Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Winslow states,"Man alone of all creatures upon earth is capable of moral action." Yet, any number of empirical studies have shown some animal behavior seems to suggest moral behavior:

    A rat in a cage refused to push a lever for food when it sees that another rat receives an electric shock as a result. A male diana monkey who has learned to insert a token into a slot to obtain food helps a female who can't get the hang of the trick, inserting the token for her and allowing her to eat the food reward. A female fruit-eating bat helps an unrelated female give birth by showing her how to hang in the proper way.[1]

    Most likely the rules followed by animals living in a group limit fighting and encourage cooperative behavior. Even if we allow that the particular moral rules followed by animals are species specific, how would this state of affairs differ in kind from the fact that moral rules in different human societies vary?

  2. Does Winslow make a "category mistake"[2] by supposing that the two psychological elements of conscience, feeling and perceiving, are presented as one to consciousness? Can a perception be a feeling or vice versa can a feeling be a perception? In psychiatric terms, an affect (i.e., a feeling) is defined as an "[e]motional feeling tone attached to an object, idea, or thought," and a perception is defined as a "mental process by which data—intellectual, sensory, and emotional— are organized meaningfully." [3]

  3. Winslow argues just as "[w]e must not wait until we can philosophize upon food before we eat…" so also "[n]either should we wait to learn all the grounds and reasons of duty, before doing what we already know to be right." Compare Winslow's definition of conscience to Immanuel Kant's categorical and practical imperatives:

    Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law. … Accordingly the practical imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat humanity … in every case as an end withall, never as a means.[4]

    The categorical imperative implies not only consciousness of right and wrong but also implies the compelling motive of duty to act rightly. For both writers, conscience is not formed from experience or judging means to end but instead is implanted as a prior faculty of the soul.

  4. Current theories in psychology of feeling and emotion differ, and these differences stem in large measure from consideration of the origin of specific emotions.With regard to moral feelings, do "moral distinctions depend entirely on certain peculiar sentiments of pain and pleasure" as determined through experience as Hume thought[5] or are they "an original moral predisposition" of the mind or an a priori "inner judge" as Kant thought[6]? What method or methods of inquiry could settle such a question? If we invoke Occam's razor,[7] which of these views would be more acceptable from the standpoint of simplicity? It might be worth noting that Aksan and Kochanska suggest that preschoolers have a differentiated organization of conscience which supports social learning theories closer to Hume's position, but toward the latter half of the preschool years a more uniform coherence of conscience tends to support the superego of psychoanalytic theory which is closer to Kant's.[8]

  5. Do moral feelings differ in kind and not just degree from other kinds of feelings? If moral feelings differ in kind from other types of feelings, then what characteristics do moral feelings have that other kinds of feelings do not have? What are the radically different defining traits of moral feelings? Discuss how the difference in kind of moral feelings might be characterized from Winslow's point of view.

  6. On what basis do you think Winslow concludes that conscience is eternal? How does conscience differ from soul on his view? If a person had no conscience, would that imply the person has no soul? How would Winslow account for the antisocial personality: "Persons with this disorder are incapable of significant loyalty to individuals, groups, or social values and are grossly selfish, callous, irresponsible, impulsive, and unable to feel guilt or to learn from experience and punishment."[9]

  7. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions has no definition for "conscience" but in place of the a definition, a reference is given to the entity "ethics (Christianity)." Moreover, Michel Despland writes, "the notion of conscience as an internal organ is not found outside of Christianity."[10] How, then, do Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam establish a foundational basis for judging right and wrong?

  8. To what extent would Winslow agree or disagree with the following legal characterization of "conscience"?

    Every man of ordinary intelligence understand, in what ever other words he may express it, that conscience is that moral sense which dictates to him right and wrong. True, this sense differs in degree in individual members of society; but no reasonable being, whether controlled by it or not in his conduct, is wholly destitute of it. Miller v. Miller, 41 Atl. 277, 280, 187 Pa. 572[11]

    Is this judicial characterization sufficient to assure, as Winston suggests, that all persons agree on what actions are right and what actions are wrong?

  9. Recent experiment results have indicated that sleep deprivation and the presence of magnetic fields affect moral judgment. Continuous wakefulness is disruptive to the ventromedial prefrontal region of the brain and results in extended response times for the evaluation of moral dilemmas.[12] When the right temporo-parietal junction of the brain is stimulated by a magnetic field, neuroscientists show moral judgments of another person's intention is impaired.[13] Can these studies be interpreted in such a way as to be consistent with Winslow's conception of conscience?

  10. Discuss how you think Winslow would respond to Nietzsche's objection that not all persons feel retributions of conscience, whereas Winslow concludes in our reading, "Let no one, then, who offends his conscience, hope to escape its retributions." Nietzsche writes:

    Let us, above all, not undervalue the measure in which, just by the spectacle of the legal procedure and punishment, the criminal will be prevented from feeling his own deed, the kind of action he did, to be as such objectionable; for he sees precisely the same kinds of actions performed, and approved of, done with good conscience, in the service of justice, such as espionage, outwitting, bribery, trap-setting …[14]

    Such victims, Nietzsche concludes, suffer no "inner pains" other than the pain of the punishment itself.

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Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), ix.


A category mistake is a confusion of logical types in definition or classification such as using colors to describe sounds.


Alfred M. Freedman, ed. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Company, 1975), 2:2572, 2598.


Immanuel Kant, Theory of Ethics trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1873), 67.


David Hume, A Treatise Concerning Human Understanding, 1888 ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1968), 574.


Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, 1797 ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 189.


Occam's razor states entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity and is often interpreted as implying the simplest explanation is the best. Colloquially in medicine, the view is sometimes expressed in Theodore Woodward's aphorism, "When you hear hoofbeats, don't expect to see Zebras." Eds.


Nazan Aksan and Brazyna Kochanska, "Conscience in Childhood: Old Questions, New Answers" in Developmental Psychology 41, No. 3 (2005): 506-516.


American Psychiatric Association, A Psychiatric Glossary (New York: Basic Books, 1975), 116.


Michael Despland, in Encyclopędia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 45.


Editorial Staff of the National Reporter System, Judicial and Statutory Definitions of Words and Phrases (St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1904), 1: 1436.


William D. S. Killgore, et. al, "The Effects of 53 Hours of Sleep Deprivation on Moral Judgment," Sleep 30, no. 3 (March, 2007): 345-352.


Rebecca Saxe, et. al, "Disruption of the right temporo-parietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 107, 15 (April 13, 2010): 6753-6758.


Friedrich Nietzsche, A Genealogy of Morals, trans. William A Hausemann in The Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Alexander Tille (New York: Macmillan: 1897), 10: 102.