We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Conscience and Other Virtues

From Bonaventure to MacIntyre

Douglass C. Langston

Publication Year: 2000

Conscience, once a core concept for ethics, has mostly disappeared from modern moral theory. In this book Douglas Langston traces its intellectual history to account for its neglect while arguing for its still vital importance, if correctly understood. In medieval times, Langston shows in Part I, the notions of "conscientia" and "synderesis" from which our contemporary concept of conscience derives were closely connected to Greek ideas about the virtues and practical reason, although in Christianized form. As modified by Luther, Butler, and Kant, however, conscience later came to be regarded as a faculty like will and intellect, and when faculty psychology fell into disrepute, so did the role of conscience in moral philosophy. A view of mature conscience that sees it as relational, with cognitive, emotional, and conative dimensions, can survive the criticisms of conscience as faculty. In Part II, through discussions of Freud, Ryle, and other modern thinkers, Langston proceeds to reconstruct conscience as a viable philosophical concept. Finally, in Part III, this better grounded concept is connected with the modern revival of virtue ethics, and Langston shows how crucial conscience is to a theory of virtue because it is fundamental to the training of any morally good person.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (6.2 MB)

Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.6 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (17.7 KB)
pp. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (27.4 KB)
pp. vii-viii

Both Plato and Aristotle wrote on friendship, and they spent a considerable amount of time extolling its importance. In their works, an idyllic picture of friends discussing important ideas in restful circumstances emerges. In the midst of familial and professional duties, my friends and I discuss important and unimportant issues in whatever locale can be found, whether real or ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (29.9 KB)
pp. 1-4

Conscience has been ignored. Although we use it to guide our actions and we appeal to freedom of conscience in a variety of situations, in the last twenty-five years little has been written about conscience as a useful analytical concept. Why? It is easy to point to the atrocities of this century as reason to abandon the notion of conscience. Writers like Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi have ...

Part I. Historical Background

read more

1. Classical Background to Discussions of Conscience

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.6 KB)
pp. 7-20

Our modern notion of conscience has had an unfortunate development. Today, most people regard conscience as a judging and punishing faculty. It judges the worth of a person's actions and influences how a person behaves by making the person experience guilt when wrong is done. As an internal judge, its pronouncements and punishments are limited to the person whose ...

read more

2. Bonaventure's View of Conscience and Synderesis

pdf iconDownload PDF (65.0 KB)
pp. 21-38

In their treatment of the virtues and conscience, the medieval schoolmen drew on the works of both Plato and Aristotle; but they were heavily influenced by Augustine's modification of the classical tradition. While acknowledging his debt to Plato and Aristotle, Augustine (d. 430) constantly criticized their views for failing to take into account the critical role of God in ...

read more

3. Aquinas on Conscience, the Virtues, and Weakness of Will

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.0 KB)
pp. 39-52

Bonaventure's voluntaristic view of synderesis and conscience presents synderesis as the drive to the good and places it in the appetitive faculty. In contrast, Aquinas (1225-74) claims that synderesis is in the rational part of human agents. It is a natural disposition of the human mind by which we apprehend without inquiry the basic principles of behavior; it is thus parallel ...

read more

4. Scotus and Ockham on Synderesis and Conscience

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.9 KB)
pp. 53-70

Lottin's research (in Psychologie et morale au XIIe et XIIIe siècles) reveals that the topics of conscience and synderesis were extensively treated from the time of Philip the Chancellor (d. 1236) to that of Henry of Ghent (d. 1293). It is consequently surprising that these topics receive little direct attention from either Duns Scotus (1265-1308) or William of Ockham (1280-1349). ...

read more

5. Luther and the Rise of Conscience as a Faculty

pdf iconDownload PDF (58.4 KB)
pp. 71-84

Two recent, complementary studies have investigated Martin Luther's (1483-1546) view of conscience. Michael G. Baylor's Action and Person traces Luther's reaction to scholastic discussions of synderesis and conscience and the development of his own innovative view that conscience has as object not only actions but also the whole person.1 Randall C. Zachman's ...

Part II. The Contemporary Dismissal of Conscience

read more

6. Freud and Ryle on Conscience

pdf iconDownload PDF (51.5 KB)
pp. 87-98

One of the major developments of the twentieth century is the theory of psychoanalysis. Although many have criticized the theory, it has become a fixed feature of the present intellectual landscape. The theory itself is the creation of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), but it has undergone continual revision. Psychoanalytic theory as it is practiced today is more of a synthetic ...

read more

7. Conscience as Something Other Than a Faculty

pdf iconDownload PDF (45.3 KB)
pp. 99-108

Although discussions of conscience in the philosophical literature of the last half of the twentieth century are rare, in general there are three different views about the nature of conscience in the literature.1 Some writers advocate a cognitive view of conscience. According to this view, conscience is the device by which one contemplates and evaluates one's own actions or ...

read more

8. More Traditional Views of Conscience

pdf iconDownload PDF (52.6 KB)
pp. 109-120

As Bernard Wand points out, the topic of conscience has been relegated to casual mention in the twentieth century. The important discussions in the Anglo-American tradition, which I have treated in the last two chapters, have tended toward reductionism or elimination. Yet, there are still champions of the existence of conscience in the twentieth century. The Roman ...

read more

9. The Existence of Conscience

pdf iconDownload PDF (51.2 KB)
pp. 121-132

At the root of many of the reductionistic criticisms of conscience examined in Chapter 7 was the assumption that conscience is a faculty. For example, Hunter's suggestion that the notion of conscience be taken as a convenient fiction is guided by the assumption that conscience is a moral knowledge-giving faculty. In fact, his pointing to its status as a faculty gives strength to ...

Part III. Conscience as a Key to Virtue Ethics

read more

10. Conscience Among the Virtue Ethicists

pdf iconDownload PDF (62.3 KB)
pp. 135-150

It is by now a commonplace to remark that, among philosophers, there has been during the last twenty years a resurgence of interest in the virtues.1 To be sure, many more articles and books espousing either a deontological or a consequentialist ethics are still being written than ones espousing a virtue ethics, yet the marked renewal of interest is undeniable. Many trace the ...

read more

11. Conscience and Virtue Ethics

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.1 KB)
pp. 151-172

Given this basic orientation, Louden claims that it is clear that the main focus of virtue ethics is on the question of what sort of person one should be. This attitude necessarily emphasizes long-term patterns of action and de-emphasizes particular actions. But this means that in a pure virtue ethics there can be no procedure for making practical decisions. No answer can be ...

read more

12. Conscience and Other Virtues

pdf iconDownload PDF (34.6 KB)
pp. 173-178

Influenced by the work of, among others, Butler, Kant, and Freud, many philosophers in this century accepted the view that conscience is to be regarded as a faculty. Having done this, they went on to argue that there is no conscience because there is no such faculty. At best, ‘conscience’ is shorthand for something else: moral reasoning, a personal monitor, emotive responses ...

Appendix: MacIntyre's Project

pdf iconDownload PDF (38.6 KB)
pp. 179-184


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.7 KB)
pp. 185-188


pdf iconDownload PDF (28.1 KB)
pp. 189-191

Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (317.8 KB)
p. 201-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780271052717
E-ISBN-10: 0271052716
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271027890
Print-ISBN-10: 0271027894

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2000