Conscience – UPSC Ethics

What do you understand by conscience? Differentiate between ‘principles’ and conscience. With suitable examples, explain the importance and role of conscience in ethical decision making process. (200 Words)

Conscience is the voice of the inner-self which says “yes” or “no” when we are involved in a moral struggle. It is an internal monitor. As Gandhi Ji famously said, “there is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
Principles on the other hand are set of rule, designed on the basis of past experience, human reason and calculations. While principles are more easy to understand, and involves a degree of subjectivity, conscience is difficult to predict and feel. Conscience may or may not be in-line with principles. For e.g. As a Police Officer your principles are to treat every criminal as equal. However, your treatment may change for a criminal who have stolen something because he needed money for his mother’s treatment. You may leave him and even help him because of your conscience’s voice.
Consider another example – principle says we shall respect our teachers and obey him, but when we find a teacher harassing a girl student, our conscience asks us immediately disregarding the teacher and saving the girl from his act. We may get affected by other considerations of the teacher giving bad marks, teacher’s ignorance or other factors; it is our conscience which will show us moral path.
In our stressed and self-centrist lives, we are progressively moving away from inner conscience and its voice is fading day by day. We are becoming more and more negligent and this ignorance is causing us more stress and guilt. Conscience is basic guide to us. Spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation, company of nature etc. may bring us closer to our inner true and his voice can be heard clearly and our life may become more moral, less stressful and free from guilt.


Examine the differences between rules, laws and regulations. Explain a situation – either from your experience or imaginary – where these three can be overridden by one’s conscience. (200 Words)
Laws: Laws are legislation enacted by a sovereign body to address a particular subject. Laws are legally enforceable in the judicial courts. Violation of laws is usually punishable. There are international laws, laws at national level and laws at states level. Law making is the exclusive domain of the legislature and it is the duty of the executive to enforce these laws.
Regulations: They are used to monitor and enforce laws. Regulations are usually made by the executive for smooth functioning of the laws. Laws usually provide a skeletal framework for addressing a subject. Regulations are meant for providing a detailed and intricate framework for making the laws work.
Rules: Rules are guidelines that are provided to maintain smooth functioning of an organization and to maintain peace and harmony among its people. These are informal set of guidelines what a person must do and do not. Rules are being changed and altered depending on place, organisation and people. The domain of rules is much smaller compared to laws. Violation of rules cannot be challenged in a court of law.
The law, rules and regulations which deny Muslim women divorcee adequate maintenance amount fail to reconcile with my conscience. I find it to be unfair to Muslim women. Helping an accident victim to reach hospital by breaking traffic rules if there is a signal.


Many experiments have proved that most people will obey external authority over the dictates of conscience. Is there a way to strengthen the power of conscience over authority? Examine. (150 Words)
Conscience is ones inner sense of judgement, it is an instrument for self-control/ correction/regulation. It works in ‘parallel’ to external authority, however it is often seen that people pay heed to external authority and ignore ones conscience, the reasons which lead to such a situation and their respective solutions are:
1) the system of reward and punishment – should not punish one for defying unjust orders and reward one for servile attitude
2) preference of obedience over creativity in schools and offices- which kills self-consciousness and breed obedience of even unjust orders, thus a balance between the two should be maintained
3) no freedom of decision making- when one has authority and accountability over ones decisions one is certain to self-reflect over ones decisions and pay heed to ones conscience
4) conflict of conscience- one blindly obeys external authority to avoid any mental dissonance- thus one should be taught to resolve such conflict along with sound moral values so that one develops a ”good” conscience.
Although it is important to pay heed to ones conscience, one needs to understand that none of the two can be allowed to rule ”over” other, always- as Thomas Hobbes said “as judgement, so also the conscience, may be erroneous”



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