The Natural Supremacy of Conscience
I want to start this paper by drawing a distinction between two uses of the word ‘conscience’ in order to get clear just what it is I shall talk about. The distinction I want to make can perhaps best be brought out by reference to a type of situation which could equally well be described in one or other of two ways, each way illustrating one use of the word ‘conscience’. Suppose then that we have a man who has been brought up to think that it is a good thing to help the poor. This lesson he has been taught, at least in part, by being told stories about beggars asking for money. The good person gives money to the beggars and the wicked person callously refuses it. One year he decides to book himself a holiday in Spain. Before he goes, however, he has a conversation with a social scientist friend. This friend points out to him that the one thing he should not do when in Spain is give money to beggars. Beggary, he argues, is a social evil and one which will only be removed if people take a stand and refuse to go on giving money when asked. The appropriate action to take is to inform the beggar of the whereabouts of the local employment exchange, or take him along to an employer, or do one or other of various rather embarrassing things. If the worst comes to the worst, it is better simply to walk away than to give money.
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