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Passions in Poetry

Conscience

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Huan Yi
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0 posted 02-16-2009 07:27 PM       View Profile for Huan Yi   Email Huan Yi   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Huan Yi

.


“Quick definitions (conscience)

noun:  conformity to one's own sense of right conduct .”


http://www.onelook.com/?w=conscience&ls=a


The question of conscience has come to my mind as I have been
reading “Young Stalin” by Simon Sebag Montefiore, and honestly
I was surprised by the above as I never thought conscience could
be so accommodating . . .

In the name of full disclosure, I was raised Roman Catholic
and though I have long since fallen from the faith I still
considered conscience as an independent which told me
for example I would be doing wrong despite
my own sense of right conduct.
  

.
Stephanos
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1 posted 02-16-2009 11:06 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

"The conscience doesn't make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that's wrong or something that's right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we're in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy" (Robert White, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology)


John, whether or not you come to same conclusion as I have, regarding Christian Theism (though I hope you consider taking a second look, past the foibles of religion and youth), know that materialist/physicalist theories of conscience and morality don't make any sense.  At least, I've never met anyone who actually approaches their conscience according to the plain conclusion of such theories, except maybe the kind of people no one would ever want to meet.  Of course there are people who take their consciences seriously enough, to be really really kind folk, and really really inconsistent with their metaphysics.  


Stephen

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (02-17-2009 11:37 PM).]

Essorant
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2 posted 02-17-2009 12:37 AM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

Perhaps you ought to consider using a different English dictionary, Huan Yi.   Or even better for Latinish words such as conscience, use a Latin dictionary.  See here  
Bob K
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3 posted 02-22-2009 07:16 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Huan Yi,

          conscience


     The above link is pretty straightforward.

     But I think the question you raise has to do with the sheer flexibility that conscience is capable of contorting itself into and how astonishing that somebody with Stalin's initial ideals could end up being such a freaking monster without apparently even losing a night's sleep over any of it in the process.  I have had the same problem.

     I've noticed that almost everybody seems to give themselves what I think of as "the protagonist's discount."  Because we are all at the center of our own stories, we are essentially our own heroes, and because we are the heroes, by definition, we tend to give ourselves the hero's favored place.  We root for the hero.  We hope the hero wins, and, probably more than anything, we assume the hero is the good guy.

     Arrant twaddle, of course, when you examine the notion from any sort of objective stance; but that's the beauty of the protagonist's discount.  We don't charge him as much when it comes time to hold him accountable for the consequences of his actions because, as Pogo might say, He are us.  And we know we always mean well and we are, without much doubt, well-meaning good guys.

     If even fairly regular folks are easily felled by this delusion, why wouldn't a full blown paranoid psychopath like Stalin be even more easily deluded?

     I mean, if you can get away with calling yourself "Joe Steel" as a nom de Guerre without crumpling into gales of self derisive laughter and still somehow manage to take yourself seriously, what kind of claim on real sanity do you really think you have?  

     I'm not sure if this was more the sort of reaction you were looking for, but I was fascinated by your question and I have been eyeing the Stalin book with some interest myself, so I thought I'd try giving a shot to a reply?

     Any thoughts?

Bob Kaven
Stephanos
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4 posted 02-23-2009 11:47 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Has anyone read "Crime and Punishment"?

Raskolnikov murdering the Pawn Broker woman, gives us one picture of how conscience may be quelled in the pretense of greatness ... anticipating Nietzche, Dostoevsky spoke of writing one's own morality as a path to greatness.  (Of course, D. was writing to abjure this idea, while N. wrote (it seems) to recommend it).

Stephen
oceanvu2
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5 posted 03-19-2009 06:18 PM       View Profile for oceanvu2   Email oceanvu2   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for oceanvu2

Aw, Stephen, and here I thought we were getting along...   Conscience, as Bob's link points out, has it's roots in consciousness, or awareness, or presence, if you will.

I'm tempted to agree, although I haven't read the work you cite, that conscience, the will to do right, might be part of our evolutionary process.  A simple way of putting this is that, excluding the deranged and deluded, most people want to help, to do right.  If it is a neurological condition, religious education or lack thereof has nothing to do with it.

Best, Jimbeaux
Stephanos
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6 posted 03-20-2009 11:27 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Jimmy,

May we ever get along, m' friend.

Firstly, I can't equate consciousness with existence, though the former must contain the latter, much like a cube has to at least contain a square.  And to say that conscience is a result of consciousness is not exactly right either, unless you think most of the animals deal with guilt and moral approbation.  

As it stands, I just see no way of reconciling morality/goodness/rightness (whatever you wish to call it) with evolutionary process without undermining it ... without at the same time "seeing through" it, and making it an illusion.  If you don't think of it as an illusion exactly, just consider the imperative voice, that conscience ever speaks in.  If what you suggest is true, then our consciences should bother us about itself! ... since it plainly boasts to be something it ain't.     Even a few atheists I've read have acknowledged such (see Robert White's quote in one of my replies above).

If you pick up any new books, try "Crime and Punishment", and "The Abolition of Man".  (You'll enjoy them).  You'll understand more where I'm coming from.  Dostoevsky forsaw (and so did Lewis, in a dystopian fashion) the day in which we would reduce those things which make us uniquely human, into mere physical processes ... and so, in the attempt to explain them, only explain them away.

http://www.amazon.com/Punishment-Enriched-      Classics-Fyodor-Dostoyevsky/dp/074348763X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237607031&sr=1-2


http://www.amazon.com/Abolition-Man-C-S-Lewis/dp/0060652942/ref=sr      _1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237607143&sr=1-1

Later,

Stephen.
Stephanos
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7 posted 03-21-2009 11:05 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

To correct myself,  

It was evolutionary process (seated in thoroughgoing naturalism / atheism) that I meant to say could not cogently be reconciled to conscience ... not scientific evolution per se, which very well might be set in a Theistic view.

Stephen

Bob K
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8 posted 03-22-2009 04:16 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Stephanos,

           I'm not sure I understand your last two posts here.  They're couched in fairly abstract language, and I confess I see no reason to think that an atheist can't have a conscience, even a very good one.  Having known and known of some fairly decent folks who have been atheists, and who have certainly seemed to have as much conscience to my mind as most any religious person I've known.  

     At least, that is what I think you're saying, that an atheist can't have a conscience, isn't it?  If it is, I must say it makes no sense at all to me.

     Waiting with some curiosity, here,

Sincerely, Bob Kaven

Best to all of you there, family & such.
Stephanos
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9 posted 03-23-2009 07:13 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Bob, evidently the conscience is the hardest thing in the world to shake.  Nietzche once wrote the following:

"Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain?  The ability to suffer is a small matter; in that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness.  But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one  inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it - that is great, that belongs to greatness"  (The Joyful Wisdom)


Of course I'm not saying that an atheist can't have a conscience.  I am saying that the curious fact will always be inconsistent with his atheism ... unless of course "goodness" is reinterpreted to mean, another temporarily successful means to survival of genetic variants through time.  But that would destroy conscience as we know it, by simply seeing through its ruse ... through its imperative.  What I think you're saying, is that by a sheer existential move, one may choose to revere it nonetheless.  And I concede that such may be done.


Stephen
Bob K
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10 posted 03-24-2009 03:58 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Stephanos,

           "Unless goodness is reinterpreted to mean..."?  Once again I have an Alice Through The Looking Glass sensation.  By your use of the passive voice, are you attempting to include me among those people who share your opinion, presumably theological, of what the foundation of goodness may be?

     I don't think one reveres the conscience, I think one comes to love justice and mercy and to hate suffering, and especially the suffering one himself has caused.  Out of this caring perhaps some goodness may come.

     There is a poem that I find myself recommending now for the second time in three days, a sonnet by James Wright called "Saint Judas."  I think you might find yourself moved.

Thanks for writing back.  A pleasure to hear from you as always.  All my best, Bob Kaven
Stephanos
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11 posted 03-24-2009 05:15 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

quote:
"Unless goodness is reinterpreted to mean..."?  Once again I have an Alice Through The Looking Glass sensation.  By your use of the passive voice, are you attempting to include me among those people who share your opinion, presumably theological, of what the foundation of goodness may be?


Bob, I'm quite aware that you don't share my opinion of what the Theological foundation of goodness is.  If I thought you did, I wouldn't be making the argument.

What we do share is a fairly common way of interpreting/ approaching the conscience:  as representing something more than a pro tem means to personal or genetic survival.

quote:
I don't think one reveres the conscience, I think one comes to love justice and mercy and to hate suffering, and especially the suffering one himself has caused.  Out of this caring perhaps some goodness may come.


But its the very same question, once removed.  By mentioning "justice and mercy" you are still mentioning things that are only apprehended through the conscience.  Whether you see it or not, there is a revering (rightly so) in your tone of voice.  And that's my point.  It's a tone wholly inappropriate for advanced primates who have come to realize that conscience/morality is an evolutionary innovation which may or may not reflect anything more than a partially successful and temporary means to quite different ends than the moral question ever supposed.


Later,

Stephen J.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (03-24-2009 08:01 PM).]

 
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