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Philosophy 302: Ethics
Hubbard Winslow, "Conscience Determines What's Right"

Abstract:  Conscience is a unique eternal faculty enabling us by using reason to feel the difference between right and wrong. Three functions of conscience are (1) feelings of what we ought to do, (2) feelings of self-approval when we do it, and (3) feelings of remorse when we don't.

1. According to Winslow, what is "the exclusive dominion of conscience"?

2.  How does Winslow characterize the two elements of conscience?  Are these psychological elements considered as one faculty?

3.  What is the distinguishing susceptibility of conscience?

4. Discuss Winslow's three main functions of conscience.

1. According to Winslow, what is "the exclusive dominion of conscience"?

The "exclusive dominion of conscience," according to Winslow is the intuitive perception and the attending feeling of moral truth.  

He states the analogy: conscience is to moral truth as taste is to aesthetic truth.

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2.  How does Winslow characterize the two elements of conscience?  Are these psychological elements considered as one faculty?

He states conscience is united with the soulboth soul and conscience are  are eternal.

The two psychological elements are the cognitive (the experiential knowledge of the perception of a moral feeling) and the motive (the volition resulting from reason to act rightly).

Problem to be answered by Winslow If moral feelings and the moral faculty are unique in kind, how is it that they are composed of feeling, perception, intellect, and will?

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3.  What is the distinguishing susceptibility of conscience?

The distinguishing feature of conscience from all other dispositions of the self is the unique feelings of personal obligation and duty. Winslow says these are unique feelings not related to the actions of other persons.

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4. Discuss Winslow's three main functions of conscience.

The three main motivating functions of conscience are:

(1) the impulse to do (what we believe to be what's) right and avoid (what we believe to be what's) wrong.  (Objection to Winslow: note the ambiguous relation to knowledge in his restatement of the role of the intellect.)

(2) the unique delightful feeling of approval when we have acted in accordance with duty. (Objection to Winslow: note that we often do our duty grudgingly and often delight in avoiding our duty.)

(3) the unique feeling of remorse or guilt when we fail to do our duty (it we are rightly taught at home).  (Objection to Winslow: conscience then appears not to be an innate eternal faculty if its exemplification depends on education.)

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Recommended Sources

Conscience:  James Mark Baldwin's Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology
Medieval Theories of Conscience
: the use and philosophy of "conscience" by Bonaventura, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and others in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ethics Homepage     

 
Socrates and Plato   Top of Page  Alexander Bain, "Conscience Is Learned"
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