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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 Five Conscience and Virtue


Introduction Virtue is no longer believed in, its power of attraction is gone; to restore it, someone would have to know how to take it to market as an unfamiliar form of adventure and excess. It demands too much extravagance and narrow-mindedness of its believers not to have the conscience against it today. To be sure, precisely that may constitute its new charm for unconscionable and totally unscrupulous people: – it is now what it never was before, a vice.1 These comments by Nietzsche might not exactly of fer the most promising start to a chapter on virtue and its connection to conscience. Nevertheless, his words may of fer us some sort of in-road to an attitude which is still very evident in the world today, namely, the ignoring of virtue or even the overturning of virtue in favour of vice. The word “virtue” could hardly be described currently as a term in frequent use.2 Indeed, this may be due to its change in connotations. Rather than associate the term with strength (vis) or excellence (aretē), as its etymology suggests,3 probably for many “virtue” conjures up ideas of something that is dull and lacking in excite- ment, something that is prudish or repressive in its outlook. According 1 Nietzsche, The Will to Power. Trans. by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Ed. by Walter Kaufmann. (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 324. 2 See Gianfranco Ravasi, Ritorno alle Virtù: La Riscoperta di uno Stile di Vita (Milan: Mondadori, 2005), 11. 3 Ibid...

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