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Conscience in Context

Historical and Existential Perspectives

Stuart P. Chalmers

In this book, the author presents a detailed study of the notion of conscience from the perspective of its historical development and existential environment. The purpose of the study is to highlight conscience’s dignity and fallibility, as well as its dependence upon the context of virtue and grace, in order to develop as our capacity to perceive the truth in moral action. Starting from the premise that current moral theory is suffering from fragmentation, the author proposes that this fragmented outlook has affected the common understanding of conscience and is therefore in need of renewal, chiefly in terms of the reintegration of conscience with its proper setting. In order to explore this theory, he investigates how conscience has been understood over the centuries, particularly in the New Testament and during the Scholastic period, and analyses a number of important issues concerning its nature and function.

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Chapter Four Issues on the Nature and Function of Conscience

Extract

Introduction Having gathered together historical data on the concept of conscience in an attempt to establish the key aspects of its nature as understood prior to a shift to a more subjectivist basis, I would now like to explore some issues in order to elaborate further on the nature of conscience. Here I would like to investigate questions related to two main themes: the limits of rational, deductive conscience, and the content of synderesis, as a basis for establishing whether synderesis, and conscience in general, is simply a formal principle, where the individual establishes the moral parameters, or whether the content is in some way established for us. This chapter will be made up of a series of subsections, or sub-questions, designed to build up a chain of evidence. However, in case the chain proves to be too long to see the end, I will summarize the goal before we start. In discussing the question of deduction and conscience, I am attempt- ing to highlight the limits of deductive reasoning in conscience in two respects. Firstly, I will aim to show, using an interdisciplinary method, that a purely deductive model of conscience is incomplete, and that the dynamic of moral reasoning incorporates a much richer mix of human capacities, which centre around deduction, but are not restricted to it. Hence conscience operates beyond the limits of deduction. Secondly, I wish to highlight that conscience as a capacity for moral reasoning has limits, most temporary, some permanent, that are peculiar to...

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