Sunday, November 24, 2013

An underappreciated problem of conscience

One of the forefront concerns I have whenever anyone starts appealing to the primacy or even instrumental role of consciousness with regards to moral questions is this: I think people are prone to bullshit wildly whenever they can get away with it, and when a fundamental justification in their decision-making process is entirely mental, the bullshit accumulates quickly. This is one reason why it's a bad idea to argue about someone's motivations - because 'motivations' are usually known only to a single person, and said person may well be willing to lie like crazy if they know no one can really check them for sincerity.

When the Pope was (at this point, quite possibly wrong) quoted as saying that 'if everyone followed their consciences, the world would be a better place', a lot of the worry seemed to center around the fact that this gave people license to support everything from gay marriage to partial birth abortion, so long as their consciences told them it was the right thing to do. That wasn't really my prime worry. Instead it was the expectation of the inevitable nonsense that would immediately follow, where people (particularly Catholics) would suddenly discover that their consciences told them to do everything they always wanted to do, and still be able to sell themselves as good Catholics and moral people because 'I'm just doing what my conscience tells me!'


darrenl said...

Just because you follow you conscience does mean that your conscience is well formed to begin with.

Crude said...

I agree. But I also think a big problem with an overemphasis on 'conscience' is that people end up bullshitting about just what their consciences say.

ebougis said...

At this point in our cultural saga, I think the word "conscience" is almost a throwaway word, like "consensus" or "tolerance." Precisely because "conscience" still retains a classical, largely Christian connotation, it is somehow alien to the dominant trend of being "authentically human." The wisdom on the street is not to follow your "conscience," but simply to do what you think is right. The difference is subtle, but real. The word "conscience" means "with certain knowledge", and yet even knowledge is now expunged from the moral landscape. One must do what one feels is right, not what one knows is right--who could "know" such a thing?! The conscience is a judge of one's feelings, whereas now the order has been inverted so that one's feelings are the very substance of one's "conscience." Hence, without putting too fine a point on it, this is precisely why I feel so srongly that recent incautious bromides about "conscience" (even if they were not ipsissima verba) have caused more damage than many are willing to countenance, and among precisely the worst demographic groups.

-- Codgitator

Crude said...

I think they may cause some damage. But those 'worst demographic groups' also tend to not have many live options available to them other THAN getting more damaged.

One of the unfortunate realities of these things is this: a whole lot of people are absolute idiots. But you need to speak in a way that persuades idiots to accomplish much, because apparently idiots know how to vote, with both levers and money.

BenYachov said...

QUOTE" LR: Your Holiness, you wrote that in your letter to me. The conscience is autonomous, you said, and everyone must obey his conscience. I think that’s one of the most courageous steps taken by a Pope.

Francis: “And I repeat it here. Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place.”END

I reply: Of course the world would be a "better place" if people acted from a motivation of choosing the good vs choosing what they believe to be evil. Even if erroneously.

If everyone followed natural law the world would be a "better place" too. But in neither case would the world be the "best place". Nor would it mean evil would be eliminated. But it would be better but there is no best of all possible worlds so what is the problem?

I can tell people to follow natural law but only a fool or a heretic would think I meant we should just follow the natural law and not either the moral or divine law.

Why is this hard? It's as plain as a Serbian Pinup!!!!

BenYachov said...

Fr Z's insights are worth taking note.

BenYachov said...

Conscience is a tricky thing in that if go against even an erroneous conscience and do what it says in error to be wrong you can still commit a sin.

OTOH if you follow an erroneous conscience you can still sin such as in the example given by Aquinas on an erroneous conscience telling a man he may commit adultery. It seems you are damned if you do & damned if you don't which is a problem.

OTOH The issue it seems revolves around the "law written in our hearts" which might indicate there are some evils we intrinsically know are wrong and they cannot be justified by an appeal to conscience. Or sin commited via vincible ignorance that is doing something we don't know to be wrong per say but we refuse to find out motivated by malice and a willful ignorance.

As opposed to a true invincable ignorance which is from no fault of our own.

Of course this is all moot. In context the Pope was talking about conscience in regards to the salvation of non-believers. It's interesting to note Fr. Z & myself read the same interview & he quotes from it in context.

Others it seems did not.

Just saying.....

BenYachov said...

Idiots are always going to damage themselves.

I have a book by TAN (hardly a glowing pro-Vatican 2 publisher) titled MORAL THEOLOGY that says that "an act of imperfect sodomy between husband and wife" is not a violation of natural law( or not a mortal sin. I forget. I will have to look it up later).

Yet a certain person who teaches about Jp2's Theology of the Body took these and similar statements made by other pre-V2 moral theologians to mean you could incorporate backdoor play into your marriage bed.

Without going off on a tangent let be just say short answer:NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Idiots are always going to hurt themselves. But I will say this if you are going to get idiot non believers into the faith you have to inspire their curiosity to learn so as to not become idiots.

Idiot Non-believer: So you don't believe like the fundies all non-Christians are automatically going to Hell? I heard the Pope say that?

Smart orthodox believer: Would you like to know more?

INB: Yes?

We must encourage idiots to become non-idiots. Not contribute to the sea of idiocy.

Just saying.