"Conscience Is Learned" by Alexander Bain

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Moral Science
The Reading Selection from Moral Science
[Nature of Conscience]
[Conscience Formed by Association]
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Alexander Bain (Thoemmes)

About the author…

Alexander Bain (1818-1903) was self-educated until he entered Marischal College in Aberdeen Scotland. With his submission of an article to the Westminster Review, he became acquainted with John Stuart Mill and was drawn into utilitarianism and empiricism. As one of the founders of British psychology, he sought to explain all mental processes in terms of physical sensations and rid psychology of metaphysical hypotheses. His books The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859) were standard textbooks in psychology well into the next century. Bain founded the psychological journal Mind in 1876—today it's a well-known philosophy journal.

About the work…

In his Moral Science,[1] Bain uses his insight into the nature of the will for an explication of ethical theory. In many ways, Bain anticipated pragmatism; in fact, Charles Sanders Pierce's well-known statement, "different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise"[2] originated from Bain's notion of belief as the preparation to act. In the brief selection below, he explains the origin of conscience and how our consciences are shaped. If Bain is correct, conscience cannot be a reliable guide to a consistent ethics across different cultures and during different times.

Ideas of Interest from Moral Science

  1. How does Bain define "conscience"? Is his definition congruent with the contemporary use of the word?

  2. According to Bain, how are the emotions and self-interest related to conscience?

  3. How is conscience shaped by education, law, and authority? Explain what Bain means by the "effect of contiguous association"?

  4. According to Bain how does conscience develop in children who were neglected by their parents?

  5. Does Bain distinguish between the mores and the morals of a society? What reasons does he provide for his judgment?



Alexander Bain. Moral Science: A Compendium of Ethics (New York: D. Appleton, 1869) 42-45.


Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1935), 398.