Anthropology: A New Scope


Conscience is one of man's most significant aspects. There are two approaches to study the conscience: an internal study of oneself and others, and by means of anthropological studies. 

The Definition of Conscience

There are two types of definitions for conscience:

1-Some are general definitions, which take an overall look at it, without presenting any specific cases; for example, conscience means awareness about the self or one's character.

2-Others are specific definitions, which concern the effects of conscience, for instance, facts like bring a compass of the character or supervisory role conscience.  

A Scientific and Philosophical Study of Conscience 

The conscience can be studied from two points of view. One viewpoint is based on the scientifically observable effects of the conscience, and the other explores its roots philosophically. Due to the following three factors, we are obliged to select the philosophical study:

a)The conscience has no physical entity. No dimension of time or place can be specified for it.

b)It has opposite aspects that can never be collected in any physical form. For instance, the conscience can both torture and be tortured.

c)Internal freedom, one of the most original aspects of conscience, cannot be interpreted with any scientific principle.

The Criticism on the Originality of the Conscience

Several reasons have been posed against the existence of conscience. Let us criticize them:

1-The function of the conscience is not general: Some believe that if the conscience were universally original – in other words, if all human beings possessed it – why does it not show in all of them? Could anyone imagine someone like Genghis Khan having a conscience?

We must respond by saying that there are many instincts in humans about which people are highly diverse in possessing, using and fulfilling, such as the sexual instinct, emotions, curiosity and lots of others. Even the absence of some non-instinctive mental activities or a spiritual phenomenon cannot imply that an individual is basically devoid of it. 

2-Differences in the functions of the conscience in human beings: Some say that if the conscience is to be original, why is there so much diversity among people in its functions? Various functions for the conscience cannot defy its existence, as the existence of brutally savage human beings cannot prove that there is no conscience; the furthest we can go is to say that conscience is a relative phenomenon, prone to variation in its intensity, which varies from one person to another. If people use their conscience in various intensities, it should lead to the conclusion that they do not have a conscience at all, as diversities people have in their usage of their mental powers cannot imply that they have no intelligence. 

3-If the conscience is original, why is there so much debate and dispute over it among thinkers? We must counterargue by pointing out that thinkers are in debate and dispute over a great many things, and conscience is merely one of them. Do philosophers not disagree over matter and its identity? Is there absolute agreement over motion and time? If thinkers are in debate over issues like matter, motion and time, it does not defy them, as is the case about conscience.

4-The function of the conscience is not compatible with that of intelligence and reason: Some claim that the conscience does not function compatibly with intelligence and reason; the former is highly concerned about the good and evil of actions, whereas the latter is not at all. Moral conscience can identify gratitude and thankfulness, and intelligence can study it. There is no conflict between reason and conscience, despite the occasional differences seen between some principles of moral conscience and some schools of thought. For instance, moral conscience decrees that be fair and just, but hedonism believes that a person should enjoy himself, going after his desires. This is definitely not a conflict between the methods of moral conscience and those of intelligence and reason; it is a difference between the principles of moral conscience and the views in various schools of thought. 

5-Is conscience created by the society? Some sociologists believe that conscience is an outcome of man's social life, and has no identity of its own. We must say that human societies are not capable of creating new phenomena in man; the most they can do is to give them a touch of color. Can the society make its members discover the unknown without thinking? Can a society make all of its members mathematicians? Can we have a society in which people's desires are controlled in such a way that everyone follows a moderate, balanced way of life?

 Man is a being possessing a great many potentials, and high flexibility. Human societies can merely determine how the potentials are put to use. In brief, if this means that social and environmental laws and factors are generally influential in coloring the conscience, it is a highly proper point, confirmed by our scientific and sensory observations. It does not mean, however, that the conscience is totally a consequence of the society and environmental factors. We also admit that social and environmental factors may affect the conscience, but it does not mean that the conscience is made by the society, even if it is done by an internal flexibility. 

6-The conscience starts functioning from childhood: Freud believes that the conscience is based and founded by the dos and don'ts engraved in the human mind in childhood. Since a child obeys his/her parents, he believes, and the parents continually order him to do or not do certain things to protect him, a phenomenon called moral conscience is gradually formed in the child.

If commands and preventions can lead to moral conscience, the same thing should happen in animals, which is not true. Freud may argue that it is only man who can develop a conscience through intrigue and forbiddance, whereas we must accept that man has an internal characteristic that allows him to develop conscience when encountering certain motives.

7-There are no fixed principles concerning conscience: Some believe that it is impossible to set fixed principles for the conscience, for it is a personal, variable phenomenon. Our response is that each mental or spiritual phenomenon arising in man is accompanied with certain personal factors. Yet, all phenomena follow their own set of laws. When phenomena like recall, will, or decision-making arise in man, they are accompanied with the individual's certain characteristics – thus, it is characterized, and does not defy its orderly nature.

8-Moral conscience cannot be fixed, for man's moods and mental states vary: Since human mental states are always changing, moral conscience also undergoes continual change, and no fixed phenomenon can be associated with it. Some people are extremely conscientious in some cases, and at other times totally put their conscience aside. Thus, how could we ever consider moral conscience as being a fixed phenomenon? We must say that we should consider the difference between conscience – or any phenomenon – and an activity done under certain circumstances. Conscience itself is a fixed phenomenon, but its activities depend on a variety of factors. Do we use our intelligence and reason equally at all times? If we do not, does that defy its existence?

9-Conscience and man's tendency toward machinery: Some say that despite all the value and significance moral conscience has, there is no need to continue discussing it now that technology has begun to dominate man. Nowadays, man does not need an internal factor, or a built-in judge to distinguish good from bad. Our response is that having accepted the necessity of conscience for man's emancipation, we must take its advice in the technology-infatuated world we are living in. If people realize its significance, they will take fundamental steps toward its revival. Even now, people are still deeply moved when they learn about sacrificial actions made by other human beings. 


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