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A Modern Study
of Conscience


The Rev. OLIVER HUCKEL, S.T.B. (Boston),

Sometime Graduate Student at Berlin and Oxford.

Pastor of the Associate Congregational Church,




Published for the University of Pennsylvania



Copyright, 1907

Oliver Huckel


O— ^ N June 6, 1899, the Trustees of the Uni-
_- versity of Pennsylvania accepted from
llMy the Rev. George Dana Boardman, D.D.,
LL.D., and wife, a Deed of Gift, providing for a
foundation to be known as "The Boardman Lec-
tureship in Christian Ethics," the income of the
fund to be expended solely for the purposes of the
Trust. After provision for refunding out of the
said income, any depreciation which might occur
in the capital sum, the remainder is to be ex-
pended in procuring the delivery in each year
at the University of Pennsylvania, of one or more
lectures on Christian Ethics from the standpoint
of the life, example and teachings of the Lord
Jesus Christ, and in the publication, in book form,
of the said lecture or lectures within four months
of the completion of their delivery. The volume
in which they are printed shall always have in its
forefront a printed statement of the history and
terms of the Foundation.

iv History of the- Foundation

On July 6, 1899, a Standing Committee on
"The Boardman Lectureship in Christian Ethics"
was constituted, to which shall be committed the
nominations of the lecturers and the publications
of the lectures in accordance with the Trust.

On February 6, 1900, on recommendation of
this committee, the Rev. George Dana Board-
man, D.D., LL.D., was appointed Lecturer on
Christian Ethics on the Boardman Foundation,
for the current year. And on November 18,
1900, Dr. Boardman delivered the inaugural lec-
ture on "The Golden Rule."

On December 12, 1905, on recommendation of
the Boardman Lectureship Committee, the Rev.
Oliver Huckel, S. T. B. (Boston), graduate
of this University, Class of '87, and also graduate
student of Berlin and Oxford, w r as appointed Lec-
turer on Christian Ethics on the Boardman Foun-
dation. And on March 20, 1906, Dr. Huckel
delivered a lecture on "A Modern Study of Con-



Introduction \ i

Differences in characterization. The fact of the
moral sense. Popular usage. The essential


The Origin and Nature of Conscience 7

Ancient and medieval views. Usual modern
views. Intuitionalists and evolutionists. The
new prophetic view. Biologic and psycho-
logic confirmation.

The Education and Enlightenment of Con-
science 28

Hereditary instinct. Parents and teachers.
Consensus of public opinion. The power of
the law. The divine commandments. Spe-
cialized conscience.

The Basis of the Supremacy of Conscience and

the Measure of its Authority 33

The hereditary experience of the race. The
transcendent sanction of the divine. Moral
nihilism, moral insanity, moral disintegra-
tion. Corporate irresponsibility. The func-
tion of science and education in maintaining
conscience. The work of the church. The
individual need. The supreme vision.
Motes 47



j ADIES AND GENTLEMEN: The invitation
J|^ of the Trustees of this University to lecture
on the George Dana Boardman Foundation
in Christian Ethics came to me not only as an
honor and privilege which I deeply appreciate, but also
as a sort of inner challenge to my own soul to bring to
expression some new thoughts in ethical lines that had
long been maturing. Historic events are often followed
by a fuller study of their causes and significance. In this
city of Philadelphia, which has witnessed in recent days
such a notable reawakening of conscience, it may not be
inappropriate or untimely to study in a modern way
what it is that has thus been reawakened to quickened
power and renewed authority. It was also a gratifica-
tion for me to learn after the subject of this lecture had
been announced that the theme chosen was one i?. which
the distinguished founder of this Lectureship was deeply
interested and for which he had partly planned an ex-
position. It is exceedingly pleasant to feel that in some
measure therefore this present discussion in Chris-
tian ethics, which I have called "A Modern Study of
Conscience," will follow along his own hoped-for lines.

HERE is a fine phrase of Coleridge that
"the conscience bears the same relation
to God as an accurate timepiece bears
to the sun," 1 Richard Hooker, in his famous Ec-

2 A Modern Study of Conscience

clesiastical Polity calls it "the voice of the origi-
nal reason which is laid up in the bosom of
God." Sophocles spoke of it, in the Antigone,
as something whose utterances "are not of to-
day, nor of yesterday, and no man can tell whence
they came." Noble old Dr. Martineau some-
where says: "I feel that in the life of conscience
there is a real communion between the human
and the divine spirit."

Most suggestive and, in a deep sense, true are
these characterizations, but a modern study needs
some closer definition. Many ethical thinkers
of to-day define conscience as the entire moral
constitution or nature of man. Some hold that
this moral nature is a separate faculty in man.
Thus Dr. Thomas Reid defines it as "an original
power of the mind, a moral faculty, by which we
have the conceptions of right and wrong in
human conduct, and the dictates of which form
the first principles of morals." Others hold that
conscience apprehends the distinctions of right
and wrong, but only applies them personally.
Thus President Mark Hopkins says: "We may
define conscience to be the whole moral con-

A Modern Study of Conscience 3

sciousness of a man in view of his own actions as
related to moral law." 2 Others hold that "con-
science should not be used as an appellation for a
separate or special moral faculty, for the reason
that there is no such faculty. ,, This was President
Noah Porter's view. "The same intellect," he
contends, "so far as it knows itself, acts with
respect to moral relations under the same laws,
and by the same methods of comparison, deduc-
tion, and inference, as when it is concerned
with other material." Some, like the German
Rothe, in his last revision of his ethics, refuse
to define conscience at all, and are inclined to
say that the word is scientifically inadmissible
because its contents have been so variously ac-

In spite of these differences of definition, it
is manifest, as Bishop Butler asserts, that "a
great part of common language and of common
behavior over the world is formed upon sup-
position of such a moral faculty, whether called
conscience, moral reason, moral sense, or divine
reason; whether considered as a perception of

4 A Modern Study of Conscience

the understanding, or a sentiment of the heart, or,
which seems the truth, as including both." 3

We will therefore conclude to hold in this dis-
cussion to something of this general assumption —
that there is a moral sense, a divine reason, in
the soul of man, and that it can be scientifically
studied and defined. The difficulty of definition,
however, is a real one. Popular usage adds still
greater confusion. The ordinary meanings of
the word conscience are so diverse and ambigu-
ous. At various times it may mean either source
of moral obligation, or standard of moral judg-
ment, or discerner of moral law, or enforcer of
moral law. In ethics, however, we may recog-
nize two definitions as uppermost. Conscience is,
first of all, those subjective functions of the mind
which go under the designation of the moral
sense, but also, secondly, the objective results of
the moral judgments, — or the sum of the ac-
knowledged rules of duty, that is, the moral code
or standard for an individual or a community.
This is often spoken of as a man's conscience, or
the public conscience — an objective and collective

A Modem Study of Conscience 5

conception to which the individual or community
ought to measure up. 4

But in our thought of conscience in this pres-
ent discussion we shall continue to hold as far
as possible to the first and essential definition
of conscience, that is, the moral reason or fulL
consciousness of a man in the deepest and most
vital relations of life. For we not only surely
recognize individual conscience as the judge of
life, the source of duty, and the inspiration of the
noblest human living and service, but also we
recognize a church conscience which we call the
consensus which is the spirit of the church under
the tuition of that Spirit which shall lead us into
all truth; and a civic conscience, which is the
city or state feeling out after nobler and higher
things; and a social conscience which is a con-
sciousness of God's love in human society ; and
a national conscience which is the consciousness
of God in the leadership of the nation in that
righteousness which alone exalteth it; and we
are beginning to discern, as Maurice Maeterlinck
and others do, a conscience or consciousness of
God in all humanity, in the whole race, in the

6 A Modern Study of Conscience

higher instincts and aspirations that the race is
developing ; and also what Dr. Richard M. Bucke
calls "a cosmic consciousness" which enters into
sympathy with the life of God in all His universe
and in a sense becomes in tune with the Infinite.
It will be our purpose to-day to look into the
origin and nature of conscience, then to look at its
means of education and enlightenment, and finally
to consider the grounds for the present and per-
petual authority of conscience. It is a large task
that we have undertaken for one lecture- — to at-
tempt to dissolve some of the current ambigui-
ties and to endeavor to get a clear conception of
the meaning of conscience. We must be content
to condense much, and to lay the emphasis on a
few chief thoughts.



HALL we consider, first of all, what may
be the origin and nature of conscience?
It is an intricate discussion, with a long
history. But we can make it, I think, reasonably
brief, and yet indicate the significant features.

Many of the ancients seemed to think con-
science a special instinct, faculty or being within
*he soul. The daemon of Socrates to which both
Plato and Xenophon bear witness seemed a "di-
vine sign," or as Plato called it "a warning voice"
to which Socrates was always obedient. 5 But
in these modern days the theory of conscience as
a special faculty in the soul has almost entirely
gone by.

It might be exceedingly interesting, if we had
the time, to sketch something of the ancient and
medieval studies of conscience. Greek philosophy
in the ethics of Plato and Aristotle was largely


8 A Modem Study of Conscience

concerned with the highest good, the summum
bonum. It was emphatically objective. The later
philosophy became intensely subjective, as in the
systems of the Roman Empire, when the problem
of the source of moral obligation became upper-
most. The Stoics found the rule in reason; the
Epicureans in sense. 6

The early Christian ages, and medieval scho-
lasticism gave little light to the problems. The
Renaissance began a new era. The Reformation
was a liberating movement, and discussion of
conscience was again taken up. Descartes and
Spinoza express in the domain of pure thought
the new philosophic spirit. British moralists were
strong in the movement. Among the first great
thinkers in ethical doctrine was Hobbes. With
him "the moral faculty or conscience is nothing
but reason, calculating how best to secure indi-
vidual advantage, and deciding upon submission
to the State as the best means of securing the end
aimed at." This rather low -theory of conscience
provoked many answers in the subsequent ethical
thought of England. Cudworth, for instance,
in his treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable

The Nature of Conscience 9

Morality, contended that man is not a creature of
selfish instincts with morality based on conven-
tions, but that he has the power of recognizing
by reason the essential distinctions of good and
evil, and his morality is based on eternal fact.
Shaftesbury, a little later, contended that man
possessed social as well as selfish instincts. Vir-
tue is the balance of the two. The perfection
or power of balance is due to a moral sense.
These views are some advance over the psycho-
logical and ethical principles of Hobbes. Bishop
Butler came and labored to establish the suprem-
acy of this moral sense, and to make it the arbiter
and authority in morals. But Bishop Butler,
however valuable and tonic his work, was "a vic-
tim of the current psychology" of his day, and
his doctrine of conscience is not at all final, and
cannot be a basis for ethics. Paley, Bentham,
James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Hume, Bain, with
their varied differences, all followed this same
sensationalist psychology of the eighteenth cen-
tury. Immanuel Kant, with a reply to Hume's
skepticism, introduced a new conception of man
and the spiritual world, placing the emphasis on

io A Modern Study of Conscience

what he called "the categorical imperative," the
inherent demand of the soul. Dr. Martlheau con-
tended with fuller emphasis along the lines of
Bishop Butler in the previous century. He de-
fined conscience to be "the critical perception we
have of the relative authority of our several prin-
ciples of action." He defined right and wrong
thus: "Every action is right which, in presence
of a lower principle, follows a higher; every
action is wrong which in presence of a higher
principles, follows a lower." In both Butler and
Martineau, however, conscience is unexplained
and inexplicable. It is a unique, separate and
mysterious faculty with no organic relation to
self-consciousness and with a blind authority. It
is a God-given and infallible dictator in moral-
things; a splendid tyrant sitting within the soul,
as sovereign in the life.

It is at this point that a modern study of con-
science may be said to take up the problem and
to bring it into new light. This may be consid-
ered the modern view, as now generally held:
C onscience has two elements — moral judgmen t
a nd moral obligation . As to ju<Igment, it is prob-

The Nature of Conscience n


able that reason arts in conscience as it acts in
any other matter. And therefore t he judgments
of c onscience are fallib le; but as to obligation,
there is something unique. We recogni ze tha t
an ordinary judgment of reason may or may not
involved bligation, but a moral judgment does in-
volve~obligation. There is a sense of the ough t
which is manifest and unmistaka ble.

Now this fact of the sense of moral obliga-
tion, the sense of the ought, is a manifest reality
and must be accounted for. The question is,
vhether this norm, this sense of obligation is
n ative or acquired? The in tuitionalist s would
say that it is nativ e; the evo lutionists , that it
is acquired . The truest view would probably
be a reconciliation of these views, for in a cer-
tain way this sense of obligation is both native
and acquired!

Many of the intuitionalists would not, however,
agree to reconciliation, for they would not accept
the cosmic theory of the evolutionists, although it
may giyea very full and noble view of life. The
int^itionalis^ would hold that the successive
epochT^ot life, consciousness, morality in map



12 A Modem Study of Conscience

we re implanted ab extra at certain st ggr? nf lifp^
or in the individual man. The erolutionj^ how-
ever, has place injiifYerent epnrhs for the evolv-
ing of new things — such as life and, again, con-
sciousness and again morality — which have not
appeared before. They are new things in the ful-
ness of time, and yet were all in the original plan.
The evolutj^onist.holjjs_tbat the whole universe is
not a creation with a series of gaps to be fill ed-
up (as Dr. Martineau so vigorously contended in
his "Theories of Ethical Development") — suc-
cessive patchings by the original artificer. His
whole plan is formed in the beginning, and new
features appear from time to time which were not
visible or in use before, but they were all in the
original plan. So that, for instance, when man
reaches a sufficient ripeness in development the
sense of oughtness appears. This sense is not
thrust in ab extra; it appeared whe n the ful ness
of time came. Its after development, however,
was~eflected by processes of education and en-

It is true at the same time that evolutionists
as well as intuitionalists would recognize equally

The Nature of Conscience 13


t-bf autho rity of this moral obligation in the indi -
vi dual ma n. Such thorough-going evolutionists
as Herbert Spencer and Leslie Stephens readily
concede this. The only dispute now is the unes-
sential and speculative one — w here is the historic
or prehist oric origin of this unique sense of obli-
gation? Is it i nvolved in the orig inal plan, or
is it som ething supera d ded to t he original plan?
This is the situation: All axiomatic principle,
whether in mathematics or morality, go back to
prehistoric origins, and become speculative prob-

This is, in brief, the usual modern view now
generally received. But there is a further modern
view — not as yet generally received — to which I
would call your attention, and, indeed, upon
which I would lay emphasis as leading into most
suggestive and vital fields of ethical and spiritual
thought. Some may call it speculative. I would
call it prophetic. Some of you may refuse to go
with it. Yet it has dignified authority for its in-
troduction, and a very respectable following,
not only among ethical thinkers, but in the latest
facts of biology and psychology. With a broader

14 A Modern Study of Conscience

and deeper conception of mind, of knowledge
and of the universe, with a new psychology and a
new world-theory, if we may so call it, has been
made possible a new conception of rP ncpi " pn '» p J
and a deeper and broader and more vital one,
even than the preceding. The new view comes
to some minds almost like the discovery of a new

It was first suggested by Prof. Thomas Hill
Green, Fellow of Balliol and Professor of Moral
Philosophy in the University of Oxford, in his
"Prolegomena to Ethics." This is the substance
of it: " Man is a self or personality 7 which is not
mere ly an incident in a series, but is rooted in an
i nfinite self or pe rsonality. . . . _Our indi-
vi dual self-consciousness derives from and is
main tained by an infinite, e ternal, universal ..self-
consciousxiess. . . . Knowl edge is the gra d-
ual discovery of mind or spirit in thinp-s tha t is.
the discovery in the world of t he self -manifesta-
tion of_ the infinite personality with whom _lhe *
finite jntelligence of man is on e. Morality is the
progressive accomplishment of an eternal pur-
pose, with which the individual is and ought to

The Nature of Conscience 15

be at one, whose goal is the perfection of man.
The good for man is self-realization, but it is the
realization of an infinite self, and is thus identical
with the widest possible range of good for others,
and is attained by the profoundest self-surrender.
The moral faculty in man, the practical reason
or conscience, is no special inexplicable endow-
ment, no vox clamantis in deserto — it is the man
himself, conscious in all action of a good which
he either reaches or fails to reach. If he reaches
the good, it approves and beckons him onward
and upward ; if he fails to reach the good, it con-
demns him and binds on him the penalty due to
one who has broken the law of his own being.
Conscience, thus conceived, may also with equal
truth be described as the revelation of infinite
good to man, or the voice of God witnessing to
eternal right within the individual soul. It is the 1
voice of the man's true self, and his true self is
ideally one with God." 7 Here is a clearer ground
for absolute right and a more satisfactory basis
for the Christian ethic of conscience. 8

See how some of the modern biologic and
psychologic studies of man seem to confirm this

1 6 A Modern Study of Conscience

view. In these moder n days wpfry to study, the
origin of _conscience ^long natural line s. Look-
ing at it in this way, conscience seems to be an in-
heritance of the race, gradually developed . byJJie.
growing intelligence of humanity. In its main
features, it is a collective pos sessi on, although it
may widely differ in details then and now in
America, India and darkest Africa. It is a devel-
opment of the instincJLffl£>mtig. - th- rough tire gen-
erations that the right is simply-4faa£-w4tkfris"for •
the good of alL— Conscience seems to be here the
attempt to follow the right for the good of all.
The old utilitarians have now largely gone over
to the evolutionists.

In the most primitive conditions, conscience
was doubtless even m6re~pnm7five than_that. It
was the instinct to follow the right because that
was simply what would preserve,life^ It was,
therefore, one development of the instinct of self-
preservation. And in its ultimate reaches, it
is also essentially that. The dictates of conscience
on the whole are in the way that preserves life.
V The right in the long run is simply the path of
x the fullest and longest life. People, natipns,

The Nature of Conscience 17

which despise conscience inevjt^l^^oJeLdgstxuc-^
tion. It has, therefore, in part at least, adopted
the new category of self-realization as the sum-
mum bonum and ultimate end of Jif£> Professor
Zollner confirms this in these words : "The pain-
ful feelings of shame or a bad c onscience se rve_
the practic al ends of nature. They are the pre-
ve ntives, as it were, which hinderjis fr om doing
what is injurious to ourselves, just as animajsjcaii____
distinguish Jielwjgen. whole some and un wholesome. __
food by n^ns gf_their more finel y developed
nerves of taste. Wherever an individual or__a
nation is deprived of the mstinctiye feeling _of
shame (or_ conscience) dissolution follows."
(Quoted by Paulsen, p. 365).° All chronicles of
mankind proveJt.
This in very briefest way, is something of the
(/natural history of conscience — the biologic and
"psychologic history. But in the final analysis, in
its philosophic and theologic history we see that
even this natural history has its divine origins.
Conscience is not merely the fejgditaxy^wisdom
of a people, or of humanity, but back of that is
something deeper. We do not disassociate God

18 A Modem Study of Conscience

from His universe. All development is the Un-
folding n f Hi> thnii^ht anrj life r GoOSdeafigU IS
no exception. It finds its r oots in the divine. Its
growing clearn ess and strength is a revelation
of God's presence.

We see, therefore, something of the meaning of
the further differing definitions of conscience that
are often given. Conscience, says a naturalist, is
a highly important organ for preserving life.
"A man's conscience," says Clifford, "is the voice
of his tribal self. The individual self being subor-
dinate to the tribal self." Conscience, says an-
other, is that phase of our nature which opposes
inclination and manifests itself in the feeling of
obligation and duty. "A man's conscience," says
still another, Professor Starke, "is a particular
kind of pleasure and pain felt in perceiving our
own conformity or non-conformity to principles."

"Conscience," says Prof. Frederick Paulsen, "is
a knowledge of a higher will by which the indi-
vidual feels himself internally bound." Con-
science, still another says, is the voice of God.
"Conscience," says Fichte, "is the rational and
universal principle of guidance. It is that which

The Nature of Conscience 19

bids us advance along the line of rational develop-
ment." Trendelenburg asserts that conscience
is the reaction and pro-action of the total God-
centered man against the man as partial, espe-
cially against the self-seeking part of himself. 10
Schlegel's definition is interesting: "Conscience is
an inward revelation as a warning voice, which,
though sounding in us, is not of us, and makes it-
self to be felt as an awe and fear of Deity. It is
in all human bosoms and lies at the source of all
morality. It first originates imperatives in con-
sciousness, and involves all that is moral or re-

1 3

Online LibraryOliver HuckelA modern study of conscience, by the Rev. Oliver Huckel → online text (page 1 of 3)