Butler’s View of Conscience

  • W. D. Hudson
Part of the New Studies in Ethics book series (NSE)


Butler was influenced by both the rational intuitionists and the ‘moral sense’ school, and his account of the moral faculty has the appearance of a compromise, or an attempt at reconciliation, between their respective views. He speaks of the moral faculty as ‘our moral understanding and moral sense’.52 He argues that the existence of moral terms like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in all languages, and their universal use to distinguish, for instance, between injury and just punishment, presuppose ‘a moral faculty; whether called conscience, moral reason, moral sense, or divine reason; whether considered as a sentiment of the understanding, or as a perception of the heart; or, which seems the truth, as including both’.53 This is how he defines conscience: ‘…there is a superior principle of reflection or conscience in every man, which distinguishes between the internal principles of his heart, as well as his external actions; which passes judgment upon himself and them; pronounces determinately some actions to be in themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves evil, wrong, unjust; which, without being consulted, without being advised with, magisterially exerts itself, and approves or condemns him, the doer of them accordingly.…’54


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Copyright information

© W. D. Hudson 1967

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. D. Hudson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterUK

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