Conscience, Its Relations And Office -- By: John Bascom

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 024:93 (Jan 1867)
Article: Conscience, Its Relations And Office
Author: John Bascom

Conscience, Its Relations And Office

Rev. John Bascom

We are sometimes startled by the profound significance of words, by the precision with which they etymologically penetrate to the root of the idea indicated, and lay open its essential features. It seems, either as if those who first applied them must have possessed wonderful insight into things, or as if, by some force or law of growth in themselves, they had come to cover and hold with strange perspicuity the germs of knowledge. Thus the word “consciousness “expresses a sort of double knowing —a knowing with one’s self, a knowing that one knows, which is the essential feature of what it designates. This two-sided character of knowledge, by which

it awakens the mind to the inner and the outer at once, by which, in the same act, it contains both the object and subject of thought, and is able thus to resolve the simple phrase “I know,” into the two “I know,” and “I know that I know,” is the peculiar and subtile feature of mental phenomena. Herein are not two acts of knowing, but each act, that it may be an act of knowledge, implies the recognition by the mind of its own processes, a union of these inward to the centre of thought, as well as outward to its object — a knowing together, a bi-polar knowledge pointing in two directions.

Prom this word another, closely allied, yet radically distinct, has sprung by gradual separation — conscience. Designating the faculty by which we discern right and wrong, it also implies a second or double knowing, a knowing of action in its moral as well as in its natural qualities. There is here even more perfect accuracy of thought than in the word “consciousness.” There is strictly no additional, no second act of knowledge in consciousness. We merely mark by the word one of the two aspects which belongs to every simple act of knowing or of feeling. The conscience, on the other hand, does give a second, a more penetrative perception; we know within ourselves, with ourselves, that an action, previously seen by the eye and recognized by the intellect in its motives and consequences, is right. This idea of conscience, testified to by the etymology of the word, as that of a power which imparts a direct knowledge of moral quality, we accept; and proceed to inquire into the relations and offices of this faculty.

The first of these relations is that of conscience to our moral nature. This power by which we perceive the right, is the foundation of morals in our constitution,—is that, and that only, which imparts moral quality to our actions and to our feelings. Without this perception, moral action or affection is impossible; with it, a moral element enters freely into our whole intelle...

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