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Lets Call it What
it is: A Matter
of Conscience
A New Vocabulary for Moral
Beryl W. Holtam
S e n s e P u b l i s h e r s C I F L 6
ISBN 978-94-6209-005-7
Lets Call it What it is: A Matter
of Conscience
A New Vocabulary for Moral Education
Beryl W. Holtam
Brock University, Ontario, Canada
With a new century, there has emerged a new age in moral considerations. The Arab
Spring, Facebook, and the Occupy Movement all point to an awareness of, and concern
for, the moral character of the individual and the collective. The phrase, its the right
thing to do, echoing throughout news media and ones daily exchanges, typically
indicates a moral positioning. Presented in this book is the argument that now is the
time to call it what it is, a matter of conscience, and to embrace the transformative
power of a new vocabulary for moral and character education.
In a more expansive approach than typically seen, this book examines the nature
and function of conscience. Building upon the foundational work of Thomas Green
(1999), the vocabulary of reexive judgment, reexive emotions, normation, and
voices of conscience, are explored as they apply to moral formation, with examples
and applications provided. Specic attention is given to the interrelationship of the
collective conscience with democracy. Educating for conscience and the notion of the
sacred are also examined. Written from an educators perspective, this book offers a
framework for moral education to both the secular and religious domains.
10.058 mm

Lets Call it What it is: A Matter of Conscience

Critical Issues in the Future of Learning and Teaching
Volume 6

This series represents a forum for important issues that do and will affect how learning and
teaching are thought about and practised. All educational venues and situations are
undergoing change because of information and communications technology, globalization
and paradigmatic shifts in determining what knowledge is valued. Our scope includes
matters in primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as community-based informal
circumstances. Important and significant differences between information and knowledge
represent a departure from traditional educational offerings heightening the need for
further and deeper understanding of the implications such opportunities have for
influencing what happens in schools, colleges and universities around the globe. An
inclusive approach helps attend to important current and future issues related to learners,
teachers and the variety of cultures and venues in which educational efforts occur. We invite
forward-looking contributions that reflect an international comparative perspective
illustrating similarities and differences in situations, problems, solutions and outcomes.

Edited by Michael Kompf ( - Brock University, Canada) &
Pamela M Denicolo ( - University of Reading, UK)

Michael Kompf is Professor of Education at Brock University, Canada. Interests include
developmental issues for adult learners and teachers; personal construct psychology; global
policies and practices in higher education; and philosophies of inquiry. Recent writing and
presentations have included exploring the nature of university corporatism, higher education
success rates, individual and the social implications of distance learning, and Aboriginal
education. A member of the International Study Association on Teachers and Teaching
( since 1985, Michael has served four terms as Chair in addition to four terms as
editor of the ISATT Newsletter. Michael is a member of several professional associations and
serves as associate editor and reviewer on several journals. He is co-editor of six volumes of
work in adult education and the various areas of teacher thinking. He has consulted, presented
papers and given lectures throughout North America, the EU and Australasia.

Pam Denicolo is the Director of the Graduate School at the University of Reading and an
active member of the University Committee for Postgraduate Research Studies. Her passion
for supporting and developing graduate students is also demonstrated through her
contributions to the UK Council for Graduate Education Executive Committee, the Society
for Research into Higher Education Postgraduate Network, and other national and
international committees and working groups which, for example, review and evaluate
research generic skills training and the concordance of UK universities with the European
Code and Charter, produce a framework of skills for researchers over their full career and
consider the changing nature of the doctorate. As a psychologist working particularly in the
fields of Professional and Postgraduate Education, she has supervised more than 50 doctoral
students to successful completion, examined many more, and developed and led Research
Methods Programmes for social scientists in her current and previous universities. She was
honoured to be appointed an Honorary Member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for her
contributions to the education of pharmacists. Her lifelong interest in student learning, and
hence teachers teaching, led her to become an active member of the International Study
Association on Teachers and Teaching (ISATT) and serving member of the Executive
Committee for many years. Her research has been oriented by a commitment to
understanding the way participants in learning processes construe their roles, situations and
activities, through the use and development of Personal Construct Theory approaches and
A New
Beryl W
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A Matter o
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A C.I.P. record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.
ISBN: 978-94-6209-005-7 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-94-6209-006-4 (hardback)
ISBN: 978-94-6209-007-1 (e-book)
Published by: Sense Publishers,
P.O. Box 21858,
3001 AW Rotterdam,
The Netherlands
Printed on acid-free paper
All Rights Reserved 2012 Sense Publishers
No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, microfilming,
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executed on a computer system, for exclusive use by the purchaser of the work.
Chapter One: Introduction 1
Chapter Two: The time is Right: Why we need a new Vocabulary 7
Its part of our Nature 9
The Judgment Action gap 11
Emotions and Feelings are Coming into Their own 12
Critical Thinking 13
Legitimizing Diversity and Complexity: The Impossible Ideal 13
Human Rights and the Democratic Movement 14
Technological Advancement 15
Conscience Surfaces in Literature Across Multiple Domains 16
Morality is Weakening 17
The Theological Shift 18
At the Intersection of Morality and Spirituality,
Humanism and Religion 18
A word About Ethics 19
What Choice does Public Education have? 20
Behaviour Management/Governance 20
A Transformative Experience 22
A Shelter for Disobedience and Disorder 22
Conclusion 23
Chapter Three: The Hijacking of Morality 25
Primitive Society 26
The Bible and Greek Philosophy 27
Scholastic Theology 29
The Reformation 30
The Enlightenment, Kant, and Freud 31
Post-modern Literature 35
The Issue of Authority: To whom are we Accountable? 37
The role of Reason 39
Motivation 39
Conclusion 40
Chapter Four: The Fundamentals of Conscience 43
What do we mean by the word Right? 44
Conscience is Disclosed Through Moral Behaviour 45
SelfJudgment (Made in the First Person) 46
Standards and Truths 47
A word about Absolutes and Extremism 49
Reason and Knowledge 50
Cognitive/Affective bond 52
Moral Emotions 53
Connectedness: Its a Public Matter 54
Is There a Collective Conscience? 55
Motivation and Conscience: About Things that Matter 58
Goodness 60
Good will/Common good/Greater good 63
Evil 64
Conscience in the Every day 66
Conclusion 68
Chapter Five: A new Vocabulary for Moral Education 71
Reflexive Judgment 72
Reflexive Emotions 73
Voices (Not Just a Voice) 75
Norms and Normation 80
About Things that Matter 81
Integrity 82
A Visual Depiction 83
Other Models 84
Chapter Six: Reflexive Judgment and Reflexive Emotions 89
Reflexive Emotions 90
Gratitude 93
Shame and Embarrassment 93
What about GUILT? 96
Greed 98
Abhorrence and Disgust 98
Pride 99
Humility 99
Regret 100
Conclusion 100
Chapter Seven: The Question of Development 103
Change, Dimension, and Direction 103
Wisdom 107
Integrity 108
Social Activism and Human Rights 109
Happiness, Courage and risk Taking 109
Spiritual Intelligence 110
Emotional Intelligence (EI) 112
The role of Empathy 112
Conclusion 114
Chapter Eight: Conscience in a Democratic Society 117
A Public Affair 117
Conscience in the Making of a Democratic Society 117
The Right to vote 118
Re-forming Democracy 119
Governance and Good Citizenship 124
Are We Becoming a Society Without Conscience? 125
Conscience is not Majority rule 127
Human Rights and Conscience 128
Conclusion 128
Chapter Nine: Educating Conscience: My Conscience our World 131
Schools as Strong Normative Communities 131
The Public in Public School 132
Governance 133
Classrooms of Conscience 134
Modelling and Imitation 138
Dialogue 138
Practice 139
Confirmation 140
Points to Remember 141
Conscience as part of School Subjects 146
Conclusion 146
Chapter Ten: The Pedagogy of the Sacred 149
Spirituality 151
Spirituality in Public Education 152
Conscience and Spiritual Education 155
The new Language of Conscience Formation Soul talk 156
My own Narrative 157
Chapter Eleven: Summary and Final Remarks 163
Summary 164
Some Questions for Application 165
Religion and Science 168
Closing Comments 169
References 171

Its the right thing to do.
This simple statement, spoken with conviction, clarity and characteristically
without pretension, is often offered (when invited) as an explanation for a moral
action. Some newsworthy events in North America that come to mind include: the
fire fighters who ran into the New York twin towers in 2001 while everyone else
was running out; or the individuals who chose to tackle the Arizona gunman in
2011 as he paused to reload at a political rally; or the people who chose to report
unethical practices, such as the Watergate scandal in 1972, not only at the risk of
employment, but of their reputation and career. It is also worthy of noting that
2012 is the year of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and I am
reminded of the five courageous musicians who continued to play until the sinking
of the ship. In such cases these individuals seem not to consider their own well-
being but only know that they must do what they believe is the right thing.
On a smaller scale, the explanation, its the right thing to do, is one that is
often given in an attempt to understand a decision just made or an action just taken.
Just as importantly, it is the voice of less significant everyday decisions. For
instance, it seems that if someone leaves me a phone message or email, I feel
compelled to return it, and ASAP for that matter. This is partly because I believe it
is a courteous practice to do so, and I know that I would want to have my messages
returned in a reasonable time. I also dont like being late for meetings even though
I know that it is likely I will be early in most cases; for me its an obligation, an
expectation I place on myself. I also walk the dog almost every day for 30 minutes
no matter how cold or how damp it is outside. How could I deny her the exercise
she craves, not to mention the meet and greet she rejoices in, or the outdoor smells
that, as a beagle, send her into ecstasy! To complicate this specific example even
more, how can I deny myself my own daily exercise when that is one of the
primary reasons I acquired a dog in the first place? Choosing not to lie, cheat, steal,
be rude, spit in public, litter, and pick up after the dog, are all examples of what
many would say are right behaviours that guide ones daily life. More often than
not one is not conscious of these choices, but when brought to ones attention the
choices are claimed as ones own, guided by moral principles.
Whatever the circumstance, when hearing the proclamation, its the right thing
to do, or uttering it oneself, one knows that one have entered the realm of morality
and moral action. The judgment that something is right or wrong, good or bad, has
always defined morality.
One only needs to dig a little deeper to discover the social construct that the
phrase, its the right thing to do, is more specifically pointing to. It implies moral
judgment, it implies action, and more importantly it implies the individual; taking all
this together, it implies conscience. Conscience is defined as, the inner sense of
what is right or wrong in ones conduct or motives, impelling one toward right
action (, n.d.). The simple statement, it is the right thing to do, is
the glue for the treatise presented in this book and provides its theoretical foundation.
I found that I was often challenged to return to this notion while working through a
particular line of thinking. I am convinced that the phrase, it is the right thing to do,
expressed publicly or to oneself, can reveal significant insights into moral formation.
I believe that an examination of the notion of conscience can in fact help moral
education initiatives become more authentic and thus more effective. This conviction
was set when I finally attached this simple phrase to my thesis topic on which this
book is based. It became a source of inspiration that eventually led me to believe that
the topic of conscience must be re-introduced into the perennial debate about moral
development and moral education. Not just be re-introduced but must take a
prominent role in a new framework a new vocabularyfor moral education
initiatives. In this book I will argue that when approaching educational initiatives for
moral development, lets call it what it is: conscience.
In 1871, Egerton Ryerson, an advocate for public education in early Ontario,
Canada, was citing Dr. Archibald Alexander, author of Outlines of Moral Science
(1852), who wrote, Moral nature and conscience are two names of the same thing.
(p. 53) Vincent van Gogh (n.d.) is quoted as saying, conscience is a mans
compass. I have discovered that its not quite as simple as this. Some philosophers
suggest that conscience, although related to morality, does not account for all that
morality is about (Arendt, 2003: Kant, 1963). But I do believe that the two have an
inseparable bond and that conscience, as a force in determining moral behaviour, has
been neglected, even avoided (to our detriment) in current educational initiatives.
Although I believe that conscience at its core is self-judgment about what is right,
it would be a huge injustice to limit this exploration only to a simple understanding
of its the right thing to do. There are other ways that one hears his or her
conscience speaking. For example one might say, Im not sure why, but this is just
something I have to do, or, Its who I am, it is what I believe, or, perhaps the more
nave statement, Doesnt everyone think like that? Wouldnt anyone do that in the
same situation? These utterances all imply certainty, self-judgment and a clear sense
of what the right thing actually is. It would not be a big leap to recognize that much
of ones sense of moral identity and ones moral actions are driven by conscience.
This treatise will argue that conscience, although typically associated with
altruistic motive and behaviour, is not simply just about compassion, empathy, or
gratitude, but is also about integrity, humility, and justice. Conscience is about
being right with oneself, as well as with the other-than-self, or, to put it another
way, the self-in-other; its about being right with the world. Conscience is about
identity and purpose. Conscience, an innate disposition, is a very complicated
social construct. At various times in history the notion of conscience has been
expounded. These writings, however, are somewhat limited and historically
dominated by the overwhelming influence of Western theology and the culture of
the time. More importantly, existing literature has often fallen short, in my opinion,
in its application for moral education initiatives.
I am not arguing that conscience is the only right way to refer to moral
behaviour or that rediscovering our conscience will suddenly improve our moral
behaviour. But I do believe that there is something very powerful in the word, and
something very useful in it for providing insight into moral behaviour. I believe
that a new framework and a new vocabulary for moral behaviour will help to
overcome the weaknesses of our current thinking, and refine the tools to improve
educational initiatives. Although the language seems simple, the implications and
implementation are not. Even as I prepared this book and throughout the process of
researching the topic, I found I often caught myself reverting back to more familiar
thinking patterns. These patterns can interfere with the creativity and the
imagination that are demanded by a fresh approach. One simple and obvious
example that the reader may already be thinking is, Why hasnt the word guilt
come up yet? Typically, the strongest thinking pattern is to associate conscience
with guilt, shame, and with bad, even evil behaviour. I hope this treatise can help
the reader and the educator to break free from the restrictions of that familiar
framework, and take on the invitation to let an equally familiar understanding of
conscience find its voice in moral discourse.
This book can only go so far in introducing the topic. I will only touch on
relevant connections made by other disciplines and other authors; I have only
nurtured a new idea to the point of claiming it, and just barely begun to explain it.
It is only a beginning. I have hope in, and am excited about, the possibilities that
can emerge once others join me in the dialogue and in the pursuit of its application.
This treatise is not my own invention. The launching point came out of the work
of Thomas F. Green (1985, 1999) in his book, Voices: The Educational Formation
of Conscience. It came to my attention at a significant moment in my own thesis
work. It offered me hope that we could break through the barriers that have kept
moral and character education limited in their authenticity and effectiveness.
Thomas Green presents an argument for moral education which locates conscience
formation as central to moral development, claiming that his treatise goes far
beyond the confines of the modern sense of morality.
In Chapter Two I defend my belief that the time is right for this discussion. In
Chapter Three I review the history of the notion of conscience, exposing the
complexity of its nature, function and value. From this point forward the remainder
of the book works roughly within Greens framework as I have understood it,
adapted it, and extended it. The crucial elements of this framework are explained
more deeply in Chapter Four, The Fundamentals of Conscience. The remaining
chapters look at: a new vocabulary for moral education; reflexive judgment and
reflexive emotions; the question of development; conscience in a democratic
society; educating conscience; and understanding the sacred. To a limited extend, I
have tried to let each chapter stand alone, allowing the reader to benefit from
reading any single chapter out of sequence. For this reason, the reader will find
some repetition between chapters. There is also intentional repetition throughout
the book as a means to reinforce fundamental points.
The hope that I referred to earlier holds promise for those of us who stand with
one foot in the secular and another in the religious worlds. Too often these two
mindsets are speaking about each other and not speaking with each other. Any
literature review will indicate that despite the inflexibility of some who hold
extreme positions, there is a lot of work being published by numerous disciplines
that is addressing the issues of ethics and morality. The theory of conscience
proposed in this book breaks through the limitations that the dominant Christian
understanding of morality has had on our thinking patterns and therefore upon our
curriculum design for educational initiatives.
The theory of conscience as a social construct leaves me gratefully mystified.
For a person who often finds herself resisting dualisms, branding them as a product
of a primarily male-dominated historical framework, I have in fact embraced a
concept that at its very core appears to start with the very dualism of right versus
wrong. The challenge for me has been to push through the work and see where it
takes me. What I have found is that although conscience on the surface is
fundamentally about judgment, at a deeper levelat the process levelit is about
the voices that speak to what feels right and what does not feel right. It binds
together dualisms, not in any way dismissing the opposing views, but claiming the
significance of each and demanding consideration of both. The true dualism is
found in the brief moment of decision-makingones act of self-judgmentwhere
action is then taken in the conviction that its the right thing to do. There is a very
practical reality that we must in the end take action or be left to live with the
paralysis of inaction.
Although there is clarity in the pronouncement, it is the right thing to do,
there is no easy way to unpack all that is contained in those few words. This is a
case where words are not enough, but, words are what we have. In this treatise I
will make, I hope, an adequate effort at unpacking. While doing so I draw on
examples that the news of the day provides. For this reason there will be references
to events that primarily made the news during 2011 when I was writing this book.
As well, most of the events are reported from an Anglo-Saxon, North American
perspective. It does not, however, take much to recognize the perennial underlying
issues being explored, and I am confident the reader will quickly identify their own
examples. In my writings, I will undoubtedly disclose my biases; this includes the
value system I have been raised with and have examined in my own academic
studies. My hope is that this treatise will provide a tool for educators to name and
to examine the voices of conscience which are influencing their own communities.
As the reader proceeds through this book there are some key notions that must
not be lost but instead must be constantly held up as the framework on which all
else is based. If lost, then too easily the treatise could become bogged down with
interference from more familiar and traditional mindsets. First, then, conscience is
self-judgment. Conscience comes about only through a personal channel and
therefore educational initiatives must work through a personal framework. As will
be explored, however, one does tend to transfer onto others those moral principles
that one takes on as his or her own. Second, conscience is relational. Conscience
determines an individuals behaviour as it affects the other. This is the paradox of
conscience, that in examining the self, one must attend to the other, the collective.
Thirdly, and crucial to the argument presented, the sense of certainty that
accompanies moral actions is inextricably mediated by emotions. Nothing in this
treatise should be more than one step away from helping the reader acknowledge
the vital importance of moral emotions. In fact, I will argue that conscience is the
inseparable bonding of cognition and feeling. Finally, this is not a book about
universal morals but more about moral formation. By keeping this in mind, it does
not demand of the reader and the author agreement about what is morally right.
Instead it demands that one asks how one comes to believe something is so; asking
why and how moral identity forms and determines ones behaviour.
The question, So what? now becomes important to address. Historically in
Western societys thinking about conscience, moral reasoning has taken
precedence in literature and education, not moral emotions and not moral
behaviour. Yet society is desperately seeking better governance of behaviour. It is
through examining moral emotions and moral behaviour that the tools for better
governance will be discovered. The time is right to reclaim and reinstate the term
conscience into our common language and into our framework for moral
education. I will now turn to exploring further why this is so.

Although the notion of conscience continues to be explored in current literature
(Hayes, 2009, Lyons, 2010; Moyar, 2008; Kochanska, G., Koenig, J. L., Barry, R. A.,
Kim, S., & Yoon, J. E. 2010; Parekh, 2011; Hill, 1998; Loar, 2010), books and
journal articles are few in number. In fact, even these few authors recognize that
the use of the term conscience is rare in our common language. Hayes (2009)
suggests the term is in abeyance stating that conscience is a word that has sadly
fallen into disuse. Lyons (2009) describes its occurrence in philosophical
discussions as rare and writes, The concept certainly plays little or no part in
contemporary Anglo-American discussions of ethics (p. 477). This is not to
ignore that there are small pockets of literature where conscience continues to
remain in active use, most notably in Roman Catholic literature (Anosike, 2000),
and more generally in theological writings. Why this might be so is explored later,
but for now I want to make the point that the notion of conscience has endured
throughout the history of recorded discourse; in spite of its current dis-use, the
social construct of conscience is active in guiding our moral actions, and when
articulated, is evident in our cognitive tendencies.
Historically conscience has been a social construct formally recognized since
early civilization. There exists a history of confusion over the spelling and
diversity of meaning of the notion of conscience since it was first recorded. The
German philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich (1973a) offers this explanation,
The basic Greek word syneidenai (knowing with, namely with oneself;
being witness of oneself) was used in the popular language long before the
philosophers got hold of it. It described the act of observing oneself, often as
judging oneself. In the philosophical terminology it received the meaning of
self-consciousness (for instance, in Stoicism in the derived substantives
syneidesis, synesis). (p. 47)
The Greek word syneidesis captures both the sense of conscience as standard
and conscience as passing judgment. The Latin definitions for conscientia mirror
the Greek meanings of syneidesis (synteresis). (Long, 2004)
In Hebrew and thus in the Old Testament there is no word for conscience,
however, the phenomenon itself emerges in Genesis. In the New Testament two
Greek terms, synoida and syneidesis, are both found and taken from common
usage and of long standing. Conscience is thus the expression of mans inner
awareness, with special reference to ethical conduct (Schar, 1973, p. 83).
Scholasticism settled with the word synteresis, defining it as a perfection of our
reason which leads us towards the recognition of the good (Tillich, 1973a, p. 51).
By accessing coroners inquests following the Reformation, Loar (2010) in her
research indicates that conscience has long had a life in the European judicial
system. She writes,
The importance of conscience in legal matters was widely acknowledged by
the late sixteenth century. Jurors were instructed to have an eye to your othe
and to your dutie, and doe that which God shall put in your mindes to the
discharge of your consciences. (p. 397)
Today, within international customary law, the importance of conscience is
recognized. The United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights (General
Assembly of the United Nations, 1948) Article 1, states, All human beings are born
free and equal in dignity and human rights. They are endowed with reason and
conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. And from
Article 18, Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
The term prisoner of conscience coined by the human rights group Amnesty
International in the early 1960s refers to those who have been imprisoned and/or
persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously-held beliefs.
The notion conscience continues to function in other established societal
systems. For example, exercising your conscience is a foundational principal in the
modern political system. In our Westminster parliamentary system of government
a free vote or conscience vote remains a core element since the earliest time of
public court; although, currently, use has largely been restricted to matters of
morality where the divisions cross political party lines. (Ross, Dodds, & Ankeny,
2009) A conscience clause refers to a provision in a statue that excuses a
professional from complying with the law. Conscientious objection is a defence
commonly applied to those seeking protection from service in the military, or in
defending an act of civil disobedience.
In the events of everyday life conscience is guiding moral decisions evident
often, it seems, only through the use of related terms and phrases. For example,
conscience plays out in work environments and can affect ones ability to remain
in a chosen career. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio show,
White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman explored the issue of moral distress
for nurses (Moral Distress, 2011). Dr. Goldman reports that studies show as many
as 80% of nurses experience moral distress at work and is one of the main reasons
why nurses quit the profession. Their distress arises when being ordered to do
something that a nurse may feel is not the right thing to do, and where they could
not live with themselves if they did follow orders. Goldman suggests that
currently there exists in nursing a feeling of powerlessness to be able to say, No;
an example of conscientious non-compliance.
These are only a few examples of the persisting presence of conscience,
historically and in current society. Even recent events featured in news media have
pointed to the exercise of conscience, or to its absence. Stories such as: the Arab
Spring of 2011; the perennial debate about violence in ice-hockey in
North America; the use of steroids by professional sports players; the 2008 Stock
Market collapse; the high incidence of cheating in universities; the rioting and
mass looting that occurred following the National Hockey League 2011 play-offs
in Vancouver and across the United Kingdom in the summer of 2011; the Occupy
Movement; and, the educational initiatives in North America designed to address
bullying. These topics and others will be explored in later chapters.
The phenomenon of conscience continues to be active with or without a public
attending to it. For this simple reason, conscience is not on its death bed, quite the
contrary. In daily life, if one pauses and listens, one repeatedly hears some
semblance of the phrase, it is the right thing to do. This book will argue that the
notion of conscience should not be neglected, let alone denied or ignored. To do so
would be to deny a significant concept of moral development and a crucial tool in
advancing initiatives in moral and character education. At a time when it is being
suggested that the moral fibre of society is being eroded, getting the language right
can contribute to national and international efforts to address this potentially
distressing trend.
The time is right to examine the notion of conscience, its nature, its function and
its potential for transforming moral education initiatives. There are many reasons
for this opinion and I briefly present them below. However, for me it started as an
intuition, an ah-ha! moment. A few years ago I struggled to help advance, as a
justice issue, the blessing of same sex-unions within the Anglican Church of
Canada. I felt that the debate was burdened with religious doctrine that was
weighted heavily with emotion. At the same time I was aware of moral and
character education programs in the Ontario publicly funded school system that
seemed handicapped by an exclusive focus on a predetermined list of the correct
morals, character traits, values, virtues, beliefs, and principles to live by. These
programs often did not adequately address how these positive morals might
actually be in conflict with each other in complicated moral circumstances.
Furthermore, in these programs there was an avoidance of the negative traits and
the negative emotions that are equally common in everyday moral behaviour.
During this time I came across a somewhat unique approach to moral development
in an article written by the philosopher, Thomas F. Green (1985). He wrote about
conscience, the many voices of conscience, the moral emotions of conscience, and
the importance of conscience in governing civic behaviour. It excited me and
stimulated my own thinking. Since then I have come to see evidence of the activity
of conscience everywhere, and now I believe that if we only were to use the
vocabulary of conscience, moral formation could be better facilitated in the
education system and in our other formative communities.
In no particular order, I want to offer a number of reasons as to why now is a
good time to liberate the notion of conscience, thereby advocating for its return to
common vocabulary and taking its rightful place in the curriculum of moral and
character education.
We are never far from evidence of conscience because conscience is a natural
disposition; a function of the brain. It has been described in many ways:
a disposition ingrained in mans whole nature (Rudin, 1973, p. 95)
a natural power within the soul (Curran, 1973, p. 132)
an original phenomenon of mind (Ryerson, 1871, p. 56)
a kind of built-in monitor of moral action (Macquarrie, 1970, p. 111)
a primordial phenomenon, present in man from the beginning (Schar, 1973,
pp. 9394)
Egerton Ryerson (1871) cited Dr. M. Hopkins Lectures on Moral Science, who
remarked, By many, by most, conscience is regarded as a separate phenomenon,
and, as has been said, the whole moral of our moral nature (p. 54). William Lyons
(2009) says, Conscience is a very real and very important part of human
psychology and of our moral point of view (p. 448). And, Stephen Covey author
of The Seven Habits of Effective Leadership, and of The 8th Habit from:
Effectiveness to Greatness, (2004) indicates, There is a mass of evidence that
shows that conscience, this moral sense, this inner light, is a universal
phenomenon (p. 77).
Why is conscience so powerful? Ryerson (1871) observes,
It has compelled the disclosure of crimes which no human searching could
discover, and has been more terrible in its afflictions than the penalties of any
human law. Its approval inspires courage as well as imparts satisfaction; its
disapproval excites fear, and inflicts pain. (p. 55)
Serena Parekh (2008), in her essay Conscience, morality and judgment, reviews
the writings of Hannah Arendt and Socrates, and reminds us of one of Socrates
famous statements, It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. Parekh suggests
that to explain this Arendt reasons that Socrates, even though an individual, is also
related to himself in a way that makes it possible for him to be out of tune with
himself. In Arendts wording he is two-in-one,
The reason harmony within this two-in-one is so important is that I cannot
detach myself from it. If I do not agree with others, I can simply walk away
from them, but I cannot walk away from myself. The reason why it is better to
suffer wrong than to do wrong is because: I am condemned to live together
with a wrongdoer in unbearable intimacy; I can never get rid of him. (p. 183)
There is another truth to note in this discussion. Lyons (2009) remarks,
Freud was probably more or less right in saying that we are born amoral.
Nor are we adapted by nature, when generating our over-riding action-
guiding principles, to produce morally unimpeachable ones. Some of our
most wicked acts have been done in the name of conscience. But we, or
those of us who are not psychopaths, are adapted by our nature as rational
creatures to have the possibility of forming a morally acceptable
conscience. (pp. 493494)
In, Formation of Conscience: A Moral Theological Problem. A Study in the
Context of Karl Heinz Peschkes Christian Ethics, Anosiki (2000) writes,
According to Peschke [Christian Ethics]: The moral precepts as objective
norms of morality can be compared to signposts and markers on the road,
which indicate the direction the traveller must take in order to reach his
goal. The mere existence of the signposts however is not enough to help
people on their way. They need a sense to perceive the signs, to select from
among them the relevant ones, and also to help them where none are. They
also need a knowledge of the goal to be reached. This sense is a persons
conscience. One cannot therefore disobey the command of moral
obligation without incurring the sense of guilt. Conscience equally
commands obedience. (p. 16)
Conscience, what Van Gogh and others have called, our inner compass, has been
there from the beginning as part of our human nature. Its power is indisputable,
and the social construct within which we place it continues to evolve.
Dr. Archibald Alexander states, The moral nature of man is summed up in the
word conscience. Moral nature and conscience are two names of the same thing
(Ryerson, 1871, p. 53).
What is critical about conscience is that it comes closest to accounting for moral
behaviour. Conscience bridges the judgment-action gap. It is more than moral
reasoning, or of knowing specific morals, values, character traits, beliefs, and
moral principles. There is currently an impression that publicly funded schools in
developed nations are missing the mark in their moral and character educational
programming (Carr, 1995, Tacey, 2004, 2005). There is also the impression that
moral behaviour in the schools and in society at large seems to be declining.
Societies perceive this erosion, rightly or wrongly, to lie in the failure of
the schools to form good citizens through the development and governance of the
moral conduct of its students. While moral reasoning has typically been the focus
of educational initiatives since the landmark work of Lawrence Kohlberg (1972,
1984), research shows that there is a noticeable gap between cognitive judgment
and moral action. Frimer and Walker (2008) conclude, most now agree that
Platos famous dictum that to know the good is to do the good is empirically
unsubstantiated [this is] what has become known as the judgment-action gap
(p. 334). Moral judgment does not necessarily translate into moral action, but it is
the actions of our citizens that governing bodieswhether the schools, work
places, or in any organizationstrive to control. There is, therefore, a pressing
need to understand the formation of ones moral system as it applies to behaviour.
Conscience bridges this judgment-action gap. Conscience implies both judgment
and action.
What makes conscience a separate phenomenon in the spectrum of moral
behaviour? I would argue that the key lies in the recognition that conscience
accounts for moral emotions. And, as Western society moves beyond the
Enlightenment and into postmodernism the legitimate place of emotions, and
specifically moral emotions, has firmly staked a claim. There is a growing
movement in literature today that recognizes the place of emotions and feelings in
a maturing, developing citizen. One only has to look at the work of Goleman
(1995) and Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2002), on emotional intelligence (EI)
to see how even the business world, with its eye constantly on the profit line, has
embraced the importance of addressing emotional well-being. Another shining star
in the self-help movement is Stephen Covey (2004). In his book, The 8th Habit
From: Effectiveness to Greatness, Covey adds an 8th habit Voice to the
seven other habits previously explored in his earlier book. He suggests that in order
to Express Your Voice, conscience is one of the four components needed, the
other components being: Talent, Passion, and Need. Since the introduction of
Howard Gardners (1995, 2000) work on multiple intelligences, there have been
efforts made to identify a further intelligence, that is, Spiritual Intelligence (SI).
Covey (2004) in fact suggests there may be confusion in the differentiation
between spiritual intelligence and emotional intelligence, with both intelligences
incorporating advanced moral emotions into their theories.
The perennial question is whether conscience weighs on the side of emotions at
the rejection of reason, or whether conscience is essentially the engagement of
reason through emotions, or, emotions through reason. This debate is pervasive
throughout history (Lewis, 2000). Yet, the occurrence and therefore importance of
emotions in determining moral behaviour is indisputable. To find evidence one
only needs to look at the 2008 global financial market collapse. If informed
reasoning alone was guiding the market this collapse could have been avoided. In
addition to the principles of investing, the market was heavily influenced by
emotions, most notably greed and competitiveness. As for other examples, does
reason alone help us decide who to vote for in elections? Does reason alone decide
who ones life partner will be? Does reason control unhealthy habits? William
James in The Will to Believe (1896) wisely states,
Yet if anyone should thereupon assume that intellectual insight is what
remains after wish and will and sentimental preference have taken wing, or
that pure reason is what then settles our opinions, he would fly quite as
directly in the teeth of the facts. (2005/1896, p. 99)
Sam Harris (2010), a neuroscientist and author of The Moral Landscape: How
Science Can Determine Human Values, studies belief, disbelief, and uncertainty
using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Harris argues that although
the relevant neuroscience is in its infancy, emotions, social interactions, and moral
intuitions mutually influence one another. He states, We have long known,
principally through the neurological work of Antonio Damasio and colleagues, that
certain types of reasoning are inseparable from emotion. To reason effectively, we
must have a feeling for the truth (p. 126). James (1896) statement, quoted above,
suggesting that reason and emotion are intricately associated is now being proven
As we settle into the 21st century, reason has found a place of dominance and
critical thinking has become something of a clich in education systems. In my
own experience as a teaching assistant, students lamented that while they were told
to be critical thinkers, they were not necessarily taught how to do that. Even if they
were taught the skills of critical thinking, they felt they were not given the
opportunity to use those skills when dealing with the very education system with
which they were engaged. These education systems may not, however, want to
bind together their admirable goal of shaping critical thinking with their practical
goal of managing the moral conduct of their students. Yet, the two are not
inseparable. A maturing conscience demands of the individual a cognitive capacity
that promotes critical thinking.
Even Lawrence Kohlberg (1984) accounts for conscience in his theory of moral
development. Interestingly though, conscience does not surface until his final
Stage Six (The universal-ethical-principle orientation), a stage not typically
identified with childhood. He writes,
Right is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen
ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and
consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical (the Golden Rule, the
categorical imperative); they are not concrete moral rules like the Ten
Commandments. At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the
reciprocity and equality of human rights, and of respect for the dignity of
human beings as individual persons. (Boyd, 1989, p. 97)
This is suggesting I believe, that conscience has a very prominent role in moral
development and cannot be tossed aside for its association with moral emotions. In
a postmodernism world reason must share the stage with emotions.
Robert Wright, in his book The Evolution of God (2009), argues that only when the
world became larger than the isolated hunter-gatherer villages, did moral
consideration for the stranger (enemy) need to be considered. Today, more than
ever, this expansion to a global village has challenged ethical considerations that
once only applied to kin and those whom we were in a cooperative relationship
with (reciprocal altruism). In some parts of the world cultural diversity in like a
runaway train and the governing of behaviours of its citizens has become more
important than ever. Multiculturalism, in Western Societies, is now part of the
larger identity. It may not be the experience of all cities and all communities, but
multiculturalism is still expected and a familiar expereince as one travels to near-
by communities or across borders. In some advanced societies discussions are now
even moving beyond the notion of tolerance. Emerging out of previous generations
of mixed marriages is a generation that no longer feels the same need for clarity of
race in order to secure culture identity.
As Western society evolves to accommodate a multicultural presence, once
cherished social norms become less universal and more diversified; specific to
specific communities, and to communities within communities. As well, in
complicated moral situations and in the context of diversity, norms (morals, values,
beliefs, and principles) compete. The right thing is not always evident. Our diverse,
multicultural, multi-faith, and increasingly nonreligious societies, therefore, are
plagued with misunderstanding that often turns into conflicted behaviours. There is
an urgency to better understand these conflicted situations before they erupt into
violence. This was evident with the African-American civil rights movement in the
United States during the 1950s and 1960s. And this is evident currently in the
early 21st century with the exaggerated mistrust of Muslims following the events
of 9/11.
Diversity only exemplifies the complexity that anything more than a shallow
examination of moral dilemmas can expose. Walker (1999) examined the perceived
personality characteristics of moral exemplars across moral, religious, and spiritual
domains and he continues to provide empirical research on personality and moral
functioning. While his attention has been on the virtues and attributes associated
with the moral personality, Walker acknowledges that such a listing of virtues
would be incoherent for one person to embody, that there simply cannot be a
single transcultural ideal or moral personality, and that moral excellence is
contextual to social, political, religious, and linguistic circumstances (pp. 1112).
Within this environment of cultural diversity, moral dilemmas can be more
complicated than ever, with competing values, morals, and principles. Moral
reasoning can in fact indicate more than one right solution. To think otherwise
would be a naive, utopian pattern of thinking according to John Gray (2007),
author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. Grey
challenges unrealistic and utopian patterns of thinking which hold on to the belief
that a huge revolution could bring about a new world. He argues that although
there are certain goods that are good for all human beings and certain evils that are
bad, even universal values conflict, and protecting rights can lead to violence.
I believe advancing a theory of conscience formation can assist with this global
transition into diversity and with the perennial challenge of fundamentalism and
extremism. The fact that there is now a human rights code being advocated across
the world reflects the emergence of a global village and the collective conscience
that operates within it.
Something fundamental is happening in these early years of the 21st century.
Although there have been uprisings throughout history demanding change,
particularly in response to oppressive dictatorships, the pervasive nature of the
current pro-democracy movement across the Arab world is remarkable. Soon after,
and not unrelated I would suggest, the Occupy Movement took root and spread
across many Western nations. A study of conscience and specifically the collective
conscience could offer much insight into these events. Yet, even within a
democratic nation there is much debate over the rights that democracy entails.
Freedom of speech and of assemblythe rights of conscienceare instilled in
both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Part 1 of the Constitution Act,
1982 (Department of Justice Canada, 2002) and the Virginia Declaration of Rights
(1776), the basis of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the freedom
of conscience argument was used in court to defend an Occupy Toronto
occupation of a public park in Toronto, Canada (OToole, 2011).
Serena Parekh (2008) connects conscience formation with social justice
education. She writes, In times of moral crisis, conscience is a better safeguard
against human rights violations than moral norms alone (p. 178). Parekh believes
that having a subjective foundation of human rights is even more necessary in the
modern era (p. 179). Drawing from Charles Taylors work, Parekh suggests,
Morality in modernity can be seen as being driven, at least in part, by an ethics of
authenticity, that is, a drive to achieve a unique and original identity (p. 180).
She adds, I discover what moral claims are being made on me by looking within,
and not simply by following external code or law (p. 180).
There is the impression that the current obsession with materialism, consumerism,
capitalism, and technology has weakened morality in modern times. Although
technology seems to have contributed to public desensitization, I wonder, however,
if technology also assists in making moral issues public. What technology has
done, particularly news media and now social media, is to accent both the presence
and absence of conscience. Heroic acts of conscience cannot be kept private; moral
mistakes can no longer be swept under the rug. An example of this would be the
video from a surveillance camera in China (October, 2011) that recorded a child
being hit by a vehicle, and who was then ignored by numerous passer-bys before
help came forward. Through social media there arose a collective outrage over the
lack of morality that was displayed. It is almost impossible not to be aware of acts
of fundamentalism and extremism that take place throughout the world. Yet there
is also an urgency to reign in the viral nature of moral behaviour played out in
social media. Videos of violence abound on social web sites. It does seem there has
been a desensitization to the moral moments that should trigger horror and disgust,
as if it was only a fictional TV show or movie. With the audience as large as it is,
by necessity there needs to be a higher degree of vigilance to intervene, so that
opportunities for conscience formation are not lost.
The relentless attention paid by news and social media to the democratic
movement of Northern Africa and the Middle East played a significant role in the
contagiousness of the movement. When one can identify with the players because
of age, gender, race, or any point of common discrimination, and when it becomes
ones own story, the passion becomes infectious or contagious. Both of these
wordsinfectious and contagiouspoint to the phenomenon known as the
herding instinct. The collective conscience is a type of herding together in moral
action. But the same way that in medical terms these two words, infectious and
contagious, can be harmful, so too can they be harmful in respect to moral
behaviour. The collective is as much capable of evil as it is of good. Technology,
specifically social media and its immediacy, favours herding. Participants can be
swept up into immoral actions before taking time for the critical reflection that
would mark the behaviour as an act of conscience. This was evident in the
Vancouver riots that followed the National Hockey League play-offs in 2011.
(Vancouver police arrest more than 100, 2011)
Social media web sites such as Facebook satisfy the need for community which,
on first impression, is relational. Within this community there is the promise of
belonging and acceptance. It is not unlike religious communities where there is
also a promise for belonging and acceptance. With the exception of the option to
de-friend another person, membership is not typically threatened at the community
level. However, the preference to text or twitter rather than have direct contact
does seem to limit the intimacy of human interaction. It is this dilution of intimacy
that changes the context for moral formation. In time research may show that this
may in fact prove to contribute to a decline in moral behaviour.
There is a rich history of literature where the nature and function of conscience is
explored, often in poetic discourse. Wikipedias treatise on conscience lists a long
line of writers since biblical times, each offering a unique twist to their
understanding of conscience (Conscience, n.d.). This is evidence of the mystery
and confusion that still surrounds conscience and of its perseverance in facing
evolutionary forces. All the various fields of humanities, and now even some
scientific disciplines, offer their own interpretation and definition of conscience
and its relevance to moral reasoning and moral behaviour. With the advent of
science in the 17th century, conscience is now surfacing in empirical research (see
for example, Kochanska, Koenig, Barry, Kim & Yoon, 2010; Forman, Aksan, &
Kochanska, 2004).
Although conscience rarely commands its own focus of study in current
literature, it silently and persistently surfaces in discourses, crossing multiple
domains, typically embedded in the broader domain of moral behaviour. For
Nel Noddings (2008) in her writings on the ethics of caring states, If we give
due weight to early childhood, we see their conscience (a sense of right and
wrong, not mere internalization of authority) develops as much out of love and
attachment as out of fear (p. 231).
David Tacey (2004) in his work on Spiritual Intelligence writes, Our spiritual
lives are no longer ruled by bishops and clergy, but by our own inward con-
science, by insights gleamed from self-reflection, reading, meditation, and talks
with friends and spiritual counsellors (p. 38).
Zohar & Marshall, (2000), also writing about spiritual intelligence, state, SQ,
our deep, intuitive sense of meaning and value, is our guide at the edge. SQ is
our conscience (p. 1314).
Walker (1999) in his research on moral exemplars found conscientiousness
and agreeableness common attributes across moral, religious, and spiritual
Covey defines conscience as that still, small voice within that assures you of
what is right and that prompts you to actually do it. (p. 5). Covey, suggests that
in order to Express Your Voice, conscience is one of the four components
needed. When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion
that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience
to meet therein lies your voice, your calling, your souls code (p. 5).
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, joining the traditional disciplines of
philosophy, theology, and psychology, the fields of neuroscience, evolutionary
biology, even behavioural economics and law, are taking an interest in moral
behaviour. Current research topics include: emotional intuitions and the
neuroscience of emotions (Keltner, Horberg, & Oveis, 2006); the universal
goodness impulse (Flores, 2007, Ariely, 2009); independent practical reasoning
(MacIntyre, 1999); a model of moral judgment (Haidt, 2001); moral motivation
(Leffel, 2008); truth telling and dishonesty (Mead, Baumeister, Gino, Schweitzer, &
Ariely, 2009); self conscious emotions (Lewis, 2000); and, integrity (Killinger,
2010). I advocate that it is time to call it what it is, conscience.
There is no shortage of authors arguing that our moral standards are weaker than they
use to be (Killinger, 2010); if not weakening then certainly changing. For many the
change is disturbing, confusing, and complex. Why is it that so many corporate,
political, and public figures appear to have crossed moral integrity lines, sometimes
without suffering much consequence? What is happening to what was our most
intimate social unit, the family? Why must there be such polarization around issues
of abortion and the death sentence? It has been suggested that even the fate of
democracy may be affected by the loss of integrity (Killinger, 2010,
p. xi). This confusion, this disturbance to our moral stability, is reason enough to
want to understand the fundamentals of moral formation. Killinger argues that in
todays world, there is a move away from relationships, leading to alienation and
impersonal detachment (p. viiii). Morality and conscience are social constructs.
Conscience is grounded in a relational framework. The moral principles, values, and
beliefs that guide conscience come from within the self but they are regarding ones
relation to the other-than-self, the self-in-other, and with the community.
If we are truly becoming less relationalconnecting less with the otherthen
morality and conscience are truly weakening. Killinger believes that materialism
and its partner, consumerism, nurture the evils of greed, envy, lust, and shame all
[are] enemies of integrity. Narcissism is the antithesis of integrity (p. 4). If,
however, it is only how we are relating that is changing, than it is time to come to a
better understanding of this, by naming what is happening, using the more precise
vocabulary of conscience, and refining the education initiatives being implemented.
As mentioned above, conscience is part of a long historical discourse that is framed
by Western theology. Early philosophers spoke from a theological framework.
Philosophy and theology were inseparable both in the time of the Greek
philosophers and of the early Christian Church. Even in modern times, whether
intentionally supporting religious doctrine or arguing against it, the starting point
when discussing morality is often still theological. With the vast increase in the
influence of science, the perpetual questions about the meaning and purpose of life
for much of Western civilization is no longer answered by notions of sin and
salvation and heaven and hell. At the same time there is no scientific evidence to
prove that God (transcendent) does not exist. All the while spiritual yearnings
continue. It should be no surprise, then, that in the field of theology there is a
liberal movement attempting to break free of prescribed theological doctrines, and
choosing instead to step back to the primal spiritual, pre-theological experience
that is at the core of all religious interpretations of human experience.
Citing Arendts writings, Parekh (2008) quotes, Since conscience was understood
as our internal connection to a divine or transcendent source, it is not surprising
that it has dropped out of fashion in the West in the 20th century (p. 179). Parekh
also points out Arendts observation that traditional morality (what was thought to
be eternal and inevitable) in the first half of the 20th century, has collapsed.
Morality seemed to have lost the authentic ground that it was anchored in and
became no more than a way of acting that was socially sanctioned. (p. 181). As
much of our society appears to be turning away from formal religion, does it
necessarily imply that society is then also turning away from morals? Parekh does
not think so. Exploring the role of conscience in the justification of human rights,
Parekh believes that a subjective foundation of human rights is even more
necessary in the modern era. She argues that a focus on conscience will advance
the human rights movement. As will be discussed further in Chapter Three,
morality as a social construct existed before notions of gods and formal religions.
At their most primal experience, morality/conscience is about an innate incentive
to be nice to others; a natural disposition to be good, that is, where there is co-
operation and reciprocal altruism.
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speaking of ethical behaviour. Finally, even though morality need not necessarily
imply the divine, it does imply ones relation to the unknown, mystery, infinite; it
implies the sacred. The notion of ethics does not go to this depth in the personal
experience, but stays within the realm of the accepted rules of conduct. Of
course there are other ways to look at this. Thomas Moore (2002), a former monk
and professor of psychology, writes, The soul of ethicsrelies less on principle
and more on the voice of conscience (p. 218). Not to dwell anymore on semantics,
this treatise focuses on conscience. For all the reasons given above, it is the idea of
conscience that needs attention. Conscience is the prime denominator for moral or
ethical behaviour.
In the late nineteenth century Canada, conscience held a prominent place in the
public education system. Egerton Ryerson wrote, This capacity of power which
discerns and pronounces within us upon the moral quality of actions, is called
conscience, or the moral sense (1871, p. 51). Over a 100 years later, Parker Palmer
(1983) suggests that for many education is supposed to deal with the tangible
realities of science and the marketplace (p. 10). Yet students, Palmer says and
all those who love learningcarry within themselves questions of meaning and
purpose that directly impact the effectiveness of educational initiatives.
When we fail to honor the deepest questions of our lives, education remains
mired in technical triviality, cultural banality, and worse: it continues to be
dragged down by a great sadness things unworthy of the human hearta
grief that may mask itself as boredom, sullenness, or anger, but that is, at
bottom, a cry for meaning. (1998, p. 8)
For as much as the education system may try to promote academic excellence, the
health of education is a mirror of both the health of acquired knowledge and skills,
and of the ethical application of that knowledge and those skills. It is in the
application that conscience resides. Charles Haynes (2009), writing from a
United States perspective, understands conscience as the essence of the First
Amendment and passionately argues for its place in education, transforming
classrooms into places for acts of conscience.
Behaviour management through rewards and punishment, although often necessary
and practical, is often ineffective. Management that comes from withinan
internal management or self-governanceis more sustaining and more promising
for the overall well-being of the community. Green (1999) defines governance as
the effective regulation of conduct and believes that self-governance lies at the
heart of moral education. Good behaviour management initiatives need good moral
education initiativesthey work best together. As with the development of any
innate disposition, such as a musical talent, sporting interest, or academic enquiry,
there needs to be nurturing in order to attain a sufficient level of intelligence and
possibly excellence.
Parekh (2008) argues that conscience is presupposed in our moral, political, and
legal theory. The very foundation of human rights presupposes this capacity of
judgment, that we are able to recognize the moral correctness of an action without
relying on pre-given norms or laws (p. 180). Quoting Arendt, Parekh writes, We
must distinguish between legality and moralitylegality is morally neutral, that is,
a legal order does not require moral integrity, only law-abiding citizens....In order
to account for the ability to distinguish between legality and morality one must
assume the phenomenon of conscience (p. 182). The education system must risk
looking past legality with its focus on external management and rules, and look to
morality with a focus on internal management. It must look to conscience.
In Teaching for Wisdom, Hart (2001) advocates that, Defining oneself
authentically involves rejecting authority. It means turning inward to rely on our
own knowing rather than on someone elses (p. 10). He advises using the experts
but also finding your own truth.
In education we have not overcome the habit of looking primarily outside for
authority, to the teachers, texts, sciences, leaders, and so forth. Unless
children are weaned from this suckling on external authority, their internal
decision-making and skills of discernment do not mature. We teach
obedience at the cost of insight and wisdom. (p. 10)
While compliance and obedience are often the hidden desired outcome of moral
education, thereby achieving management, it is the obedience commanded by
ones internal compass that has the final word. Covey (2004) writes,
Conscience profoundly alters vision, discipline and passion by introducing us
into the world of relationship. It moves us from an independent to an
interdependent state. When this happens, everything is altered. You realize
that vision and values must be shared before people will be willing to accept
the institutionalized discipline of structures and systems that embody those
shared values. Such shared vision creates discipline and order without
demanding them. (p. 81)
While effective educational initiatives in conscience formation can lead to a more
interdependent state with shared values, governance is not necessarily easy.
Conscience will always be changing how things are seen. Conscience can set apart
not only an individual from the group, but a collective conscience can lead to
division in a community. In Harper Lees 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the
lawyer, Atticus Finch states, The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is
a persons conscience. There will always be the possibility, even probability, that
a minority will challenge the rule of the majority. If membership respects this and
makes room for disagreement then governance can still be served.
Parker Palmer, an author, educator, and activist, believes that every mode of
education is a mode of soul-making. Palmer hopes for a transformation of
knowing such that every way of knowing becomes a way of living; every
epistemology becomes an ethic. In his Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture, The
Violence of Our Knowledge: Towards a Spirituality of Higher Education, Palmer
(1993) argues that to move from a knowing that is violent, i.e., violating the
integrity or the nature of the other, means that truth is personal, truth is communal,
truth is mutuality of reciprocity, and truth is transformational.
The vocabulary of conscience formation is transformational. As will be
discussed in a later chapter, a moral maturity is associated with the notion
of wisdom. Hart (2001) states, Wisdom is not taught but nurtured (p. 11).
It is an awakening, the fire of heart that propels us beyond mere self-
interest into concerns of depth and meaning, social justice and caring (p. 13). If
there is change or correction in moral behaviour then there has been
transformation, and transformative learning continues to be the ideal in
educational initiatives.
Before moving on, I want to reflect on the possible reasons why the term
conscience is currently out of favour in contemporary vocabulary. Ever since re-
discovering the concept early in my studies, I have struggled with its seeming
absence. At first, I simply concluded that it must be fear. I wondered if there
might be a fear that a construct which seems at first blush to focus exclusively on
the individual, would not serve the wider community nor enable the sought-after
levels of behaviour management. Aside from this potential misunderstanding of
the concept, I do believe, however, there are possibilities buried deeper in history
that can inform its current disuse. These other possibilities point more to the
fundamentals of what conscience is, which will be explored in Chapter Four.
However, I want to present here one analysis that offers an interesting insight
into the possible avoidance of the term conscience. I am specifically referring to
the thoughts as presented by Carol Loar (2010) in her article, Under Felt Hats
and Worsted Stockings: The Uses of Conscience in Early Modern English
Coroners Inquests. In her essay, Loar describes conscience in medieval times as
a double-edged sword. Quoting the document Discourse Concerning
Conscience, which among other ends, was given to Mankind for a
Preservative, and Security of the Publick Peace; for the Effectually Obliging
Men to Unity, and Obedience to Laws; yet should often be a means of setting
them at distance, and prove a Shelter for Disobedience, and Disorder: That
God should command us to Obey our Governours in all Lawful things for
Conscience sake, and yet that we should disobey them in Lawful things for
Conscience sake too. (p. 400)
This double-edged sword metaphor suggesting that conscience can be a shelter for
disobedience and disorder, perhaps says much about why present day society
might be hesitant to embrace the notion of conscience in educational initiatives. If
one is operating under the assumption that moral education should assure the
development of goodness and obedience, and that goodness is associated with
conscience, then one may not be hesitant to use the term, conscience. However, as
Loar found, the shift to the subjective (self) creates conflict over what constitutes
good or true conscience. In her research Loar concludes that conscience was a
thorny issue in early modern history. The reliability of conscientious
judgments is one criteria Hill (1998) used to examine four conceptions of
conscience. Perhaps it is the fear of disagreement and disorder, and the
unreliability of conscience that contribute to the reluctance to use this concept in
moral education. I would suggest that it is not the attainment of agreement and
reliability that should be the goal of moral education, rather the striving for
authenticity and integrity. I will return to this line of thinking later in this book.
There are other obvious and very simple reasons why conscience may not be an
active word in current vocabulary. When moral character is on ones mind,
typically, it has not come to ones attention because of the good moral emotions
that one feels, such as gratitude or humility. Rather ones conscience is far more
likely to come to ones attention because of the more uncomfortable moral
emotions such as guilt and shame. Brene Brown (2006), featured in a You Tube
video, Is Shame Good?, reports finding repeatedly that no one wants to talk about
shame. What she also found is that the less we do talk about shame, the more
power we turn over to it. Vulnerability is what is required in order to examine
shame, and then proceed to change or correct the shameful behaviour, or the
judgment. Establishing a classroom where vulnerability is welcomed is not for the
faint of heart. It takes good leadership.
Historically, conscience has been set into a negative narrative with too much
attention to guilt and shame. As long as conscience is narrowly understood in this
negative light, we will inevitably avoid examining it. If the moral emotions of
conscience could be recognized for the diversity and complexity they contain, and
if the required vulnerability is addressed by providing learners with a safe
environment, conscience need not be painted with such negative brush-strokes.
This is a challenge to the designers of education curricula, both because educating
for conscience requires personal integrity of leadership and because it necessitates
the re-framing of a concept that has been deemed negative in order that it can be
examined in a broader and constructive light.
Whatever the terms of definition, most agree on the existence and importance of
conscience; of its tremendous and often crushing power we have frequent
illustrations (Ryerson, 1871, p. 55). There is no single psychological function that
can substitute for conscience. Conscience bridges the gap between judgment and
action, it accounts for reason and emotions, and it addresses the self in the context
of the other-than-self. It embraces critical thinking, intuition, and imagination.
Conscience is not afraid of diversity nor of its own complexity. Conscience is the
thread embedded in the evolutionary tapestry of ethical and moral conduct.
Conscience is where the secular and religious worlds can meet.
It was once said that conscience has an image problem (Lehmann, 1963). At
that time in the mid 20th century Lehmann argued that the tortuous record of the
decline and fall of conscience forces upon us a sharp alternative: either do the
conscience over or do the conscience in. Ethical theory must either dispose of
the conscience altogether or completely transform the interpretation of its ethical
nature, function, and significance (p. 327). In response, I would argue that
conscience, historically, has been hijacked by theologians. Its historical association
with religion may be a reason why publicly funded schools are not addressing it in
curricula. However, with the indisputably enduring and persistent nature of
conscience, along with the above tasting of a more expansive understanding of
conscience, I propose that we are called to do the conscience over. Conscience
formation offers a new landscape for understanding the development of moral
intelligence. Its time to liberate conscience, to take it back from the exclusive hold
that formal religion has had on it. Why not call moral behaviour what it is,
conscience. Why not take a fresh look at the praxis of moral, or character
education, by looking at the vocabulary first? Why not add a new vocabulary, the
language of conscience formation, to the planning process in curriculum design? In
this book, I will explore what a new vocabulary and a new way to explore
conscience formation might look like. It is to the hijacking of the understanding of
conscience that I now turn.