Refuting direction of moral education of the child mistaken ideas about conscience in light of the natural law tradition. My experience as a teacher, counselor and confessor has repeatedly confirmed that there is a tremendous amount of confusion, especially among Catholics, about the nature of moral conscience.
That experience has also taught me just how sensitive this topic is. Want to make a group of people immediately uncomfortable? Start talking about conscience—and worse, suggest that the ideas they have about conscience are perhaps mistaken. To begin with, I hope most of us would agree that conscience is not the proverbial angel on my shoulder, the antagonist of the little devil who whispers temptations in my ear perched on my other shoulder. Yet, while most of us have progressed beyond this childish understanding of conscience, I fear that a large percentage of Catholics still labor under some form of misconception about the nature of moral conscience.
On this view, conscience is nothing more than an emotive response conditioned over time by genetic factors, environment and other socializing factors, in addition to psychological forces deep at work in our own psyche. Conscience as built in moral guidance system. Here, conscience is understood to be a kind of natural faculty or power. Some depict it as the very voice of God who, through conscience, can guide our actions directly. A third misconception, presents conscience as a kind of intuition which simply cannot be accounted for or explained in terms of human reasoning. Finally, a fourth misconception presents conscience as simply that process by which I give consideration to moral matters and come up with my best judgment—essentially my opinion—about what I, or others, ought to do or not do.