This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: e not men dared to do
right in the face of a world that blamed and punished; have they not stood without praise or reward or the
fellowship of others for the actions their conscience dictated?"
Yes, indeed. What, then, is conscience? For the common thought of the world it is an inward mentor placed
by God within the bosom of man to guide him, to goad him, even, into choosing right and avoiding wrong.
Where the conception of conscience is not quite so literal and direct it is held to be an immanent something of
innate origin. Whatever it may be, it surely does not guide us very accurately or well, for there are opposing
consciences on every side of every question, and opponents find themselves equally spurred by conscience to
action and are equally convinced of righteousness. In the long run it would be difficult to decide which did
more harm in the world, a conscientious persecutor or bigot, an Alvarez or James the First, or a dissolute,
conscienceless sensualist like Charles the Second. Certainly consciences differ as widely as digestions.
Conscience, so it seems to me, arises in early childhood with the appearance of fixed purposes. It is entirely
guided at first by teaching and by praise and blame, for the infant gives no evidence of conscience. But the
infant (or young child) soon wants to please, wants the favor and smiles of its parents. Why does it wish to
please? Is there a something irreducible in the desire? I do not know and cannot pretend to answer.
This, however, may be definitely stated. Conscience arises or grows in the struggle between opposing desires
and purposes in the course of which one purpose becomes recognized as the proper guide to conduct. Let us
take a simple case from the moral struggles of the child.
A three-year-old, wandering into the kitchen, with mother in the back yard hanging out the clothes, makes the
startling discovery that there is a pan of tarts, apple tarts, on the kitchen table, easily within reach, especially if
Master Three-Year-Old pulls up a ch...
View Full Document
- Spring '11