Conscience is one of the most difficult concepts to define when trying to find out what it fundamentally is. Due to it being such a hard question to answer, as there is no right and wrong, which means there are many different definitions of conscience. The most used definition is of course the dictionary’s definition; a person's moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one's behavior. However this doesn’t necessarily mean that is what conscience is. All together it makes sense that conscience isn’t a reliable guide to ethical decision making due to people acting immorally and causing suffering, which challenges people who believe your conscience is the voice of God.
|St Augustine |
(pictured as listening to God)
|St Thomas Aquinas|
Butler rejects that conscience is unreliable, he believes that there is a basic human nature and that within nature there is a system. He argues that morality is a matter of following human nature. Butler believes in the two principles: self-love and benevolence, self-love being the interest in one’s well-being and benevolence the desire to actively seek the well-being of others. The conscience makes a formal judgement between these two interests, it behaves as a guide; he believes it is a gift from God to show the way towards good, however this process may take some sorting out and may not therefore provide immediate solutions. It is an intrinsic part of human nature and as it is from God it must be obeyed without hesitation. Conscience provides justification for behaviour and other alternatives should not be considered. If conscience says do it then it must obeyed. This is because he believed that such judgements come from God. Butler semi-heartedly rejects that conscience has anything to do with feelings and reasoning, the important point he needed to put across was that it comes from God and so must be obeyed. Collectively Butler does strongly contradict himself; at first he says that the process of conscience may take some sorting out and so may not provide immediate solutions but then he later says if conscience says do it then it must be obeyed because it comes from God, however if you can’t make immediate solutions then does this mean God is undecided when guiding this certain conscience or you can’t yet see if it is right so therefore your conscience is slightly subjective? He also believed that mistakes in conscience will not be made, but surely there will be mistakes if your conscience is still not able to make immediate solutions, he argued this by saying that not every action can be justified, well why not? Is it just a way of protecting that when you make a mistake it is because either God made a mistake or told you to do something wrong or just the pure fact that God does not have any involvement with your conscience, so realistically for Butler to assume that conscience is reliable does in fact portray evidentially that it is unreliable if your conscience is not developed at the start.
Is following one’s conscience a guarantee that one is always doing the right thing? All together there are strong sides to the argument, but the unreliability is heightened by Freud and Aquinas, that people do seek to avoid evil and we do feel guilty when we do something wrong (which is justified why by Freud) the fact that God tells us what to do can be easily flawed on the idea that people do make mistakes and people do have opposing views to certain situations, which would result in God contradicting himself. Also Karl Marx puts across that conscience is changed historically depending on the time and society that you are put in and what you are taught, this is a strong argument as different societies do have different morals and depending what era you lived in your morals would be different (due to different religions being in power at different times). This would highly question God being your conscience as people’s morals throughout society and time was considerably different. So collectively conscience being unreliable is a lot more justified and unquestionable compared to it being reliable.