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The Conscience

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naomi24 | 09:45 Thu 23rd Oct 2008 | Religion & Spirituality
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This question came to me after reading Lonnie's thread below. I'm currently reading a book by John Humphrys, called 'In God We Doubt'. He points out that only humans appear to possess a conscience, and asks exactly what the conscience is. Can we pinpoint the conscience within the human brain, and would you attribute its presence to God, to the evolution of man, or to something else?

(I'm not sure the conscience is confined to human beings. My dog is often very sorry indeed, and makes every effort to show it, when he's done something wrong - although that could be just because he wants his dinner and thinks he needs to get back in my good books). :o)

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Psychopaths don't have a conscience because they lack the ability to empathise or feel guilt or remorse at an emotional level.
Because psychopaths seem to be made rather than born, you have to attribute the presence of a conscience to part of the development process after birth, rather than something that was implanted there by god.

Hmm, after wrting this I've just read Wizard's post and realised I'm repeating what he said, but what the hell, I'll repeat it anyway.
Naomi: Been first been thinking about your dog & his conscience. (when I first read it a very old song came to my mind which nobody here will know: Tiddleywinks has eaten all the lovely flowers in your garden, Tiddleywinks just looks at you and wags his tail and begs your pardon!) But enuf of that. I`m imagining your dog has been naughty while you were absent. When you came back, before you found out what he`d done, would he be showing some signs of apology. I doubt it. I don`t think he has a conscience. He is basically a member of a pack and knows his place, and we can put everything down to training in the mind, that`s all. So I tend to think that a conscience is a function of the mind. Even human beings have an inherited training, not only just from this life. PS Naomi, now sending an answer to the 2nd account.
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Not so sure, Tina. I often think he's more human than many humans I've come across. :o)

Thanks, Tina. I'll get back to you.
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Wiz and Ludwig, that's food for thought. Good points.
Humans have evolved a conscience because nature is headed somewhere. Dumb beasts, however cruel, are innocent because they have no choice. We have a choice (let's leave psychopaths out of it because that's a medical condition), and it is no accident.
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I take your point about psychopaths completely, Jock. We can only presume that their conscience is lost somewhere within their condition. So you think the conscience is God-given, Jock, rather than learnt or inherited? What do you think it's ultimate purpose is then, and where do you think nature is headed?

By the way, my reference to my dog was rather tongue in cheek - even though he is practically human. :o)
This raises another question.
Imagine if there was a real life Mowgli, raised by Wolves in the jungle and having no contact with other humans. Would he have a conscience? I have no idea.
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That's an excellent question, Ludwig - and I have no idea either. I had a quick google and there are references to feral children, those neglected by their parents, and tales of those reputedly raised by animals, but I can't see any reference to whether they possess a conscience or not.

Anyone?
Naomi, Ludwig: that would be really a very exciting thing to discover. Since I said that there could be some conscience genes inherited from his race but that he`d had a feral upbringing, it`s possibly 50/50. But how great it would be to find out which way he leaned. Which would be the stronger influence? Go find out, please, Naomi!
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I'll give it a go, Tina - but don't hold your breath. It's a jungle out there! :o)

In the meantime, if anyone else knows of any studies that have been made, please post the results. Ludwig has really hit on something here.
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I suppose if others told you that they have a conscience, then you would know, Luna - but I'm not sure you would understand the effect the conscience has on a person.
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I've googled, and can't find anything to confirm whether or not a feral child would possess a conscience. Having thought about it a bit more, I wonder, if it is 'God' given, why some people suffer the effects of their conscience more than others? In fact, some appear to have no conscience at all - and I'm not talking about psychopaths. I have therefore come to the conclusion that it is learnt, and that our early education dictates the severity of the feelings of guilt that our conscience produces.

If anyone can come up with anything relating to feral children, it would be interesting.
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Hiya Luny, the comparison between the three years olds and the older children is interesting. I'm convinced conscience is learnt.
What Luna said struck a bell. Some time ago I read a report from some psychiatrist and the only thing I remember him saying was that the age of 4 was when all children started to lie. He called it a magical number and was trying to find out why.

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