Conscience Study Guide
Conscience Study Guide

Conscience Study Guide

Source: Open Book Publishers

Student Price: FREE

A study guide on introductory concepts in philosophy.

Conscience Study Guide

​The notion of “conscience” has appeared for thousands of years in different cultures, even though it has not always been called “conscience”. Modern Christian orthodoxy popularised it and characterised it in relation to God’s voice, and guidance. Aquinas thought that conscience is the way we understand how to apply what we know. In Aquinas’s view, our conscience is fallible and might guide us wrongly. When our conscience “gets it wrong” we can be either culpable — through vincible ignorance — or not culpable — through invincible ignorance.

Freud is less convinced that conscience is a force for good, and he is certain that it has not got anything to do with God. For Freud conscience can be either a good or bad. We can think of our mind as having three parts, the id, ego and super-ego. The conscience for Freud is the form the super-ego takes when it is trying to keep the ego in line. It is internalized as the voice of authority. The super-ego is about following rules but those rules do not come from “on high”, they derive from the upbringing we have had. So if we have had a repressive upbringing then the super-ego — the voice of conscience — will be repressive. How we develop these three features of the mind is through what Freud calls Psychosexual Development; if we do not develop correctly then we become fixated and repressive, form a neurosis and ultimately become mentally ill. Freud thought that this could be avoided by working through the Psychosexual Stages in the normal way, and can be treated through psychosexual counseling.

Key Terminology

  • Pleasure principle
  • Id
  • Ego
  • Super-ego
  • Synderesis
  • Vincible ignorance
  • Invincible ignorance
  • Psychosexual Development Theory (oral, anal, phallic, latency and mature genital phases)

Do you think you have a conscience? What does it tell you?


What is the difference between synderesis and conscience?


Do you think that everyone ultimately knows — if they reason correctly — what is right and wrong?


What is the difference between vincible and invincible? Is not most of the supposedly invincible knowledge, really vincible? We just need to try harder?


What are the possible different roles for the conscience?


Could the conscience be a morally bad thing?


Why does Freud think we need to be cautious about listening to our conscience?


How does Freud’s account of conscience relate to his Psychosexual Development Theory?


What do you think about Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory?


Draw up a table of the key stages and accompanying characteristics of Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory.


Could it ever make sense to talk about animals/robots having a conscience? If not, why not?


Do you think conscience will still shape our lives in one thousand years?

​© 2017 Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher

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Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher,Ethics for A-Level. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2017,

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