Key Points


For each ethical theory, we include criticisms. However, there is no single 'theory of conscience', so in many ways each different theory criticises at least some aspects of the other theories. This summary of the key points of the theories covered on this site might help:

Theory Key Points
St Paul Conscience is a universally God-given ability to know and choose the good.
  • Synderesis - knowledge of human nature and primary precepts
  • Conscienta - deriving secondary precepts and applying them
  • Prudence - balancing our needs against the needs of others
Butler Conscience is a God-given ability to reason, our 'natural guide' with ultimate authority
Newman Conscience is 'the voice of God' planted in us before we could reason. It is an intuition, the 'law of the mind'.
Freud Conscience is the 'superego', guilt resulting from authority figures like parents. Irrational, part of the subconscious mind. The ego is in charge in a healthy person, not the conscience.
Piaget Conscience develops over time. Part of a healthy human mind.

As you can see from this summary, St Paul, Aquinas, Butler and Newman all agree that the conscience comes from God and should have ultimate authority over what we do. Aquinas and Butler see reason as an essential part of this, but Newman thinks it is intuitive. Freud and Piaget explain conscience without God. They disagree about whether it is a positive thing or not.

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