Conscience Is the Voice of God within Us: An Analysis

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‘Conscience is the voice of God within us’ Discuss

In order to discuss whether the conscience is the result of the voice of God within us or whether in fact it is the result other environmental or biological factors we must firstly understand what a conscience is. Conscience is defined as a ‘direct intuitive awareness of right and wrong’ and therefore it is a ‘way of selecting moral ideas, resolving conflict and deciding which will work or not’. The conscience itself has three main functions, the first is that it has a decision-making function; this is seen as the most important function as it decides between right and wrong, the second is that it has a imperative functions; that is it commands and the third is that it has a reflective function; that is that it reflects on former decisions and considers the consequences of actions. However the question raised within this essay is whether our conscience comes from the voice of God within us, therefore is it acquired from God and is the result of an internal influence or is it required as a result of environmental factors, therefore is formed from an external influence whether this is from our parents or our own life experiences. Within this essay I shall discuss the theories in favour of the conscience being the voice of God within us (focussing on Butler, Augustine and Newman), and those that instead propose that it is acquired from other sources whether this is through our reason (Aquinas) or in our early childhood (psychologists approaches), in order to draw a conclusion on whether our conscience is the voice of God within us.

One scholar who stated that the conscience was the voice of God speaking to us from within was St Augustine (334-430). He saw it as the law of God within our hearts, and stated that therefore it cannot be questioned and stated that it allows us to have an innate capacity to understand the difference between good or bad, right or wrong (‘men see the moral rules written in the book of light which is called the truth, from which all laws are copied’). However this view of the conscience being an innate sense which cannot be questioned raises the moral issue of what happens is our conscience is instructing us to act in a way that most would argue as morally wrong, surely our conscience could be misled or misinformed, which would ultimately cause us to act immorally. Some therefore may state that Aquinas view that the conscience involves the use of reason is a more logical approach, as it allows for the possibility of error and states that our conscience can be mistaken, he states just following ones conscience is not always right, as if our principles are wrong then our conscience will make wrong decisions. Although Augustine did also argued that the conscience is an innate sense that God has given to all and that in every circumstance it should be turned towards good and away from evil, this does not necessarily mean that the person will be virtuous. This being because he believed that humans are less than perfect as we are born with original sin because we are all descendents of Adam. At the fall of grace sin entered the universe, resulting in God’s creation being corrupted and distorted. In order to do the right thing a person needs the grace of God, as God is the only source of all goodness and it is through his grace that God directs us to do the right thing. However this raises the question as to whether this implies that only a Christian believer can do a morally good act, as his theory sates that the conscience only woks through the grace of the Christian God, surely this could imply that Augustine’s approach to the conscience is a reductionist approach as only applicant to religious believers? Also if we are only capable of doing a moral act through the dictation of God, to what extent can a Christian be said to be making a free moral decision, surely if we are reliant on God to dictate us we are in fact not really making our own moral...
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