Inescapable truth #4 of the Intentionomics Blueprint is to control your inner voice. One aspect of your inner voice is often referred to as your conscience. Have you given much thought to what your conscience is and how, when, where and why you use it? And have you ever thought about the strengths and weaknesses of having a conscience?
Paul Strohm addresses these questions in this fascinating exploration that tracks the historical origins to modern day understanding of the conscience. What I particularly enjoyed about Strohm’s style of writing is that he refers to Conscience throughout the book almost as if it is almost a living and breathing being in a battle for existence and survival.
Strohm provides a quick summary of the origins of Conscience “The Romans identified it (and named it: conscientia). The early Christians adopted it… it re-crossed the religious/secular divide, shifting attention from religious perfection to ethical and social betterment. Today it is embraced with equal conviction by non-religious and religious alike.”
Thinking about our Conscience as being an ‘inner voice of moral reason’ (my words) is just one aspect that is covered and there is much to be said about the problem of individually different moral reasoning that has led to some world atrocities – all in the name of personal conscience. Strohm introduces the reader to the key difference between conscience as a thought process to conscience driven action and the potential problem “When one person’s conscientious deeds collide with the freedoms and prerogatives of others.”
Strohm highlights the potential problem of individualistic conscience or what he refers to as “Solitary Conscience” and that it can court “ethical chaos, unless authority and tradition are accredited tempering roles.”
So this brings in the idea of ‘do unto others’ as part of the moral reasoning process of conscience.
Strohm draws on the writings of the ancient Romans, Greeks, and the work of philosophers including Kant (in his Metaphysics of Morals (1797) whose view is “conscience conducts an ‘internal court’ in man” and Locke who in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) rejects that we are born with conscience or a gift of divine inspiration (that God put it there). “Instead, reason is the arbieter of its legitimacy”.
He also cites the work of Disney’s Pinocchio and the character Jiminy Cricket as the conscience of the puppet who wanted to become a boy. The Blue Fairy introduces Jiminy as ‘Lord high keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counsellor in moments of high temptation and guide along the straight and narrow path.’
The Roman term conscientia is formed from the two terms con + scientia: sciential as knowledge but held con or ‘together with’ or ‘in common’. Strohm writes “Conscience is knowledge of oneself, but also knowledge held together with another or others.”
While academic to an extent in the way this book is written, it cleverly draws you in to want to defend the right of Conscience to exist. Strohm certainly provides the reader with enough caution (and examples) to remember that your conscience when acted upon, must consider the impact of those actions on others.
This is a book I recommend to anyone interested in understanding more about this often used and accepted term ‘Conscience’ and to dig a bit deeper to broaden your understanding and also your ability to use your conscience with clear intention.