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It’s about conscience, stupid; not consciousness

  1. Oct 20, 2008 #1
    It’s about conscience, stupid; not consciousness

    Why has the English language not coined a word that speaks to the concept of conscience without the confusion associated with the concept of consciousness? There must be a psychological aspect here. What would Freud say?

    Freud’s psychoanalytic theory contained a number of polarizing inner conflicts. The Ego constantly faced a battle between the Id, the pervasive aspect of human experience, and the Superego, which was considered to be the moral part of the human personality.

    Human conscience is often considered from three perspectives. In contrast with Freud there were the views of Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Butler; both of whom viewed the matter from a religious perspective. Aquinas theorized that conscience was a moral tool of reason while Butler considered conscience to be an intuitive sense assigned to humanity by God.

    Etymologically ‘conscience’ means with-knowledge. The English word also implies a moral standard of action inherent in the mind. Conscience deals with rational questions of right and wrong in matters of human interrelationships.

    I was raised as a Catholic; I went to Catholic schools where the nuns taught me that guilt and conscience was a pair that went together like a ‘horse and carriage’. Guilt seems to be a word closely associated with conscience in everyday vocabulary.

    Freud indicates in his theory that guilt is the result of the conflict between id and the superego.

    “Repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead”

    This phrase is part of an article “Coming to Terms with Vietnam” documented in Harpers by Peter Marin, Dec. 1980. http://www.harpers.org/archive/1980/12/0024455

    "All men, like all nations, are tested twice in the moral realm: first by what they do, then by what they make of what they do. The condition of guilt, a sense of one's own guilt, denotes a kind of second chance. Men are, as if by a kind of grace, given a chance to repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead.""

    This quotation rang my bell on the first time that I read it and it has continued to resonate for me each time that it comes to mind.

    Morality is, I am convinced, one of the most important concepts in human existence. It is vitally important and, I suspect, almost completely mystifying to the average Joe and Jane. It certainly is mystifying to me.

    Understanding the meaning of this concept is vital for our welfare as a species and I am convinced that we must do a better job of comprehending its meaning.

    I think it would be worth while to analyze the above quotation in an effort to develop a meaningful comprehension of aspects that make up morality. But there are many important moral aspects within this quotation and I think we must focus upon only one at a time. I would like to examine, in particular, the phrase “repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead”

    Cognitive science, often in the form of cognitive semantics, provides us with a means for comprehending the nature of morality.

    Cognitive science has discovered that “the source domains of our [linguistic] metaphors for morality are typically based on what people over history and across cultures have seen as contributing to their well being”.

    Morality is primarily seen as a concept that focuses upon enhancing the well-being of others. Cognitive analysis revels that we comprehend morality “based on this simple list of elementary aspects of human well-being—health, wealth, strength, balance, protection, nurturance, and so on”.

    “Well-Being is Wealth is not our only metaphorical conception of well-being, but it is a component of one of the most important moral concepts we have. It is the basis for a massive metaphor system by which we understand our moral interactions, obligations, and responsibilities. That system, which we call the Moral Accounting metaphor, combines Well-Being is Wealth with other metaphors and with various accounting schemas.”

    Our moral understanding is often manifested in commonly used metaphors. To do bad to someone is like taking something of value from that person. To do good to someone is like giving something of value to that person. “Increasing others’ well-being gives you a moral credit; doing them harm creates a moral debt to them; that is, you owe them an increase in their well-being-as-wealth.”

    We are dealing with moral considerations much as we do with financial matters. We maintain a mental balance sheet upon which we record debits and credits of moral dimensions.

    Morality is about many things and one thing morality is about is reciprocation, which means paying back to others what we owe to them because of something good they did for us. On the flip-side of that is something we call revenge. Revenge is about our feelings that if Mary Ann does something mean to me then I owe her something mean back.

    Morality is partly about our moral accounting system. We seem to have a moral balance sheet in our head and we are often careful to pay back ‘good with good’ and ‘bad with bad’.

    Ideas and quotes from “Philosophy in the Flesh”—Lakoff and Johnson
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2008 #2


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    Hi coberst,

    Conscience, in my dictionary, is a result of the altruism gene. Please see this thread started a while ago.

  4. Oct 21, 2008 #3

    I think that you are correct, the source of all values is genetic.

    Thus, aesthetics is “concerned with the perception of values”.

    Self consciousness is the precursor of the possibility of worth. For the existence of ‘good’ in any form emotional consciousness is required. “Observation will not do, appreciation is required.”

    From this we can assert an axiom that is important for all moral philosophy; and science of morality should it ever come to be. “There is no value apart from some appreciation of it.”

    Spinoza informs us that we desire nothing because it is good but that it is good because we desire it. We can find value in that which is not instinctively good only because it is derivative of the instinctively appreciated. “The verbal and mechanical proposition, that passes for judgment of worth, is the great cloak of ineptitude in these matters…Verbal judgments are often instruments of thought but it is not by them that worth can ultimately be determined.”

    Quotes from “The Sense of Beauty” by George Santayana
  5. Oct 21, 2008 #4


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    First of all, didn't Spinoza rule Brazil or some unfortunate country like that with an iron fist?

    Second off, it is the mechanical arrangements of the universe that have spawned genetics and have spawned conscience, altruism, aesthetics and all other forms of interaction that survive today. The interactions that didn't work or were inefficient don't exist today simply for that reason... they are or were inefficient.

    You may ask why does corruption still exist or why do black holes still swallow galaxies etc... and the answer is probably because these conditions are part of an overall efficiency that supports existence. Or, these conditions are on their way to being phased out during the next 13 billion years.
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