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(3) We also need conscience because of our forgetfulness. Over and over again we say, “I did n't stop to think.” If our conscience had been properly acute, it would have made us stop. Insight, however comprehensive and clear, is apt to remain somewhere in a locked drawer in our minds when the hot-blooded impulse appears. If we were but to pause and reflect, we should be sensible and kind. But our intellect is dulled by our emotions, it does not get working. We need a more instinctive, a deeper-rooted mechanism, an imperious “Halt!” at the brief moment between the thought of sin and the act. Conscience is not only a teacher and a driver, it is a sentinel. Its red flag stops us at the brink of many a disaster, and we have it to thank for many an otherwise forgotten duty performed.
To sum up: Instinct and desire are lacking in proper adjustment to the needs of life. Society seeks to control them by the pressure of law and custom. These powerful forces, however, are external, and, savoring more or less of tyranny, tend at times to awaken a rebellious spirit in the hot-headed. So a perpetual antinomy would exist between internal impulse and external constraint, were it not that that external constraint is reflected within the individual mind by a secondary and overlying set of inhibitions and promptings which we call variously the "moral sense,” the
sense of duty," or "conscience." We often do not know or remember consciously at the moment of decision what the law ordains or the wisdom of the race teaches. But we have an inward monitor. We often hang back from a recognized duty. But we feel an inward push. When the wrong impulse is pungent and enticing, and the right one insipid and tame, when we would forget if we could the perils of sin, conscience surges up in us and saves us from ourselves. It is a mechanism of extreme value which nature has evolved in us for
imposing on our weak and vacillating wills action that makes for a truer good than we should otherwise choose.
No wonder, then, if we reverence this saving power within us, and crown it with a halo as the divine spark in the midst of our grosser nature. The more we revere it, the brighter the glamour it has for us, the stronger it grows and the more it helps us. The apotheosis of conscience has been of immense use in leading men to heed its voice and obey its leading. Yet this blind allegiance has its dangers; conscience has often been a cruel tyrant. It is by no means an always safe guide, as we shall presently note. And as men grow more and more adjusted by instinct and training to their real needs, they will have less and less need of this helmsman. After all, there is something wrong with a life that needs conscience; it is a transition-help for the long period of man's maladjustment. Spencer looks forward, a little too hopefully, perhaps, to a time in the measurable future when we shall have outgrown the need of it, when we shall wish to do right and need no compulsion, outer or inner. And Emerson, in a wellknown passage, writes: “We love characters in proportion as they are impulsive and spontaneous. When we see a soul whose acts are all regal, graceful, and pleasant as roses, wo must thank God that such things can be and are, and not turn sourly on the angel and say, 'Crump is a better man with his grunting resistance to all his native devils.' A Chinese proverb says, “He who finds pleasure in vice and pain in virtue is still a novice in both.” The saint is he who has learned really to love virtue, in its concrete duties, better than all the allurements of sin; to him we may say, as Virgil said to Dante, “Take thine own pleasure for thy guide henceforth.” But until we are saints it is wise for us to cultivate conscientiousness, the habit of obedience, even when it costs, to that inward urging which is, on the whole, for most of us, our safest guide.
F. Paulsen, System of Ethics, bk. II, chap. V, secs. 1, 2, 5. H. Spencer, Data of Ethics, chap. VII, secs. 44–46. S. E. Mezes, Ethics, Descriptive and Explanatory, chaps. V, VIII. Sutherland, op. cit., chap. xv. F. Thilly, Introduction to Ethics, chap. m. Westermarck, op. cit., chap. v. Darwin, Descent of Man, pt. 1, chap. m. J. H. Hyslop, Elements of Ethics, chaps. VI, VII. J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism, chap. v. H. W. Wright, Self-Realization, pt. 1, chap. IV. H. Rashdall, Is Conscience an Emotion? chap. I. Studies in Philosophy and Psychology (Garman memorial volume), chap. IV. J. H. Leuba, in American Journal of Psychology, vol. 8, p. 528.
THE INDIVIDUALIZING OF CONSCIENCE
CONSCIENCE, as we have seen, is the result of a fusion of elements coming from personal experience and tribal judgment. In its early phases the latter elements predominate; conscience may be fairly called the inner side of custom. Primitive men have little individuality and involuntarily reflect the general attitude. But with widening experience and growing mental maturity, conscience, like man's other faculties, tends to become more individual and divergent, until we find, in civilized life, a man standing out for conscience' sake against the opinion of the world. The individualization of conscience, with the consequent clash of ideals, gives the study of morality much of its interest and difficulty; it will be worth while to note some of its causes.
Why did not the individualizing of conscience occur earlier?
(1) In primitive man there is not much opportunity for the development of individuality. There are few personal possessions, there is little scope for the exercise of peculiar talents, there is little power of reflection, to develop strongly individual ideas. The self-assertive instincts are to considerable extent still dormant for lack of stimulus to call them forth. The individual is content to take his place in the group-life, and it seldom occurs to him to question the group-judgment.
(2) In primitive life there is a drastic repression of any incipient rebelliousness, through the enforcement of custom or explicit law in the ways we have indicated; the fear of
summary retribution must have been a heavy discouragement to any innovator. If men dared to defy the community morals, they were very likely to be put to death before the habit of free judgment had much time to spread. There was thus a sort of artificial selection for survival of the conventional type, and weeding-out of the free thinker and moral genius. Even in historic times this process has continued and been an enormous clog on human progress. The man of revolutionary moral insight has had to pay the penalty, if not of death - as in the case of Socrates or of Jesus — at least of ridicule and ostracism, of excommunication and isolation --- as, in our own day, with Tolstoy. Many and many a saint who might have been a beaconlight to mankind has lived under the curses or sneers of his fellows and died in loneliness, to be soon forgotten. A few have, after years of opposition, obtained a following and accomplished great reforms, as did Buddha, Mohammed, St. Francis, and Luther. But none can count the potential reformers, the men of new insight, of individual moral judgment, who have been crushed by the weight of group-opposition. Man has been the worst enemy of his own progress.
(3) There is another aspect to this selective process, noted before in another context - the struggle for existence between groups. So intense are these tribal struggles in early society that harmony within a group is absolutely necessary. Individualization means disorganization; and whatever communities developed free thought and divergent ideas were at a disadvantage when it came to action. Many such groups, ahead of their rivals in individual moral development, were wiped out by barbaric armies that gave unquestioning obedience to the tribal will and worked together like a machine. Up to a certain stage in human development individuality was an undesirable variation and was ruthlessly repressed, sometimes by the execution