Conscientization and the Cultivation of Conscience

by Keqi (David) Liu (Author)
©2015 Textbook VIII, 194 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 3


Conscientization and the Cultivation of Conscience constitutes a major contribution to the international literature on the work of Paulo Freire, one of the most influential educationalists of all time. It provides a fresh perspective on the Freirean notion of conscientization, rethinking this pivotal concept in the light of the history of ideas on conscience. The author offers a holistic, philosophical reading of Freire’s texts and argues for the cultivation of conscience through love and dialogue. Such a reading, he suggests, allows us to better respond to the moral crises that face us in the age of global capitalism. The ideas advanced in this book have important implications for philosophical and cultural understanding and for educational theory and practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Paulo Freire: Life, Work, and Theory
  • A Biography of Paulo Freire
  • The Historical and Sociocultural Contexts in Which Freire Lived
  • A Brief Sketch of Freire’s Life
  • An Overview of Freire’s Pedagogical Theory
  • Freire’s Philosophy
  • Freire’s Theory of Liberating Education
  • Critical Responses to Freire’s Pedagogical Theory
  • Freire’s Original Contributions
  • The Main Objections
  • A Critical Defense
  • Chapter Two: The Key Elements of Conscientization
  • Conscientization at its Beginning
  • Freire’s Conceptualization of Critical Consciousness
  • To Read the Word Is to Read the World
  • Critical Responses to Conscientization
  • The Criticisms and the Defenses
  • Conscientization, a Humanizing Pedagogy
  • The Methodical Applications of Conscientization
  • Smith’s Three-Stage Model
  • Elias’s Approach
  • A Number of Indispensable Elements of Conscientization Recapitulated
  • Chapter Three: Conscience and its Relationship With Consciousness
  • The Notion of Conscience and its Development
  • The Conscience–Consciousness Problem
  • The Conflict Between Conscience and Consciousness
  • The Unity Between Conscience and Consciousness
  • Chapter Four: The Dynamism of the Work of Conscience
  • Conscience, the Basis of Morality, Reconsidered
  • Marx’s Materialist Foundation of Morality
  • Schopenhauer’s Compassion as Moral Foundation
  • Conscience: Consciousness of Maintaining Humanity
  • Conscience: The Working Mechanism
  • Being Moral in a Transcendent Living Sphere
  • An Illumination of the Notion of Transcendence
  • A Proper Way to Transcendence
  • Chapter Five: The Cultivation of Conscience
  • The Transcendent Role of Love
  • Love of the Good
  • Love of Life
  • The Transcendent Role of Dialogue
  • The Antagonism Between the Self and Others
  • The I–Thou Relation: The Foundation of the Dialogical Principle
  • Conscience Welcomes the Other
  • Dialogical Effect
  • A Demonstration of the Transcendent Role of Love and Dialogue
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Siddhartha
  • Chapter Six: The Integration of the Cultivation of Conscience Into Conscientization
  • Freire’s Dialectical Meetings With Marx and Christ: A Guideline
  • Legacies From Marx
  • A New Concept of Revolution
  • The Cultivation of Critical Consciousness: Functions and Roles
  • Awakening the Consciousness of a Just Social Place
  • Strengthening the Subject Position in Making History
  • The Cultivation of Conscience: Functions and Roles
  • A Cornerstone to Build Moral Character
  • An Effective Means to Maintain a Universal Human Ethic
  • Conscientization in a New Light
  • Chapter Seven: Conscientization: Educational Necessity and Cultural Significance
  • The Educational Necessity of Conscientization
  • Robotic Vocationalism
  • Money Idolatry: The Core of Marketization
  • Indifference to the Loss of Humanity and Unnecessary Human Suffering
  • The Absolute Necessity of Conscientization
  • The Cultural Significance of Conscientization
  • Freire’s Conscientized Subject in His Humanism
  • Freire’s Universal Human Ethic
  • Freire’s Certainty of His Socialist Orientation
  • Freire’s Critical Pedagogy: Another New Form of Oppression and Hegemony?
  • Chapter Eight: The Pedagogical Possibilities of Conscientization
  • Conscientization Maintains Humanizing Education
  • Conscientization Promotes Education as Revolutionary Intervention
  • Conscientization Turns Education Into a Human Act
  • Conscientization Fosters Pedagogical Love
  • Conscientization Upholds Epistemological Curiosity
  • Potentialities for Realizing Conscientization in Daily Pedagogical Situations
  • Mr. Mattingly’s Intervention
  • A Critical Reflection
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Series Index


Preface and Acknowledgments

My preoccupation with human suffering has evoked a deep interest in, and concern for, humanity—the goodness, worthiness, and dignity of being “human.” There is also a similar curiosity about the individual and collective loss of humanity and the unnecessary human suffering of others, all without which there could be no discourse of humanity.

My interest has been shaped by my birth and 39-year upbringing in China and fueled by my observation of the historic events that have unfolded in my homeland, from Mao’s cultural revolution, through Deng’s reform and open policies, to the introduction of the market system for economic growth. Problems arising from these significant events created an environment that led many of my generation to question the purpose and the outcomes of the measures taken by successive governments in China: What was the revolution about? Why did the socialist system fail to live out its essence as theorized? In particular, in light of the subsequent corruption and injustice and the increasingly widening gap between rich and poor within China, the question must be posed: What was the use of Mao’s revolution? Did millions of people die in vain attempting to set up a socialist system?

The prospect of addressing the concerns and questions I held in a more substantive way arrived in 2006 during my time as a Master of Education postgraduate student at the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In reading ← vii | viii → Paulo Freire’s (1972a) seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I found a theoretical and dialogical platform from which to consider the nature of human suffering. Such reading prompted a reconsideration of the scope of Freire’s notion of conscientization, which he defined in Pedagogy of Indignation (2004) as “the building of critical awareness and conscience” (p. 66). This redefinition not only provides a stimulus for better understanding of the root causes of human suffering and dehumanization or the loss of humanity but also brings full effect to humanization, an effective approach to address dehumanizing problems. Ignited by such a critical reading, I started my doctoral thesis, researching how the cultivation of conscience could be incorporated into conscientization.

After four years of hard work, three key tasks were completed: a determination of the notion of conscience that has internal coherence with the process of conscientization, an examination of how to cultivate conscience, and a determination of how to integrate the cultivation of conscience into conscientization. My doctoral study confirmed that conscientization, as an educational initiative, can readily and sustainably maintain both self and social empowerment when it is deeply rooted in the praxis of changing the world. While the cultivation of critical consciousness tackles systemic and ideological crises, the cultivation of conscience addresses problems of human consciousness such as insatiable human desire represented in varying forms of egoism, ambition, lust, greed, and so on. With the benefit of rigorous feedback on my doctoral thesis via the examination process, I now feel my work is ready to appear in book form.

I wish to take this opportunity to make some acknowledgments. I must express my gratitude to Professor Peter Roberts, Dr. Baljit Kaur, Dr. Helen Hayward, and Dr. Deb Hill for their genuine care and enlightening support. I am truly appreciative of Professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith’s and Dr. Kariane Westrheim’s thorough engagement with my work. Finally, I am very grateful to Professor Peter McLaren and Professor Michael Peters for supporting the inclusion of my book in their “Education and Struggle” series. ← viii | 1 →



The root causes of unnecessary human suffering have been interpreted in two broad ways. Some who have pondered these matters relate human suffering to human nature; others seek an explanation in an oppressive social system and its hegemonic ideology. In terms of the former, the belief is that human beings possess “selfish genes” from which emerge different moral dilemmas; for the latter, human beings are by nature “good,” and it is the state of societal conditions that determines whether this disposition remains or is reconfigured. Acts of dehumanization—injustice, oppression, exploitation, and alienation—can be overcome or mediated through social change.

It seems that one explanation of the origins of human suffering exaggerates human self-interest and ignores the influence of social factors while the other acts in the reverse. In reality, however, both social system and human nature problems coexist. The latter problems are better conceived as human consciousness problems, which are far more complex. Social change aided by social and cultural criticism might more readily meet social system and ideological crises; however, it is not easy to satisfy insatiable human desire represented in varying forms of egoism, ambition, lust, and greed. To attend to human consciousness problems requires something different. It necessitates transcendence through the cultivation of conscience. This suggests that the cultivation of conscience is imperative, though it is often ignored in current sociocultural discourses dominated by empiricism, social ← 1 | 2 → constructionism, postmodernism, and, in particular, neo-liberalism. The enigma, nevertheless, is that human basic needs and biological desires are simultaneously bound up together in and by social, political, and economic systems and ideology as much as they are by each other. This reality demands a holistic approach that is able to address social system problems and human consciousness problems at the same time.

Freire’s (2004, p. 66) redefinition of conscientization as “the building of critical awareness and conscience” offers a possible breakthrough by mediating this dynamic in a particular way. While we can employ social critique and cultural criticism or subversion as an integral part of social change to tackle hegemonic ideology or cultural domination and oppression, we can employ transcendence through the cultivation of conscience to attend to various manifestations of human desire. This is evident through Freire’s equal appropriation of Marx’s materialist and historical concern of worldliness and Christian transcendency. Accordingly, a down-to-earth implementation of humanization necessitates an important project, the integration of the cultivation of conscience into the practice of conscientization.

Although Freire alluded to conscience in his earlier work, he focused more overtly on this basic component of conscientization in Pedagogy of Indignation, published posthumously in 2004. Within Freire’s work and that of Freirean scholars, there is extensive coverage regarding the importance of developing critical consciousness, but there is a lack of systematic investigation into the cultivation of conscience and how the latter is crucial to conscientization as a distinctive process of human development. This poses a problem of how the cultivation of conscience can be incorporated into the process of conscientization. Within this broad framing or research problem lie related questions: What is conscience? What notion of conscience has internal coherence with the process of conscientization? What are the conditions for the work of conscience? How can conscience be cultivated? How can the cultivation of conscience be incorporated into the process of conscientization? Also, having addressed these questions, we might ask how conscientization can be usefully applied to current sociocultural, historical contexts and pedagogical practices.

In this book, in order to address these questions, philosophy, literature, and education are combined and treated as a trinity. While a number of philosophical traditions and literary works from various perspectives are drawn on to reinforce and illustrate particular theoretical points, the educational field is taken as a practical arena for action.

The argument starts with a comprehensive study of Freire’s life, work, and theory to illuminate why he, as Giroux (1985) commented, has offered the language of not only critique but also possibility. Against this backdrop, a number of ← 2 | 3 → the indispensable elements of conscientization are closely and critically examined. Since the development of the concept is also enhanced by those commentators, two comments are highlighted. One is that, as Roberts (1996) contended, the dialogical nature and relation of conscientization should be understood as the multiplication of consciousnesses through meaningful communication. The other is that conscientization, as an integral part of transformative praxis, has an internal relation to humanization (Smith, 1999; Torres, 1994).

The origin and the historical development of conscience are investigated with reference to Despland’s (1987) mapping. In order to scope the notion more fully, comments on conscience are reviewed by such figures as Cicero, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Montaigne, Descartes, Butler, Rousseau, and Kant. Considering that conscientization is about the cultivation of critical consciousness and conscience, an etymological study of consciousness and conscience is followed by investigating Arnold’s (1994) interpretation of Hellenism and Hebraism and Engelberg’s (1972) research on the conscience–consciousness problem.

The examination of the dialectical relation between consciousness and conscience focuses on the conflict and unity between the two concepts. The conflict between consciousness and conscience is traced back to Locke (1959). It became irresolvable when Nietzsche (1966, 2000) stressed free will—unobstructed consciousness of life—and rejected conscience as the herd conscience. Conrad’s (1995) novel, Heart of Darkness, is employed to show what is wrong with Nietzsche’s point; that is, a human being cannot even interpret his or her own consciousness if he or she has no conscience, and a human being lives in horror if he or she has no morality. This makes Hegel’s (1971) understanding of conscience more compelling: Conscience, sitting at the highest state of the development of consciousness, acts as a unifying moral agent.


VIII, 194
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (June)
Paulo Freire dialogue moral crises love educational theory
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Keqi (David) Liu (Author)

Keqi (David) Liu received his M.Ed. with distinction and his PhD in education from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He now teaches philosophy of education and moral education at Lingnan Normal University in China.


Title: Conscientization and the Cultivation of Conscience