Essay: The Importance of Moral Conscience

Updated on March 21, 2018
TessSchlesinger profile image

Tessa Schlesinger developed an interest in human behaviour and ethics while studying anthropology at the University of South Africa in 1975.

Thomas Aquinas saw reason as being the single most important factor in moral and ethical behaviour.
Thomas Aquinas saw reason as being the single most important factor in moral and ethical behaviour. | Source

A recent interview with Christopher Wylie of Cambridge Analytica revealed that it was Cambridge Analytics – working on behalf of the Trump campaign – that provided WikiLeaks with Hillary Clinton’s emails. It wasn’t Russia.

To quote from journalist Carole Walladr of the Observer “…it was revealed that the company had “reached out” to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.”

As a consequence of Cambridge Analytica’s business model of using personal information (weakness) to influence decisions, the British electorate voted for Brexit and the United States voted for Donald Trump.

Flattering people by playing to their emotional need to feel good is an unethical method of  attaining anything.
Flattering people by playing to their emotional need to feel good is an unethical method of attaining anything. | Source

What is Moral Conscience?

Although many people define moral conscience as either some sort of feeling or a religious rule, it is neither. Perhaps Thomas Aquinas – made a saint by the Catholic Church on the 18th July 1323 - defined it best as an outcome of reason after considering all facts and consequences, then selecting that which is for the greater good of the community.

In other words, moral conscience is defined is much the same way that secular ethics is.

Moral conscience and secular ethics have early beginnings. Already in 300 BCE, Valluvar, an Indian poet, wrote the Hindu text, Kural. It promotes morality and ethics. Interestingly, he predates Christ in saying that one returns evil with good. “Even if someone does something that brings bad to you, do something good for them and make them feel shy for what they have done to you.”

In short, moral conscience is the examination of facts and outcomes in making a decision which will be for the good of all. Moral conscience is not concerned with the good of the individual, particularly so if it is at the expense of others.

Business which earns its profits through the manufacture and promotion of war cannot be said to be ethical business.
Business which earns its profits through the manufacture and promotion of war cannot be said to be ethical business.

The Individual vs the Community

In a world where the sovereignty of the individual has superseded the welfare of the community, it becomes vital to understand how the absence of moral conscience can not only destroy nations but, in the 21st century, bring about the complete destruction of both mankind and the planet, earth.

It has become an entrenched belief that each individual must seek their own best, follow their passions, pursue their dreams, and do all that is possible to bring about their own personal happiness.

Any rational reflection of the individual seeking his own good above that of the community good would lead to the conclusion that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, and that conflict would be the inevitable outcome of putting individual freedom above the well-being of the community as a whole.

"You can influence how they are going to behave and react."

Influence in Sales

There is a common belief system that ‘everything is sales,’ and there is some truth in that. When we introduce ourselves to others, we do so in a manner that makes us acceptable to them.

I think it was Cicero, the Roman statesman, from which the legal principle ‘Caveat Emptor’ originated. It means that the buyer must be aware of the seller’s self-interest motive. “He sees no problem with charging more for food when it is dear but the deception of market conditions by commission or omission that leads to taking advantage of momentary ignorance (perhaps failing to hear of the news of the bumper crop) is seen as fraud in Cicero’s book.”

If you’ve ever been on a sales course (or read a sales book), you will be aware that the purpose of sales is to sell at all costs.

Perhaps I could give a personal example of this. I’m sure you have many.

Some years ago, at a shul in San Diego, California, I was at a Seder (Passover dinner) and in discussing morality and ethics with a fellow diner, he objected to my definition of morality – the common good of all.

He told the following story. He was the owner of a textile store.

“A customer came to see me, requesting particularly expensive fabric in order to reupholster her settee. I mentioned to her that she didn’t need a fabric that was so expensive and gave her some other options. She was delighted.”

“The next day the owner of the supplier called me and asked if I had made the sale. I said yes, but not of the particular fabric she had originally asked for. Mr. Goldberg was furious. ‘If you ever do that again,’ he said, ‘I will not supply you any longer.’

“What should I have done?” asked my fellow diner. “If he had stopped supplying me, I would have gone out of business, and then my family would have suffered because I would have had no income.”

Indeed.

The fault lay with the supplier. He put his own good above that of others. In the medium to long term, this destroys and impairs others. Let’s look at the different possible outcomes for the lady who wanted to reupholster her couch.

She has a set amount for her budget. The sofa desperately needs to be recovered as it is hanging on by a thread or two, and it has become uncomfortable for family members to use it. It is of a variety which needs a particular type of fabric, something she knows very little about, so she is dependent on others for that information.

She has school fees to pay, a family to feed, the rent to pay, and her car is having trouble with the gear box. It is vital that she pays as little as possible for the reupholstering of the settee.

If she had been conned into buying a more expensive fabric when she could have bought a less expensive one, it would have had a negative effect on the other expenses she would have needed to meet. Perhaps it would mean that an extracurricular class for her son could no longer be afforded. Perhaps it meant that the gear box wasn’t looked at timeously, and as a result, a serious accident took place.

When a nation of sales people put their commission, targets, jobs, status, etc. ahead of the situation of customers, then the outcome is eventually distress and increased poverty in the medium to long term.

Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that all morality was the result of reason and logic. It had nothing to do with religous teaching or one's feelings.
Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that all morality was the result of reason and logic. It had nothing to do with religous teaching or one's feelings. | Source

What the Market Will Bear

Milton Friedman, a Nobel prize winner, said “The business of business is business.” By this he meant that business and had no business being concerned about the social good of the community. They had only one goal – to make money.

In days gone by (until the late 60s), the price of a product was related to the cost of its production. A mark-up would be added by the retailer (and/or wholesaler), and this mark-up would cover the cost of salaries, insurance, rentals, etc. Included in this mark-up was a small profit for year-end.

By the beginning of the 70s, many retailers were switching to this methodology, and by the end of the 20th century, nobody was using the old ‘cost-plus’ model.

This business dictum has made some people very, very rich, but has, for the most part, made people increasingly poor. It is responsible for – internationally – the numbers of the middle classes decreasing.

I’m going to use two examples to show how this methodology impoverishes and endangers society.

There is no such thing as business ethics. Ethics are universal. Something is either for the common good or it is not.
There is no such thing as business ethics. Ethics are universal. Something is either for the common good or it is not. | Source

The Medical Profession

The medical profession has been holding humanity to ransom with regard to the cost of getting better and remaining alive. Studies have repeatedly shown that the excessive costs of medication have little to do with research and far more to do with profit.

Let me give you an example of just how large that profit margin is. In the 90s, HIV medication that would keep you alive was being sold by the major pharmaceutical companies for $10,000 while India could produce the same thing for $350.

Neera Tanden, the president of Center for American Progress, explained that pharmaceutical companies spent more on marketing than on research. They were also able to charge extremely high prices as a result of monopolies (which are supposedly outlawed).

When medical expenses are the biggest reason for American bankruptcies, then it becomes obvious that charging what the market will bear is an unethical approach for business and sales. Who would not give away their house in order to live longer or sacrifice every luxury in order to buy water when none was available? This is extortion – no better than the Mafia boss-man who tells the store owner that he must pay for protection. When the only alternative is no alternative, and the outcome is death, misery, poverty, or some other negative result, then charging what the market will bear becomes immoral and unethical by any standard.

Any intent to influence for the sake of private profit is unethical. Advertising influences through a soft brainwashing process - constant repetition.
Any intent to influence for the sake of private profit is unethical. Advertising influences through a soft brainwashing process - constant repetition. | Source

Bill Gates, Software, and the IT Industry

We live in a technological world. Without a basic understanding of technology, it is virtually impossible to survive and earn a living in the 21st century. The greater one’s ability to use software, the greater one’s income and freedom from poverty. Naturally, in order to be able to learn those skills, we require access to that technology. It is impossible to learn Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, or HTML 5 without the software and/or hardware to do so.

When those products are priced using the what-the-market-will-bear methodology, four things happen. The first is that the very poor remain ignorant of the skills that will take them out of the poverty trap. The second is that the people who ‘own’ the technology become very, very rich. The third is that the as the prices rise, so the middle classes begin to be afford fewer and fewer of these products, and they, too, eventually, begin to sink into poverty. They also begin to learn fewer and fewer skills. The forth is that knowledge increasingly only belongs to the rich who can afford to buy the hardware and send their children to schools which teach the software.

What would have happened if Bill Gates had set the price of Microsoft Word using the cost-plus model? What would happen if, instead of charging thousands of dollars for the use of various software packages and making learning them just as expensive, the entire world could afford them? Wouldn’t we live in a world where creativity flourished and the increasing inequality of the world gradually vanished?

When the goals and dreams of the individual supersede the good of the community, eventually we live in a terrible, terrible world.

Being Nice Is Not a Sign of Goodness

“It is not enough to be nice; you have to be good. We are attracted by nice people; but only on the assumption that their niceness is a sign of goodness.” Roger Scruton. English philosopher

Politics: Winning at All Costs

It appears that neither Steve Bannon, nor Donald Trump, nor Christopher Wylie had much of a moral conscience when they set out to influence weak-minded people to vote for Trump. They played on the lowest and basest of human instinct and fear. And they succeeded. Hillary Clinton didn’t do so well either when she told Wall Street that she had both a public view and a private view. In other words, she told the public what they wanted to hear in order for her to win public office, but privately she held a very different point of view, and that view supported Wall Street.

None of this is for the public good, and all of it is unethical, immoral, and for the greater destruction of the community, nations, and our world.

The leaders of both the UK and the US are now morally defunct. Whether it's Donald Trump or Theresa May, neither has any concern for the good of those they govern. They care only about a) being in power and b) catering to those who are rich and powerful like they are. Any words to the contrary can amptly be demonstrated to be false by observing their actions. Actions speak louder than words.

Consequently, not only are millions of people facing increasing hardship, but as a result of Trump's denial of climate change, human kind may no longer have a suitable home on planet earth.

Ultimately, survival is linked to ethics, and that's why it is imperative to have a moral conscience.

Putting Ethics Into Practice

It’s not always easy to know when our actions are ethical or not. So, for example, if one were to walk into a store to buy a pair of blue denim jeans, would it be a moral or immoral decision.

In the current climate, it would be immoral to buy a pair of blue jeans. Why? There are some 1,250,000,000 pairs of blue denim jeans manufactured annually – mostly in China. For each pair of jeans, 1800 gallons of water is used in just the growing of sufficient cotton for one pair of jeans. In order to manufacture and dye the denim, another 9,982 gallons is used. In addition, entire rivers have been poisoned to such an extent in China that the people living in those cities had to move elsewhere. There was no more clean water.

As there are increasing shortages of clean fresh water in the world due to both climate change and over-population, wasting that amount of water is not only unethical, it is criminal.

Of course, if you didn’t know about the denim situation, you would not consider the purchase of a pair of blue jeans to be unethical. That is why it is necessary to be as informed as possible in one’s day to day life.

Every decision we make and every word we speak is either ethical or unethical.

Take telling someone who is obese that she looks just fine. It may be kind, but it is unethical. It is not a good thing to be dishonest about someone’s state of health in order to comfort them. Feeling comforted at the expense of one’s health is not a good thing.

In order to live an ethical life, it is essential to be able to assess every action we take in the light of the greater good. Are we buying denim jeans? Are we considering buying a ten-roomed mansion? Are we paying our workers minimum wage when we are earning a million a year?

Each answer would depend on the unique situation. So what appears to be the same action can either be moral or immoral. For instance, giving someone an antibiotic when they have a serious bacterial infection is an ethical action but giving someone an antibiotic when they a viral infection is unethical.

Ethics are situational. That is why it is important to be well informed in life. We need to be in order to make ethical decisions.

Do You Routinely Ask Yourself How Your Actions Affect the Community Around You?

See results

How to Develop a Moral Conscience

A moral conscience is not developed by focusing on one’s feelings or by taking something the bible, Torah, the Vida, or some other holy book has said. A moral conscience is developed by becoming intellectually vigorous.

Thomas Aquinas advised people to beware of those who had only read one book. There’s a reason for that. If one only reads the bible (or the Vida, Torah, Koran, etc.), one is not exposed to books that give different explanations. It is vital to read widely in order to be able to use ALL data to arrive at an accurate conclusion.

Becoming increasingly informed in many areas – science, geography, history, art, agriculture, etc. – is the key to being able to evaluate what will and what will not work for the community as a whole.

I recall, in a shiur (a class or lecture on a Jewish topic), a discussion between a rabbi and a chazzan. The chazzan said “That would mean that, without being highly intelligent, it is not possible to determine what is ethical and what is not.” While there is some truth to that, highly intelligent people who have the capacity to work out complex outcomes (climate change would be an example) still need compassion in order to take the decision which leads to the greater good.

The reason that reading is so important is that it develops compassion for others. That, and if you read widely, you begin to develop a basis of knowledge that leads to both wise and ethical decision making.

So that is how you develop a moral conscience.

© 2018 Tessa Schlesinger

Comments

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  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    5 months ago from South Africa

    Jay O Brien.

    1. Nope: Sometimes it is necessary to harm a person in order to prevent harm to a group. For instance, if a terrorist is about to detonate a bomb, it is the greater good, not the harm to a person that is the priority. In addition, it is irrelevant whether harm done to another is deliberate or not. A great deal of harm is being done to a lot of people today as a result of the profit motive. It is not deliberate, but it is still harmful. Another example would the degree of harm done to third world countries through setting the exchange rate according to ‘what the market will bear.’ Entire countries are being destroyed through that process. It is not deliberate.

    2. Nope. To form a functioning society, there should be a set of rules that everybody can adhere to which does two things i) it enables people to fulfil their needs in a safe way and ii) it prevents those who would harm others from doing so.

    3. Nope. When faced with a violent situation, the action would depend on the situation. If it can be contained by the people present, then that is what should happen. If not, then discretion becomes the better part of valour and they should run for their lives. If the people present are containing the situation, then they should report it to the police after the situation has been contained. If they running for their lives, then they can report it to the police when they are in a safe place.

    4. Yes, but that’s a given in all first world countries. I’ve never known then to do otherwise. America has the properties of a third world country, and her police act in a way that policemen in some third world countries act.

    What does this have to do with Thomas Aquinas and other Church fathers and brilliant minds agreeing with my concept of what morality is?

  • Jay C OBrien profile image

    Jay C OBrien 

    5 months ago from Houston, TX USA

    I think you misunderstand what I wrote. Without a record, we do not know what was written. Do not assume you know what I think. Let us begin again. We are talking about morality here. Can we agree on the following:

    1. One person should not deliberately harm another person.

    2. To form a functioning society one person should learn to help those around them.

    3. When faced with a violent situation, a citizen should retreat and report the event until local police authority arrives to maintain the peace.

    4. Peace Officers should use the least amount of force to arrest peace breakers.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    5 months ago from South Africa

    Jay, let me explain something to you. I studied religion, philosphy, cults, shamanism, mysticism, etc. for half a century. Please stop telling me things that you think I have never heard of or should consider. I don't know how old you are, but I started reading up about these things in 1965. Edgar Cayce is just another fraud. They all are.

    I spent 5 years at a Christian school. I went to chapel in the morning and chapel in the evening. I went to church twice on Sunday. I spent 10 years as an evangelical Christian - I went to bible study three times a week, witnessed to others on the streetts once a week, and I went to church twice on Sundays. I read the bible in my spare time for three hours a day and prayed for another two. In one 18 month period, I read the bible 18 times from Genesis Chapter One to Revelations Chapter 22.

    I spent two years converting to Judaism, I learnt to read Torah in Hebrew. I was honoured repeatedly because of my knowledge of the bible, ethics, mysticism, and spirituality.

    I spent another 10 years delving into the Law of Attraction, Shamanism, spiritualism, and every cult under the sun. I've read the Koran, the bible, the Torah, the Vida, and more.

    I read as much secular history of the church that I could find.

    In the end, I realized that there was no god. I realized that magical thinking iwas the brain's way of finding answers for things that people needed explained but they didn't have the capacity to find factual answers.

    Science is a methodology. The methodology does NOT change over time. Perhaps you might like to google 'falsifiability.'

    Science is a method of trying to establish what is factual and what is not.

    When something turns out not to be true, then a better explanation is sought. Science uses empirical evidencce, i.e. methods that can be checked, observed, seen, heard by everybody. This is 100% better than the bs that religion of all types teach and which never changes despite the fact that virtually everything in religion/beliefs is either unproven or proven to be wrong.

    Sir Isaac Newton did not live in the 21st century but he still knew a helluve more than Jesus Christ and Mohammed combined.

    You're a magical thinker.

    If you're unsure of what that means, here is a wiki reference.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking

    Your post has been removed because I do not permt people to use my articles to refer traffic to their hubs.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    5 months ago from South Africa

    Jay, feelings have nothing to do with the right brain. The right brain is the big picture and it sees in pictures and the left brain is the detail brain and it sees from one step to another. In other words, to be good at math and logic, you have to have a good left brain. In order to be good at art - drawing, painting, sculpture, you have to see the 'big' picture - the whole picture. In order to be creative - you have to be able to use both the left brain and the right brain equally.

    When you do tests that measure your creativity, they give you a right brain IQ test and a left brain IQ test. They ask exactly the same sort of questions, but the one is in tesxt and the other is in pictures. Then they take the highest common denominator, and that is your creativity score. So, for instance, if your left brain IQ was 110 and your right brain IQ was 105, then your creativity score would be 105.

    Your emotions come from the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala (the primitive brain). It has nothing to do with 'left brain' and 'right brain.'

    What you, and many others are trying to do in debunking this piece, is link your emotions, feelings, what-you-think-is-intution,, etc. to morality/ethics. I'm not buying.

    In every spiritual discipline without exception, the order goes like this:

    1. Spirituality at the top.

    2. Intelligence, thinking, logic, analysis - second from the top.

    3. Emotions,, feelings, etc. second from the bottom.

    4, Physical appetites at the bottom.

    I understand that you have a deep emotional need to feel connected to something greater than you are. I understand that you do not want to concede that morality and ethics are rules for the greater good of the tribe/world, and that they are determiend by understanding outcomes.

    You do not determine the outcome of an action by your feelings and ineraction. You determine them by an analytical evaluation of the evidence - both past and present.

    I also understand that the degree to which one can do this is determined by one's level of education and intelligence.

    That is why it is vital that we select the right leaders to be able to determine those things.

    My book on that will be available in late June, early July.

    Thank you for your interest.

  • Jay C OBrien profile image

    Jay C OBrien 

    5 months ago from Houston, TX USA

    Moral Conscience is based on emotions as well as the intellect. Everyone has a left brain (rational) and a right brain (emotional). The two are connected. The idea is to balance the two. Embrace the health of both. Try dream analysis based on Jung.

  • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

    Tessa Schlesinger 

    5 months ago from South Africa

    Mr. Happy I'm wasting my time explaining it to you. You obviously aren't particularly intelligent. And you want to believe in some sort of great spirit. The varioius Native Americans lived according to the law of the land. It wasn't rocket science then. It was easy to observe and figure out what worked and what didn't. Today, it is not so simple. If one has bad leaders who cannot figure it out, e.g. Trump, there will be disaster. Any future responses from you will be deleted. You have wasted enough of my time.

    For the record, I worked out what intuition was myself.

    Intuition does NOT come from some great universal force. That is aboslute rubbuish.

    We're done.

  • Fredrickvanek profile image

    Fredrick Vanek 

    6 months ago from New York

    Like a candle in the darkness...so sounds a voice of humanity and reason. Thank you for this essay. It should be available to all students of all ages. A moral compass needs a point of reference, and you have given them that.

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