The test of a good conscience

Authored by: John Solas

The Routledge Handbook of Social Work Ethics and Values

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  May  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138343931
eBook ISBN: 9780429438813
Adobe ISBN:


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Central to the modern conception of conscience is the notion of a capacity, attributed to most people, that enables them to discern the commission or omission of acts, both their own and others, as immoral and blameworthy (Strohm, 2011). The notion of conscience emanates from antiquity. Its meaning evolved from the Greek term suneidesis, and Latin derivative, conscientia, both of which connoted a state of or act of sharing knowledge about one’s sense of propriety (Sorabji, 2014). The ancients considered conscience the source of an individual’s typically unpalatable response to some violation of moral sensibility (Van Creveld, 2015). Creeds of various kinds have made conscience sacrosanct, but immersed it in guilt, and there, in large part, it has remained even after the Enlightenment (Van Creveld, 2015). Among its defenders, Kant has arguably been the strongest (Hill, 2000). However, even Kant’s attempt to provide a rational basis for conscience has not freed it of guilt. By the same token, conscience has had to endure some very powerful and sustained criticism, most notably from Nietzsche (1887/1967) and Freud (1923). They, like many of their predecessors, considered conscience to be the cradle of abject weakness and sickness (Ojakangas, 2013; Ridley, 1998).

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