Conscience: a partial list of synonyms 





Right and Wrong

This blog post is not only for individual readers to ask themselves but also to think about whether society today has any sense of conscience.

One of my all-time favorite sitcom TV programs from childhood was Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners.” In one episode, Ralph Kramden(Jackie Gleason) was a bus driver who found a briefcase filled with a fortune of money. The money was counterfeit and belonged to a gang of criminals who found and then terrorized the two of them. Kramden’s best friend was Ed Norton (Art Carney), a sewer worker, both of whom try to figure out what to do with the money. Naturally, this hysterically funny program ends happily with a moral lesson about living a life of honesty.

In the same situation, what would you have done with the money?

Definition of Conscience:

Conscience is a sense of moral goodness that guides one’s conduct and a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. 

Is there a sense of moral goodness today? 

Is there a feeling of obligation to do the right thing?

According to Freud, the part of a person’s mind acts as a self-critical conscience, reflecting social standards learned from his parents and teachers.

Examples of the Superego:

1. A woman feels the urge to steal office supplies from work. However, her superego counteracts this urge by focusing on the fact that such behaviors are wrong. 

2. A man realizes that the cashier at the store forgot to charge him for one item he had in his cart.

It’s essential to recognize that, by definition, having a conscience means a person does not steal because they firmly believe that stealing is wrong. Returning to Freud’s Superego, stealing would cause the individual to feel very guilty.

The bedrock of moral behavior in the Western World is the Ten Commandments.

The 10 Commandments

Worship only the one God.

 Do not practice idolatry.

 Do not take up God’s name in vain.

 Keep the Sabbath.

 Honor your mother and father.

 Do not murder.

 Do not commit adultery.

 Do not steal.

 Do not testify falsely.

 Do not covet your neighbor’s wife.

Does society follow these commandments?

A moral dilemma:

Lawrence Kohlberg, one of the most brilliant psychologists of all time, developed a theory of moral development. To show how the theory works, he presented individuals with moral dilemmas and asked them various questions.


Here is the moral dilemma:

“Heinz’s wife was dying from a particular type of cancer. Doctors said a new drug might save her. A local chemist had discovered the drug, and Heinz tried desperately to buy some. Still, the chemist was charging ten times the money it cost to make the drug, which was much more than Heinz could afford.

Heinz could only raise half the money, even after help from family and friends. He explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or pay the rest of the money later.

The chemist refused, saying he had discovered the drug and would make money. The husband was desperate to save his wife, so he broke into the chemist’s later that night and stole the drug.”

What would you have done? What might you have said to Heinz?

And what about empathy?

Here are two Buddhist teachings:

1. “What is not done for the benefit of others is not worth doing. Seeking happiness just for yourself is the best way there is to make yourself, and everyone else, unhappy.”

Matthieu Ricard

2. “Generosity keeps faith with our appreciation of each other. It stems from a natural empathy with everything that, like us, has the courage to take a shape in the world.”                                                            

The Erotic Life of Emptiness”

John Tarrant

What is your opinion about today’s society? 

Please email your responses to


The post Troubling Questions about Conscience appeared first on DocTalk, Explorations in Psychotherapy.

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