Our conscience must be developed

Can conscience alone judge the worth of an action? People commonly assume that it can. When we are accused of wrongdoing, we sometimes defend ourselves by claiming our conscience was clear. The implication is that if we didn’t feel guilty when we did it, then we can’t have done anything wrong. Although certainly convenient, this logic does not hold. People can do many bad things with a clear conscience. A murderer may have no sense of guilt or shame whilst committing his crime, and yet we would not absolve him of wrongdoing. Therefore, conscience alone cannot judge whether an action is good or bad.

Some people view conscience as an impulse that comes directly from God. They equate following their conscience with following the will of God, and thus see conscience as an absolute moral guide. This view is incorrect. Our conscience does not come from any outside source, but is rather a reflection of our own inner beliefs and values. If such values are indeed aligned with the will of God, then our conscience will follow suit, but this may not be the case. It is important to realize that our conscience is only based on our current understanding. It is not infallible.

This does not mean that we should ignore our conscience. On the contrary, going against our conscience is never a good idea. However, we do need to realize that our conscience must be developed, and thus by implication, can be distrusted. Clearly we should never act against our own values, but we must still be open to the possibility of changing these values. We can only act based on what we know at the time, but we should always strive to increase this knowledge.

Therefore, developing our conscience is an important pursuit in life. It is easy to cause pain in this world, and it requires great insight and thoughtfulness to minimize this. We must think about our actions and how they make others feel. We must evaluate our values and our understanding of human nature. Our feelings are not the ultimate guide to right and wrong – they simply reflect our thoughts. Hence we must think about what is truly good for ourselves, for others, and for the world. Only then can our conscience properly develop, and only then can our actions be congruent with the right way to live.

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