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Definition: CONSCIENCE from Dictionary of Psychopathology

In psychoanalysis, equivalent to the superego: that which produces guilt and stands in opposition to the dangers of impulse expression. Correlated to moral and ethical imperatives.


Summary Article: conscience from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Inner sense of what is morally right and wrong. Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud held that conscience is the superego.

English theologian Joseph Butler, the leading conscience theorist in ethics, saw the voice of conscience as ‘the candle of the Lord’. He argued that conscience is the part of human nature that guides us towards the moral integration of the self. Critics of conscience theories argue that the idea of conscience is an unreliable measure of a person's ability to choose right over wrong or good over evil.

Development of conscience A baby reacts to the pleasure principle and is very self-centred, not in the sense of being selfish, but as a proper concern for self-preservation. Food and loving attention give pleasure and the baby expresses needs by crying. As a person grows older, part of the natural development is to learn to make decisions and to judge the effects of those decisions on other people. This is when the idea of the conscience comes into play.

The conscience has been described as an inner feeling or voice which seems to ‘speak’ to people about what is morally right and wrong. Some think that the existence of the conscience is determined by the influences in a person's life; it depends upon how a person is brought up and is behaviour that has to be learned.

Prisoner of conscience A prisoner of conscience is a person confined because of their beliefs or opinions, usually political dissenters or conscientious objectors. Amnesty International campaigns for the release of such prisoners. Notable examples of prisoners of conscience include Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned in South Africa from 1964 to 1990 because of his beliefs against apartheid (the separation of black and white South Africans).

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