard our beliefs as sources of truth and direction. They make up a very significant part of what we are.
Perhaps of all of our sources of direction or guidance, our consciences receive the highest regard and trust. In many ways, we attempt to obey our consciences without fail. We hold our consciences to be the absolute truth that acts as a ground for our actions and beliefs. But what is a conscience and where does it come from? Merriam-Webster’s English Dictionary defines conscience as: “consciousness of the moral right or wrong of one’s own acts or motives” (p 171). So, your conscience serves as the part of one’s thoughts that agrees with good and disagrees with bad. It is the mechanism that allows you to know the difference between good and evil. Does this mean that if we are to follow our consciences collectively there will be no problems and no wrong? No, this is definitely not true. There is no absolute right or wrong. One finds this virtually anywhere that one looks. Granted, there appears to be many actions that are universally considered wrong. Stealing, murder, lying, etc. all are generally accepted as wrong, but one can always justify a wrong by finding loopholes in one’s conscience. In times of war, killing is accepted. If it is from the ridiculously rich, stealing is justified. If it is for the better good, lying is accepted as ethical. It is on an individual level, then, that we decide what is justifiable from what is not. Therefore , we all have different consciences and standards to obey. One can certainly obey one’s conscience and still be in the wrong. Our consciences are developed in much the same way that our personalities or belief sysyems are, they are relative to our environment and experiences. With some explaination, one may come to the knowledge that one can’t trust one’s conscience as a source of absolute moral truth. If one obeys one’s conscience as such, one can’t be sure that his actions are justified. With this knowledge one shouldn’t lose all faith in oneself and others and become entirely skeptical. Rather, I would like to promote a re-questioning, as it were, of some fundamental questions about the beliefs that have become premises on which we operate daily. In doing so, I would hope that we could gain a more objective vantage point that we could use to our advantage. The purpose is not to make paranoid and reluctant to beleive, but instead to make note of our natural tendancies of bias.
In “Group Minds,” novelist and essayinst Doris Lessing illustrates the “very flattering portrait” with which we have identified ourselves. what she is speaking of is the way in which we veiw ourselves as individuals with separate thinking minds, dependent from our peers and from authority figures. We seem to think that we stand outside of the group circle and look in. But, as Lessing shows, we are all inevitably part of a group. “and there is nothing wrong with that,” she states “but what is dangerous is. . . not understanding the social rules that govern groups and govern us” (p 4 ). In other words, it is dangerous and a threat to our individuality to be ignorant to the fact that we are dictated in many ways against our will. Our conscience dictates our actions possibly more than any other source. We allow this because we trust it’s validity but, as Lessing points out, if we are not aware of how it governs us, it becomes dangerous.
It is believed by many that our conscience is God-given or innate. In his book entitled “Mormon Doctrine,” scriptorian, and theologian Bruce R. McConkie states,
“By virtue of this endowment (conscience), all men automatically and intuitively know right from wrong and are encouraged and enticed to do what is right. . . it is an inborn consciousness or sense of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s conduct, intentions, and character along with an instinctive feeling or obligation to do right or be good.” (p 156)
By this definition on one’s conscience as innate and concrete it is implied that there is a standard for good and evil. This seems to be the typical judea-christian view of conscience. If this description is true then it follows that what one conscience understands as wrong, all should.
An opposing view of what conscience is can be found in works by empiricists in the field of philosophy. Empiricism is the theory that all our ideas come from experience and that no proposition about any matter of fact can be known independantly of experience. Thus, they refute the idea that oue consciences are innate. Believing instead that they are cultivated in the same way our social patterns and our personalities are. David Hume is a familiar name associated with empiricism. In his famous “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” he speaks of ones mind as a “blank tablet at birth. . . all knowledge is gained exclusively through the senses”. So we have a dichotomy, as it were, in understanding of what conscience is. On one side, it is innate to all. On the other, it is developed, thus it can be dictated.
A newly born child does not have an opinion. It is through the process of being taught and through experience that he learns what is. If he is raised by people of one distinct type, culturally, he will become one of them for lack of any other direction, and it will be years before he questions his beliefs. By the time he does, he will have created a firm foundation of belief and in most cases, he will maintain it.
In the wake of the terrible tradgedy of September 11, 2001, many Americans were alarmed to see video footage of Palastinians cheering in the streets in celebration of the destruction. These celebrators were not terrorists. But were ordinary men, women and children. Granted, a small group of people doesn’t nessicarily represent their country as a whole, but it is still of some interest to marvel at how an act that, to us, is so obviously evil could be interpretted as good in the eyes of others. One should not just settle with the idea that these people are evil, for this is un-doubtably ignorance. Even the men who are responsible for these hideous acts should not be considered people consumed with hate who simply “terrorize”. I am baffled at how many people are content with the idea of a terrorist as if the name explains how, what, why, and when. They are considered “terrorists” the same way that a mailman is considered a mailman. “It’s just what they do.” If we do not attempt to understand how these people have come to feel rather than pigeonhole them without a second thought, we are not solving a problem but continuing one. The “problem” is one of mis-understanding and difference in belief or conscience. The people shown in these videos are not any more mindless automata than those who hate them for being simply “terrorists” or “evil”. It is very clear that the men responsible for the acts have a complete different belief structure than us living in America. As has been shown on many programs on the television recently, the martyr is a celebrated person in many areas of the middle east. It is the ultimate act of sacrifice to their god “Ala”. If this is so, then it is fair to say that these men were following their consciences. Was this act of terrorism wrong? Un-doubtably, it was.
When I was a boy at a very young age, I was shopping with my mother at a local grocery store. My interpretation of what went on when we went to the shopping mart was that we were picking up supplies and food for free. I just assumed that it was that way. I had no knowledge of money and how it was used. It just made sense to me that food was free. Why would someone make us pay for something we need? This was my reasoning and it led to some problems. For one thing, I would reach out my hand from the cart and grab anything that looked neat and placed it with the rest of the supplies without my mother noticing, which began to add up in dollars after a few items. But what was a larger problem was the day I was caught by an emplayee stealing a candy bar. I picked it off of the shelf and began to eat it. I had no understanding of stealing. In my little world, people just shared. My conscience was clear of any guilt whatsoever and it was still wrong. This example of wrong without feeling guilty may be a bit silly, but it works as a perfect analogy of any other case that is similar. But in all cases, the characteristics are the same. A wrong is commited in the presence of one’s conscience and the act is interpretted as good or alright. In light of these and countless other examples, it is safe to say that our consciences are not an accurate source of direction for what it right and wrong. Our consciences are influenced and even created by our environment and experiences.
In man’s search for direction and guidance, he has become biased in favor of those ideas that seem to give us a clear-cut outline of where to go and what to do. The popular view of the conscience as an absolute guide for our choices is premature and even wishful thinking. If only things were layed out so well for us. We do not have enough evidence to show that we can trust our consciences and we have plenty of evidence to mame us a bit reluctant to give our trust to ourselves. The importance of having a conscience and listening to one’s thoughts is very significant, but can become dangerous when one begins to disregard their reason and other peoples welfare to follow what seems to be right for oneself at a particular time. The process of making a choice that may effect another person must be taken slowly and carefully.
In light of this knowledge of the inconclusiveness of our beleifs, it is a duty placed on everyone of us to be wary of trusting oneself more than you trust another. Remember, one is what one has been shown to be. One knows only what he has seen.
Lessing, Doris. “Group Minds.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, Custom
edition, University of Utah, 7th Ed. Laurence Behrens and J. Leonard Rosen, eds. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, inc. 2000, 3-5.
McConkie, Bruce R. “Morman Doctrine.” 2nd Ed. Salt Lake City, Ut: Bookcraft, inc.
Hume, David. “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.” Reason and Responsibility,
11th Ed. Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau, eds. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Group, a division of Thompson Learning, inc. 2002, 53-77.