Friday, September 14, 2012

conscience and moral intuition

Up until today, I have thought that conscience and moral intuition were roughly the same thing.  But as I was sitting here thinking about it, I noticed a difference.  Of course this difference depends on how the words are actually used and what people actually mean by them.  After all, words are defined by their use, and maybe people do use them interchangeably.  But I don't, which I just noticed as I was reflecting on it.  Lemme explain the difference.

Your conscience is what makes you feel incumbency.  It makes you feel the weight of your moral obligations. It accuses you and acquits you.  It makes you feel guilty when you've done wrong and it makes you feel justified when you've done right.

But your moral intuitions tell you more than that.  Your moral intuitions tells you what's right and wrong, not just for you, but for everybody else.

While your conscience can make you feel like you shouldn't do something, your moral intuitions tells you that nobody else should do it either.

I think your conscience is informed by your moral intuition.  The reason your conscience makes you feel guilty after an action is because your moral intuition tells you that it was wrong.  The reason your conscience makes you feel like you should do something is because your  moral intuitions tells you that you should.

This may be why there's this fuzzy connection between feelings and morals.  Our conscience is our feeling about morals and our relationship to them, but our moral intuitions are not feelings.  That's why it's possible to think something is wrong and not care.  It's also why it's possible to feel guilty even when you know you're not guilty.

What do you think?

Related subject:  Emotivist objection to arguments for morality


At 9/15/2012 4:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the scene with the two boats in Dark Knight, one of the prisoners on the prison boat approaches the guy with the detonator and says something like, "Give it to me, I'll do what you should have done ten minutes ago. You can tell them I took it from you." The guy complies.

Sometimes people won't do something against their own conscience but they won't mind if someone else does it for them. Maybe they don't even think it's wrong if the other person chooses to do it, but they don't want the responsibility of that action on their own hands because their conscience tells them it could be wrong.

At 9/19/2012 2:54 PM , Anonymous Shawn said...

Or maybe they're corrupt and want to do what they know to be wrong but they're afraid of the consequences. They don't care if someone else faces the consequences; they're corrupt.

At 10/02/2012 5:11 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Sam, I think of moral intuition and conscience as different parts of our moral faculties. The former is the thin slicing module which has as output a strong feeling that to do @ is wrong, whereas 'conscience' is a deliberative module that checks for things like consistency and tries to sort out dilemmas. Hence the possibility of phrases like 'Jones struggled with her conscience'.

At 10/02/2012 5:14 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

These captchas are getting difficult aren't they?

At 10/02/2012 5:21 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Yeah, definitely! LOL I've gotten some pretty weird ones for which there were no keys on my keyboard.

I don't think our conscience is what helps us solve dilemmas. Rather, our conscience is sometimes what causes a dilemma in the first place.

For example, suppose your brother is cheating on his wife who also happens to be a close friend of yours. Your moral intuitions tells you that what your brother is doing is wrong. But your conscience tells you two different things. It urges you, on the one hand, to inform his wife since she is being wronged. But it also urges you to not tell his wife since (1) you should be loyal to your brother, and (2) it would hurt his wife.

I think the thing that helps you solve moral dilemmas is neither your conscience nor your moral intuition. It's your reasoning. You begin with moral intuitions and your conscience, and you try to reason through them to come to a final conclusion about what you should do. For example, you might weigh the harm of telling your brothers wife against the harm in not telling her. Your moral intuition tells you that the greater harm should be avoided, but it is your reasoning that tells you which is the greater harm. No moral faculty tells you that.

At 10/02/2012 6:38 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Right, I think I see what you mean. So in your model, moral intuition delivers verdicts on wrongness but our conscience seems to fulfil the role of our motivation to do the right thing. If following our moral intuition clashes with other issues of conscience, like loyalty or avoiding harm, we use reason to break a potential deadlock. Is that about right?

If so, I think we are just slicing and dicing our modules differently.

At 10/02/2012 6:41 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Yeah, that's basically it. It's true that a lot of this just depends on how we define our terms.

At 10/30/2012 3:14 PM , Blogger Richard W 4Christ said...

I just drew a diagram of a person with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other shoulder. I'm trying to understand: The moral intuition would have to be in place before the conscience can make or debate a moral issue,right? Wouldn't the angel and the devil represent the debating aspect of the conscience? How I see it: The moral intuition would already be in place for the debate between the devil and the angel(the conscience)to begin to take place. Am I wrong on that?

At 10/30/2012 3:23 PM , Blogger Sam said...

The moral intuition would have to be in place before the conscience can make or debate a moral issue,right?

Not necessarily. It is possible to feel guilty about something even if you know you're not morally responsible. In that case, you're conscience makes you feel guilty, but your moral intuition tells you that you're not guilty. Ideally, though, when all your cognitive faculties are functioning correctly, your conscience will be informed by your moral intuitions.

In most cases where there's a devil and an angel, the angel is urging you to do right and the devil is urging you to do wrong. So the angel is trying to strengthen your conscience, and the devil is trying to weaken your conscience. In some cases, more or the other might try to change the content of your moral intuition. The devil might try to convince you, through trickery, that some action is not really wrong, and the angel might try to convince you that it is wrong.

At 10/31/2012 3:24 PM , Blogger Richard W 4Christ said...

You're right,Sam. Good points. I think I understand it more clearer now. An example of what you're saying can be seen in a case where a supervisor hires his best friend and the best friend ends up continuing to do a horrible job until the supervisor has to make the decision to fire the best friend. He knows he's right to fire the best friend(moral intuition),but on the other hand,he feels bad doing it because it's his best friend(conscience debate).

At 10/31/2012 3:34 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Yup. That's it.


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