Moral conscience is a part of the cognitive process in mind that tells whether an act is morally right or wrong. In other words, it is awareness of moral principles and whether act done is in accordance with these principles or not. It is an instrument for self-control, correction and regulation. The proper understanding of the moral conscience is basic to our understanding of morality and to an ethical conduct. Role of moral conscience in ethical behaviour: 1. Right choices: Human actions entail free decisions concerning ends and means. These actions have an ethical dimension because they concern making right choices based on the analysis of the nature of acts and the intentions and circumstances that are involved. Moral conscience help guide people to follow the right means to a right end. 2. Inner guide: Moral conscience is our inner guide and it helps you figure out how to make good choices. As we grow up, we learn right from wrong. Our moral conscience is the thought and feeling we have that tells us whether something is a right or wrong thing to do or say. Thus, it is a consistent guide to ethical decision making. 3. Source of information: The moral conscience is considered the proximate norm of conduct because it is the immediate source of information guiding human actions. It directs human actions so that a person can transcend his animal instincts and human inclinations. Moral conscience allows man to exercise reason and thus allow an objective decision and act based on right values. 4. Decision making: Without moral conscience a person would doubt even the smallest decisions. Since, the judgment of moral conscience is a judgment about how an action conforms or does not conform to natural law, then, it is obligatory to act according to one’s conscience. Although there are persons who have a doubtful conscience which renders them unable to decide upon actions easily. A well-formed moral conscience is effective because it makes practical judgments with relative ease or after seeking necessary advice. 5. Resolving ethical dilemmas: A human being always comes across ethical dilemmas in the decision-making process. Moral Conscience acts as the guide for taking correct decisions when we have to choose between competing sets of principles in a given, usually undesirable or perplexing, situation. Example: Helping accident victims on your way to an interview. 6. Rational decision: Through our individual moral conscience, one becomes aware of his deeply held moral principles, and motivates accordingly to act upon those principles removing conflicts. As we assess our character, our behaviour and ultimately our self against those principles, conscience leads to proper analysis of good and bad of the situation and proper evaluation of various options. 7. Ethical Awareness: This is our ability to recognise ethical values and principles. The moral conscience enables the human mind to understand the world in moral terms. This enhances our ability to make practical decisions in light of ethical values and principles. 8. Conscientious Objection: The conscientious objection is very important in public services. To stay impartial, it is important that public servants must object to any favours and corrupt activities. Moral conscience helps in conscientious objection by making an individual aware of the impact of his decisions on larger public.
Limitation of moral conscience in ethical behaviour: 1. Individuality: Moral conscience is highly personal and varies with individuals. For example, a person might think killing muslims as moral in order to take revenge. In his conscience it is moral to kill muslims and help Hindu cause. 2. Social norms: Moral conscience is guided by the social norms in general. It can impact the ethical thinking of an individual leading to unethical behaviour. For example, in Islamic countries many are misguided in name of jihad and act of terrorism is held moral and as an act of sacrifice for the cause of religion. 3. Courage: Despite being morally conscience about what is right, an individual might lack courage to act ethically. For example, a civil servant might know that his colleague is taking bribes, he may not act consciously due to fear of political links that his colleague has. 4. Other factors: Many other factors like honesty, values, education etc. define an individual’s morals. Thus, one might not know what he is doing is immoral. For example, a person might beat his wife as in his conscience mind it is not immoral, due to patriarchal mindset. Thus, the moral conscience plays an important role in making moral decisions and actions. The reason behind conscience as the ultimate, highest determiner of moral action and its authority is the idea that when conscience and all other principles are properly understood, they promote and motivate us to act that are in accordance with our nature.