Conscience and Other Virtues

Conscience and Other Virtues: From Bonaventure to MacIntyre

DOUGLAS C. LANGSTON
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v2fg
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    Conscience and Other Virtues
    Book Description:

    Conscience, once a core concept for ethics, has mostly disappeared from modern moral theory. In this book Douglas Langston traces its intellectual history to account for its neglect while arguing for its still vital importance, if correctly understood. In medieval times, Langston shows in Part I, the notions of "conscientia" and "synderesis" from which our contemporary concept of conscience derives were closely connected to Greek ideas about the virtues and practical reason, although in Christianized form. As modified by Luther, Butler, and Kant, however, conscience later came to be regarded as a faculty like will and intellect, and when faculty psychology fell into disrepute, so did the role of conscience in moral philosophy. A view of mature conscience that sees it as relational, with cognitive, emotional, and conative dimensions, can survive the criticisms of conscience as faculty. In Part II, through discussions of Freud, Ryle, and other modern thinkers, Langston proceeds to reconstruct conscience as a viable philosophical concept. Finally, in Part III, this better grounded concept is connected with the modern revival of virtue ethics, and Langston shows how crucial conscience is to a theory of virtue because it is fundamental to the training of any morally good person.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05437-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-4)

    Conscience has been ignored. Although we use it to guide our actions and we appeal to freedom of conscience in a variety of situations, in the last twenty-five years little has been written about conscience as a useful analytical concept. Why?

    It is easy to point to the atrocities of this century as reason to abandon the notion of conscience. Writers like Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi have chronicled the horrors of the Holocaust. Apartheid in South Africa, racial slaughter in Rwanda, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans all seem to indicate that there is not the guiding force in...

  5. PART I: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
    • ONE CLASSICAL BACKGROUND TO DISCUSSIONS OF CONSCIENCE
      (pp. 7-20)

      Our modern notion of conscience has had an unfortunate development. Today, most people regard conscience as a judging and punishing faculty. It judges the worth of a person’s actions and influences how a person behaves by making the person experience guilt when wrong is done. As an internal judge, its pronouncements and punishments are limited to the person whose conscience it is. But this modern notion of conscience developed from considerably different views.

      The modern termconsciencederives most immediately from the Latin termconscientia. This term in turn derives from the Greek termsuneidesis. Both the Latin and Greek...

    • TWO BONAVENTURE’S VIEW OF CONSCIENCE and SYNDERESIS
      (pp. 21-38)

      In their treatment of the virtues and conscience, the medieval schoolmen drew on the works of both Plato and Aristotle; but they were heavily influenced by Augustine’s modification of the classical tradition. While acknowledging his debt to Plato and Aristotle, Augustine (d. 430) constantly criticized their views for failing to take into account the critical role of God in any human activity. In fact, Augustine went so far as to claim that what the Greeks consider virtues Christians should view as vices: “No, the virtues on which the mind preens itself as giving control over the body and its urges,...

    • THREE AQUINAS ON CONSCIENCE, THE VIRTUES, and WEAKNESS OF WILL
      (pp. 39-52)

      Bonaventure’s voluntaristic view of synderesis and conscience presents synderesis as the drive to the good and places it in the appetitive faculty. In contrast, Aquinas (1225–74) claims that synderesis is in the rational part of human agents. It is a natural disposition of the human mind by which we apprehend without inquiry the basic principles of behavior; it is thus parallel to the disposition by which we directly apprehend the basic principles of the theoretical disciplines.¹ Once the basic principles are apprehended and become part of synderesis, conscience, also in the rational part, applies these first principles to particular...

    • FOUR SCOTUS AND OCKHAM ON SYNDERESIS and CONSCIENCE
      (pp. 53-70)

      Lottin’s research (inPsychologie et morale au XIIe et XIIIe siècles) reveals that the topics of conscience and synderesis were extensively treated from the time of Philip the Chancellor (d. 1236) to that of Henry of Ghent (d. 1293). It is consequently surprising that these topics receive little direct attention from either Duns Scotus (1265–1308) or William of Ockham (1280–1349). Ockham devotes no explicit question to conscience (in fact, the closest he comes to a discussion of conscience is in the context of asking whether willfully following a mistaken intellect is ever meritorious), and Scotus’s discussion of conscience...

    • FIVE LUTHER and THE RISE OF CONSCIENCE AS A FACULTY
      (pp. 71-84)

      Two recent, complementary studies have investigated Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) view of conscience. Michael G. Baylor’sAction and Persontraces Luther’s reaction to scholastic discussions of synderesis and conscience and the development of his own innovative view that conscience has as object not only actions but also the whole person.¹ Randall C. Zachman’sThe Assurance of Faithpresents Luther’s mature view of conscience, placing it within his “theology of the cross” and linking Luther’s views to Calvin’s.²

      The studies reinforce each other; Zachman’s, in fact, uses Baylor’s as a significant source. Both studies emphasize that there is a tension in...

  6. PART II: THE CONTEMPORARY DISMISSAL OF CONSCIENCE
    • SIX FREUD and RYLE ON CONSCIENCE
      (pp. 87-98)

      One of the major developments of the twentieth century is the theory of psychoanalysis. Although many have criticized the theory, it has become a fixed feature of the present intellectual landscape. The theory itself is the creation of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), but it has undergone continual revision. Psychoanalytic theory as it is practiced today is more of a synthetic product than simply an application of Freud’s views. Yet it is still important to look at Freud’s own thoughts, if only to understand a major source for present theory.

      The historical background for Freud’s views is often neglected. This seems...

    • SEVEN CONSCIENCE AS SOMETHING OTHER THAN A FACULTY
      (pp. 99-108)

      Although discussions of conscience in the philosophical literature of the last half of the twentieth century are rare, in general there are three different views about the nature of conscience in the literature.¹ Some writers advocate a cognitive view of conscience. According to this view, conscience is the device by which one contemplates and evaluates one’s own actions or moral standing. By and large, those who view conscience as a faculty advocate this understanding of conscience.² Clearly this view regards conscience as closely connected to moral reasoning. A second view of conscience, as an affective faculty, regards conscience as the...

    • EIGHT MORE TRADITIONAL VIEWS OF CONSCIENCE
      (pp. 109-120)

      As Bernard Wand points out, the topic of conscience has been relegated to casual mention in the twentieth century. The important discussions in the Anglo-American tradition, which I have treated in the last two chapters, have tended toward reductionism or elimination. Yet, there are still champions of the existence of conscience in the twentieth century. The Roman Catholic Church, not surprisingly, has been one of the principal exponents in the twentieth century of the view of conscience one finds expounded in the Middle Ages. In theCatechism of the Catholic Church, conscience is defined in a very Thomistic fashion: “[C]onscience...

    • NINE THE EXISTENCE OF CONSCIENCE
      (pp. 121-132)

      At the root of many of the reductionistic criticisms of conscience examined in Chapter 7 was the assumption that conscience is a faculty. For example, Hunter’s suggestion that the notion of conscience be taken as a convenient fiction is guided by the assumption that conscience is a moral knowledge-giving faculty. In fact, his pointing to its status as a faculty gives strength to the analogy with the entity Santa Claus. Why should we assume, however, that if there is a knowledge part to conscience that conscience is an entity (faculty)? Of course, if we regard conscience as the exclusive source...

  7. PART III: CONSCIENCE AS A KEY TO VIRTUE ETHICS
    • TEN CONSCIENCE AMONG THE VIRTUE ETHICISTS
      (pp. 135-150)

      It is by now a commonplace to remark that, among philosophers, there has been during the last twenty years a resurgence of interest in the virtues.¹ To be sure, many more articles and books espousing either a deontological or a consequentialist ethics are still being written than ones espousing a virtue ethics, yet the marked renewal of interest is undeniable. Many trace the renewal to Prichard’s essay “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?”² but the scarcity of work on the virtues between 1912 and the 1960s suggests more recent sources. Anscombe’s “Modern Moral Philosophy” and Von Wright’sThe Varieties...

    • ELEVEN CONSCIENCE and VIRTUE ETHICS
      (pp. 151-172)

      Authorities have offered numerous criticisms of a pure virtue ethics. Among the most detailed is Robert B. Louden’s “On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics.”¹ In Louden’s eyes, a pure virtue ethics is reductionistic:

      In other words, conceptual reductionism is at work in virtue ethics too. Just as its utilitarian and deontological competitors begin with primitive concepts of the good state of affairs and the intrinsically right action respectively and then derive secondary concepts out of their starting points, so virtue ethics, beginning with a root conception of the morally good person, proceeds to introduce a different set of secondary concepts,...

    • TWELVE CONSCIENCE and OTHER VIRTUES
      (pp. 173-178)

      Influenced by the work of, among others, Butler, Kant, and Freud, many philosophers in this century accepted the view that conscience is to be regarded as a faculty. Having done this, they went on to argue that there is no conscience because there is no such faculty. At best, ‘conscience’ is shorthand for something else: moral reasoning, a personal monitor, emotive responses. Moreover, the horrific events of the past century have caused many to question whether there is the moral guiding force that conscience is thought to provide. This all-too-pervasive dismissal of conscience is unfortunate and displays an ignorance of...

  8. APPENDIX: MACINTYRE’S PROJECT
    (pp. 179-184)
  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 185-188)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 189-191)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 192-192)