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Psychological side of conscience


The study of the relationship of conscience to the spiritual attributes of man is the domain of psychology. Psychologists attempt to clarify two issues: a) Is conscience an attribute of man with which he is born, or is it the result of learning and encountering life's experiences in the environment in which he develops? b) Is conscience a result of the way our mind, feelings, and will operate, or is it an independent characteristic?

In response to the first question, closer examination of man's conscience convinces us that it is not the result of learned attitude or physical instinct in man, but has an unexplainable higher source. For example, children develop conscience before any adult teaching or modeling takes place. If physical instinct dictated to conscience, then it would induce man to behave in a profitable or pleasurable way. However, conscience often induces man to do that which is unprofitable or unpleasant. In spite of the appearance that evildoers enjoy the good life and virtuous people suffer, conscience tells us that a higher justice must exist. Eventually all have to receive their just reward. The universal presence of conscience for many people is the most convincing argument for God's existence and the immortality of the soul.

Regarding the relationship of conscience to other spiritual attributes of man: with his mind, feelings, and free will, we observe that conscience not only speaks of that which is theoretically good or evil, but she also obliges man to do good deeds and shun evil. Good deeds are followed by feelings of joy and satisfaction, whereas deeds of evil produce shame, fear, and spiritual unrest. In all of these manifestations, conscience uncovers in us the awareness of free will and responsibility.

Of course, reason alone cannot decide what is morally good or evil. It bases its judgment on the observation of something logical or illogical, wise or foolish, useful or useless. It is a property of reason to select useful opportunities over deeds of kindness. Nevertheless, something in man compels his reason to not only search for profit, as an abstract mathematical computation, but also to evaluate the moral value of his intentions. Doesn't it follow then that, if our conscience influences our reason, she is independent from it and even above it?

Considering how conscience works through free will, we observe that free will can desire anything, but this ability does not dictate to man what he must do. Human will, as we know it, often battles with demands of morality and attempts to free itself from its bondage. If conscience were a product of the free will, then no battle would take place, no conflict. But the voice of conscience attempts to guide man's decisions. He may not always fulfill her demands, being free to choose, but he cannot ignore her voice, and when he does that, he does not escape an inner punishment.

Finally, conscience cannot be viewed as the product of feelings in the human heart. The heart craves pleasant sensations and avoids the unpleasant. But the rejection of moral demands often brings with it a strong spiritual conflict, which tears the human heart apart. We cannot escape the outcome in spite of our desire and effort. Therefore, in spite of being enclosed and dwelling within man, shouldn't we concede that conscience is an independent and superior characteristic which directs man's reason, will and heart with divine Law?

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