Three Dimensions of Conscience by Richard Gula

Moral values orient a person in their behavior not only due to the fact that it is profitable or pleasant for one to accept them in decisions and actions. Nevertheles, these values have an impact on a person's will and are usually proclaimed in such a way that points the need for their practical implementation in action. Conscience is a person's ability to assess their actions, thoughts, and desires critically, and be aware of non-fulfillment of duty. Therefore, philosophers, theologians, and religious writers proclaim primacy of conscience in moral life.

Existence of conscience

Curran argues that existence of conscience is confirmed due to debates and disagreements as well as common features in judgments between different cultures. Conscience determines the depth in which man detects the rule and it is the principle of an assertion of social standards. It is also connected with human reason in three different ways – a discursive deductive way, a connatural way, and discerning and prudential way. Curran also insists that faith plays a great role in human behavior and people should follow Holy Spirit when making their choices. Curran believes, that for a holistic understanding of conscience, it is important to distinguish affective and emotional sides of the human being. Conscience rules the person not only according to available knowledge but also includes the texture of a person’s moral character: one’s motives, intentions, affections, and attitudes.


Hoose supports Proportionalism and suggests that the natural moral law is not just a list of the absolute "thou shall not". It is the system of guidelines that people should manage by their own decisions. He believes that the determination of the correctness of the act can be achieved with the help of a relative "weighting" of its positive and negative results. Good and evil are inherent in the results of the action, not the action itself.

Nature of Conscience

St.Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologia

Conscience is not a resolution or ability as, narrowly speaking. it is a conscious use of our knowledge about what we do. It issues laws about what we should or should not do, and protects or blames us for our actions. We do not always engage in such activities, but our luck deals with them, and especially our awareness of the root causes, which is called Synteresis.Conscience is always present. Aquinas argues that consciousness is directly related to human knowledge, embodied knowledge, and memory, and is always present.

Joseph Butler Sermon preaching at Rally Chapel

Butler is best known for his preaching. He argues his "sermon" by considering human nature to be dual. In his point of view, benevolence and self-love are fundamental emotions. Therefore, to be moral means to be a natural, fit to natural destinations. Genuine human morality is evident in his consistent and meaningful benevolence. Along with benevolence and self-love most important thing of human beeing is a reflection through which one can understand their emotions, approving or disapproving of the movement of their heart, their character, or action. This mental ability Butler calls the conscience. It is due to reflective capacity, or conscience, that people refrain from harming each other and encourage a virtue. Conscience indicates which emotions are correct and commendable, and, thus, gives strength to follow that which is worthy. In other words, conscience is a natural predisposition to the kindness and compassion that directs one towards the society.

In the internal hierarchy of human nature, commandments of conscience always have a priority over the private inclinations and emotions, no matter how strong they may be in one’s composition and nature. Butler argues that man is a law to himself. The only thing that is required is that one should follow conscience judgments honestly. Conscience does not depend neither on private individual preferences and the expected effects, nor on the civil laws. Conscience reflects the law of nature in the human heart, and helps realize the world directly and clearly.

Richard Gula. Three dimensions of Conscience

Richard M. Gula states that traditionally Catholics ascribe three dimensions of conscience: synderesis, moral science, and conscience. Timothy O’Connell calls these dimensions conscience/1, conscience/2, and conscience/3. Synderesis is a capacity of being human, to know and to do the good. Likewise, it is a base of moral agreement or disagreement. Moral science is a process of personal thinking, creating of evaluative knowledge, perception, reflection, and analysis. Also, it is a realm of moral disagreement, error, formation, and examination of conscience. Hence, conscience is an actual judgment about what is right and what is wrong in some particular situation. It is based on personal perception and values. The object of this judgment is the correspondence of some particular fact or thing to the personal choice.

Authority of Conscience

Authority of conscience has multiple sources, which reflect social norms, values, and principles of moral agents. Nevertheless, social norms should be accepted by the person to obtain authority. McCormic argues that moral agents are education, ecumenism, and engagement. Paying attention to the fact that modern parishioners are more educated in their own and spheres of other religions than priests, common people should be more involved in making moral judgments. In this case, conscience has a great authority because it obtains an overall character.

Since conscience must answer to the actual situations of decision-making, it has certain particular powers and provides the zone of freedom and dignity to every person. According to Butler, the conscience has a unique authority among the principles relating to human nature. It must set the other principles, not vice versa. In addition, we recognize that any reasonable person has a conscience and must follow it. Conscience is closely linked with autonomy: When one acts in accordance with his conscience, one acts according to their own law, or in accordance with the law of human nature.

 Foundation of Conscience. Peter Toon

Toon is an Anglican theologian that give recommendations for the young generation, especially through his book Your Conscience as Your Guide (1984). This book is interesting as a representation of Protestant pastoral look at the conscience. It describes the role of the conscience in the Christian experience of salvation and role of the church. ‘Your conscience is your capacity of hearing God’s voice’ –Toon proclaims. He also compares conscience with a sail on a boat, and personal actions with direction and force of the wind. Personal being, thinking, and acting affect conscience. According to Toon, ‘The language of ‘ I ought’ and ‘my duty is’ points to the function of conscience both as judge and guide’. Conscience acts as a guide, assisting him to avoid wrong and to do good. On the contrary, conscience judges a person for doing wrong. Nevetheless, conscience judgment and guidance cannot be separated from personality, their approach to life, and place in society.


All things considered, conscience is the human responsibility to themselves, as a bearer of a higher, universal values. It involves understanding by the personality of their duty and responsibility to themselves and others. Conscience is a judge that can be quite cruel to people. Still, the essential characteristic of the moral requirements is their universality.

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