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How to get a conscience

Conscience gives you the ability to evaluate your own thoughts and desires, to discern what is right and wrong, and to distinguish between what is good and what is best.

To help us get a handle on conscience and how it functions, I want you to think about an alarm clock. A good alarm clock does two things: It stays quiet when you should be asleep, and it makes a noise when you need to wake up!

That’s how your conscience is supposed to work. When you are on the right path, a good conscience will be at peace (Colossians 3:15). But when you are tempted towards the wrong path, a good conscience will sound the alarm. The problem with the conscience is that, like every other part of your soul, it has been disordered by sin.

Like an alarm clock, conscience can malfunction and stay silent when it should go off.

My Alarm Didn’t Go Off!

The corrupt conscience

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. (Titus 1:15)

Acting against your conscience will bring a change in your inner life. It will change how your conscience functions. A corrupt conscience approves the wrong things.

An easy way to see this is to picture a teenager using drugs for the first time. He knows that drugs are addictive and destructive, and his conscience tells him that taking them is wrong. But his friends are encouraging him to try them. He wants his friends to like him. So he over-rides his conscience.

In over-ruling his conscience, he diminishes its power. His conscience is weakened. It is less sensitive, and therefore less effective. Next time, the decision to take the drug will be much easier. If the boy repeats this choice again, the boy’s conscience changes. After a while he will feel that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing.

The important point to grasp here is that the conscience is corrupted whenever a person acts against it over time. When a person’s conscience is corrupted over time, it can become seared.

The seared conscience

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:2)

In the ancient world, doctors would use a hot iron to cauterize a wound. It hardly bears thinking about what this must have been like before anesthetic, but if you had a wound and the bleeding could not be stopped, your best hope was the hot iron pressed on your flesh.

Once you recovered from the pain, you would discover that the bleeding had stopped, but you would also find that you had lost all feeling in the area that had been seared. The hot iron killed off the nerves so that you no longer had feeling where the iron had been applied.

Paul says, “That’s how it is with some people’s conscience.” They have been “seared as with a hot iron” (Ephesians 4:19). Their conscience has lost all sensitivity. When that happens, a person can lie, cheat, or steal without their conscience raising any objection. They feel no guilt because their conscience is seared.

As he was on the road to Damascus, that’s exactly what Saul of Tarsus thought. Do you think he was worried about doing something wrong? The seared conscience calls evil “good” and good “evil” (Isaiah 5:20).

How to Get and Keep a Good Conscience

I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. (Acts 24:16)

If a conscience has become corrupt, so that it is no longer functioning correctly, how can it become pure? If a conscience has become seared, it has become insensitive, like thick skin. How can it be made sensitive again?

A good conscience is powered by the Spirit: If I take the batteries out of my alarm clock, it will not work. It is also set by the Word and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

A good conscience is powered by the Holy Spirit

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8)

Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit. When he comes, when he begins working in your life, what you can expect is that he awakens your conscience. When the Holy Spirit comes, he wakens you up to reality. Jesus describes that reality in three ways—sin, righteousness, and judgment:

The Holy Spirit convicts of guilt in regard to sin

The first work of the Holy Spirit is deeply disturbing—he activates your conscience. He brings you to a place where you see your own sin.

The Holy Spirit convicts of guilt in regard to righteousness

You don’t know what righteousness is until you know Jesus. When you get to know him, you see that his righteousness is so far beyond what you have at your best that you haven’t a hope of getting near him.

The Holy Spirit convicts of guilt in regard to judgment

The Holy Spirit convinces of sin and righteousness and judgment. A true Christian wants more of this, not less, because that is what authentic godliness is looking for.

It wants to know more of its own sin and more of God’s righteousness, so that it might embrace God’s mercy even more.

A good conscience is set by the Word of God

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

If the alarm clock is to function, it has to be powered, but it also has to be set. A good conscience is powered by the Spirit and set by the Word. Hiding God’s Word in your heart will train your conscience to sound the alarm and keep you from sin.

Are you, like David, hiding God’s word in your heart? Or is it just flitting across your brain? When You hide God’s Word in your heart that Word shapes and strengthens your conscience. And a good conscience is your best defense against sin and temptation

A good conscience is cleansed by the blood of Christ

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

This is an amazing promise! Christ cleansing our consciences from acts that lead to death!

How does he do it? By the blood of Christ, because on the cross he offered himself unblemished to God! He offered himself—his unblemished, perfect life—as a sacrifice to God for us on account of our sins. Therefore, he alone is able to cleanse our consciences through his blood.

Your conscience may have been corrupted, even seared. Christ can make it good. That’s what redemption is all about. It is powered by the Spirit, set by the Word, and cleansed by the blood.

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

How does the conscious differ from the conscience ? These two terms are sometimes confused in common everyday usage due to the fact that they sound quite similar. However, they actually mean very different things within the field of psychology. Let’s take a closer look at what each term means and how you can distinguish between them.

What Does Conscience Mean?

Your conscience is the part of your personality that helps you determine between right and wrong and keeps you from acting upon your most basic urges and desires.

Your conscience is what makes you feel guilty when you do something bad and good when you do something kind.

It is the moral basis that helps guide prosocial behavior, or behavior that helps others, and leads you to behave in socially acceptable and even altruistic ways.

In Freudian theory, the conscience is part of the superego that contains information about what is viewed as bad or negative by your parents and by society—all the values you learned and absorbed during your upbringing. The conscience emerges over time as you take in information about what is considered right and wrong by your caregivers, your peers, and the culture in which you live.

One way a child’s sense of morality might develop is through their caregiver’s rules. For example, if a parent sets a rule, a child could learn a sense of right and wrong regarding that topic. Studies have also examined other factors that may affect the way conscience develops, including the nature of the parent-child relationship, style of parental discipline, and the child’s temperament—but more research is needed.

What Does Conscious Mean?

Your conscious is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. In the most general terms, it means being awake and aware. Some experts suggest that you are considered conscious of something if you are able to put it into words.

Not only can you be conscious—as in awake—but you can also be conscious—as in aware—of your thoughts and feelings.

The Conscious Mind

In psychology, the conscious mind includes everything inside your awareness, including:

  • Fantasies
  • Feelings
  • Thoughts

A metaphor that is sometimes used to explain the concept of the conscious mind within psychoanalytic theory is likening the mind to an iceberg. The part of the iceberg that can be seen above the surface of the water represents conscious awareness. It is what we are aware of and can describe and articulate clearly.

The largest part of the iceberg actually lies below the surface of the water. This represents the unconscious mind and includes all the thoughts, memories, and urges that are outside of our conscious awareness. This metaphor is frequently attributed to Sigmund Freud, but according to the American Psychological Association (APA), he never wrote about it.

What Is Consciousness?

Your consciousness refers to your conscious experiences, your individual awareness of your own internal thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations.

Consciousness is often thought of as a stream, constantly shifting according to the ebb and flow of your thoughts and experiences of the world around you.

"Consciousness is generally defined as awareness of your thoughts, actions, feelings, sensations, perceptions, and other mental processes," explain psychologists Douglass A. Bernstein, Louis A. Penner, and Edward Roy.

In other words, they say, this suggests that consciousness isn't just one mental process but rather a part of many. "For example, memories can be conscious, but consciousness is not just memory. Perceptions can be conscious, but consciousness is not just perception."

The conscious and consciousness can be difficult to pin down. As psychologist and philosopher William James once explained, “Its meaning we know so long as no one asks us to define it.”

Examples

To further explain their differences, here are examples of how the terms conscience and conscious could be used in a sentence.

Conscience

They had a guilty conscience because they cheated on the test.

The term conscience here describes this person's sense of what is right and wrong and the subsequent feeling of guilt they have over cheating on the test.

Conscious

They were worried they might faint at the sight of the blood, but they remained conscious.

The person was afraid they would lose consciousness by fainting when they saw blood. However, they didn't faint and stayed awake and aware of their surroundings.

They were conscious of the fact that everyone was staring at them.

The term conscious here describes the awareness of the person who noticed that everyone was looking at them.

Conscious vs. Conscience

While the two terms are often confused, the conscious and the conscience refer to very different things. Your conscious allows you to be aware of your place in the world, while your conscience allows you to behave in this world in morally and socially acceptable ways. As described above, conscious is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. Your conscience is your ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

When thinking about these two concepts, just remember that conscious means to be awake and aware while conscience refers to your inner sense of right and wrong.

A Word From Verywell

It's definitely easy to confuse the terms conscious and conscience, particularly when you hear the words spoken out loud. However, with the help of some context clues and some attention to their spelling differences, you should have no problem telling them apart when you come across them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does conscience mean?

Conscience refers to your internal sense of what's right and wrong. In Freudian theory, it refers to the superego, which is the moral or ethical part of your personality.

How do you spell conscience?

Conscience is spelled differently than conscious, and the two have very different meanings. Conscience refers to your sense of what is right and wrong, while conscious is the state of being awake, aware, or in the know.

What is a guilty conscience?

A guilty conscience refers to when you feel you’ve done something wrong and feel guilty because of it.

What to Know

Though they sound similar, conscience is a noun referring to the awareness that one’s actions are right or wrong, as in one’s “guilty conscience,” while conscious is an adjective meaning “awake” or “alert.” If you were asleep you would be “unconscious.” To keep them straight, remember to stay conscious of what your conscience is telling you to do.

As conscientious lexicographers, we are conscious of the occasional mix-up of the words conscience and conscious. Here are some examples that caught our attention:

The stones are an iconic part of Roman history. … Some tourists have been known to wrongly remove them from the street and take them home as a souvenir. Two years ago, a traveler with a very guilty conscious mailed back a stone they had stolen on vacation a year earlier, writing, “Please find enclosed a cobble from one of your cobbled roads.”
Travel + Leisure, 20 June 2019

Covergirl is paving the way for larger and more well-known makeup brands to switch over to being cruelty-free…. Covergirl is not only affordable and a popular drugstore brand but now it comes with a clear conscious when picking their products off of the shelves.
The Sonoma State Star, 13 Nov. 2018

Communication is a fascinating and important topic. Be sure that you are clearly communicating by being conscience of your body language.
Forbes, 26 Feb. 2013

As the price of electricity continues to rise, homeowners are looking for ways to cut energy costs without sacrificing comfort or convenience. And many cost-conscience homeowners are considering solar panels, which convert the sun’s energy into clean electricity.
Popular Mechanics, 27 Jul. 2019

If you stopped to double-check if conscience or conscious was actually being used incorrectly in any of the above examples, this article will help you to readily differentiate the words and use them with confidence in the future—since, honestly, there were no trick examples. And if wrongly using conscience in place of conscious, or vice versa, has never been on your conscience, we encourage you to read on anyways. We discuss word history and grammar, and an orthopteran insect.

How to get a conscience

Conscience and conscious have similar pronunciations, which, for some, causes confusion. (Their first syllables are pronounced the same, and they both contain a middle \sh\ sound.) For those who hesitate on which to use, learning the words’ suffixes and their meanings and also the words’ parts of speech might be the best approach in differentiating them. Conscience, having the noun suffix -ence, meaning “quality or state,” is, well, a noun, and conscious, having the adjective suffix -ous, meaning “having,” is an adjective.

What Does Conscience Mean?

The noun conscience refers to a state of awareness or a sense that one’s actions or intentions are either morally right or wrong, along with a feeling of obligation to do the right thing. Cartoons often personify the conscience as a proverbial angel/devil pair who talk into the ear of an indecisive character, encouraging him or her to follow either a path of moral virtue or of moral corruption. In the Walt Disney movie Pinocchio, metaphorically, the conscience is the dapper talking cricket, named Jiminy Cricket, whose maxim “always let your conscience be your guide” he teaches the title character, a marionette who is magically brought to life and becomes a real human boy after proving himself brave, truthful, and selfless (after listening to his conscience). Some examples of the noun conscience are:

You should decide what to do according to your own conscience.

Her conscience was bothering her, so she finally told the truth.

I cannot do anything that is/goes against my conscience.

He could not in good conscience allow this situation to continue.

I have to tell you the truth because I don’t want this on my conscience any longer.

What Does Conscious Mean

Conscious, on the other hand, is an adjective that indicates that a person is awake and alert and able to understand what is happening around them, such as a patient who becomes fully conscious after being administered anesthesia. It can also imply that a person is aware of a particular fact or feeling, such as an investor who is conscious of risk or athletes who are conscious of being role models for young people. Another common meaning of conscious describes a person who cares about something specified, such as the cost-conscious shopper and the environmentally conscious activist. Additionally, conscious can modify an act or decision that is done deliberately (and one that might very well result in conscious guilt or a guilty conscience).

Hopefully, you are now fully (or at least semi-) conscious of the differences in using conscience and conscious—the most essential one being that conscience is a noun and conscious is an adjective, which describes nouns. Keep in mind that whenever you are in a difficult situation, you should be conscious about what your conscience is telling you. Your conscience will help you make moral, just, and fair decisions. As for remembering the spelling of the noun: conscience contains the word science (also a noun), and as science tells us how the forces of nature and the universe behave—or should—the conscience tells us how we should behave—or should.

Nicholas A. Christakis is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University and the author of Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society.

You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar

How to get a conscience

The relationship between mother and child might have been the evolutionary foundation of conscience. Credit: TaPhotograph/Getty

Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition Patricia Churchland W. W. Norton (2019)

What is our conscience, and where does it come from? In her highly readable Conscience, the philosopher Patricia Churchland argues that “we would have no moral stance on anything unless we were social”.

That we have a conscience at all relates to how evolution has shaped our neurobiology for social living. Thus, we judge what is right or wrong using feelings that urge us in a general direction and judgement that shapes these urges into actions. Such judgement typically reflects “some standard of a group to which the individual feels attached”. This idea of conscience as a neurobiological capacity for internalizing social norms contrasts with strictly philosophical accounts of how and why we tell right from wrong.

There is a strand of thought in evolutionary biology (advanced, for instance, by the theorist Bret Weinstein) that the capacity for moral debate itself has a social function, binding groups regardless of the topics contested or their abstract moral ‘rightness’. Moreover, many of our moral rules — such as the idea that we should not betray our friends or abandon our children — have clearly been shaped by natural selection to optimize our capacity to live in groups. Other rules, for instance regarding the correctness of reciprocity, are similar: we feel quite intensely and innately that if someone gives us a gift of food, we should reciprocate on a future occasion.

Churchland briefly touches on how other primates, such as chimpanzees, have been observed acting in ways that echo conscience. These include behaviours analysed by primatologist Frans de Waal: cooperating towards common goals, sharing food, adopting orphans and grieving. Churchland argues that such examples point to the evolutionary origins of human conscience.

To build that case, she first focuses on the fundamental bond between mothers and children. This relationship, she argues, was eventually extended across evolutionary time to mates, more distant kin, and friends. Conscience is essential to our ability to sustain and benefit from such attachments. As Churchland writes, “attachment begets caring; caring begets conscience”. The capacity to formulate and act on moral norms therefore arises from the need to develop practical solutions to social problems. Our conscience is reinforced by social stimuli: for instance, we face disapproval for lying and approval for courteous behaviour. Thus, conscience, as Churchland sees it, involves “the internalization of community standards”.

Commitment to one’s conscience is not always good. We applaud the antislavery stance of nineteenth-century US abolitionist John Brown, but some people question his belief that the only solution to the evil of slavery was armed insurrection. And we are repulsed by extremists who go on shooting rampages in mosques or detonate bombs in churches in the name of their ‘conscience’. Conscience is complex, and moral rules (such as those against killing) are not themselves what our neurobiology encodes. Churchland explores related topics — including the absence of conscience, as in antisocial personality disorder, or its over-abundance, as in people who follow the moral strictures of a religion with excessive scrupulousness.

Churchland also sharply critiques the state of her field. She is frustrated by sequestered academic philosophy, in which “practical wisdom may be in short supply, replaced either by endless dithering or unwavering adherence to a favorite ideology”. She eviscerates moral philosophers who believe that moral rules can be utterly divorced from biology and find a foundation based on reasoning alone. She points out that the assumption that morality is not properly philosophically grounded unless it is universal is itself merely a rebuttable stipulation. She notes that decades of attempts to define universal rules have not succeeded. And finally, she shows that most moral dilemmas are just that: dilemmas in which it is impossible to satisfy all the constraints, and which put ostensibly universal principles into conflict with each other.

Such problems would seem to be insuperable for those who believe that moral rules can be rendered absolute, based on moral reasoning alone and disconnected from real life, as if driven simply by a kind of philosophical logic. But, as Churchland notes, “you cannot get morality out of merely not contradicting yourself”.

Neither does she have much use for utilitarians, with their simple calculus of adding up the greatest good for the greatest number. She rightly points out that living in a utilitarian society would be unsatisfying for most people, because we are not partial to all members of our society equally. We prefer our own groups, our own friends, our own families. For most people, as she argues, “love for one’s family members is a colossal neurobiological and psychological fact that mere ideology cannot wish away”. She concludes that utilitarianism is irresolvably at odds with how our brains function, given that we evolved to care more deeply about people we know than about those whom we do not.

The book is decorated, in the manner of our best philosophers, with pithy illustrative examples. Many are drawn from Churchland’s upbringing on a farm in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. (She calls herself a “country bumpkin”.) They are wonderful: rafting teams circumventing rapids in Canada’s Yukon Territory; ways to chop firewood; the strategic hunting behaviour of the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos); the spontaneous actions of farmers who milk the cows of a neighbour stricken by influenza; a sign in a farm kitchen proclaiming, “Them that works, eats.”

The limitations in Churchland’s account are mostly limitations in the state of the field. As she repeatedly notes, many aspects of how conscience comes to be embodied in the brain, and shaped by natural selection, are simply not yet known. But she nevertheless makes a mighty effort. Conscience is illuminating, entertaining and wise.

Both words have to do with the mind, but it’s more important to be conscious, or awake, than conscience, or aware of right and wrong. Remain conscious while listening to your friend’s moral dilemma so you can use your conscience to give good advice.

Conscious, pronounced "KAHN-shuhs," means being aware of yourself or the world around you. It also means being sensitive to something or being awake, not asleep or insensible:

Witnesses say he was bleeding profusely but conscious and talking. (Washington Post)

He was even horribly conscious of a slow pallor creeping over his face. (Bertram Mitford)

Conscience, pronounced "KAHN-shuhns," is a moral understanding, an inner feeling, of right and wrong. If you were a cartoon, your conscience would be that little angel on your shoulder, telling you the right thing to do (and to ignore the little devil on the other side). See the word in action:

They went out guiltily, as men whose consciences troubled them. (Richard Marsh)

Passports are not required, but a social conscience probably is. (New York Times)

To help keep conscious and conscience straight, try emphasizing the second n in conscience, remembering that the conscience deals with your inner thoughts.

conscience

A conscience is a built-in sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. That sick feeling in your stomach after you lied to your brother about borrowing his skateboard? That might be your conscience bothering you. Continue reading.

conscious

Conscious is an adjective that simply means alert and awake. If you fall from a tree and smack your head on the side of the wheelbarrow, there’s a good chance you won’t be conscious afterward. Continue reading.

How to get a conscience

Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by john. john Wonders, “What is your conscience?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, john!

Have you ever thought about the number of choices you make each day? Many are simple decisions, like what to eat for breakfast. Others are more difficult and involve deciding right from wrong. What guides you when it comes to these harder choices? Often, it’s your conscience!

What is your conscience? Put simply, it’s a sense of right and wrong. Your conscience helps you choose behaviors based on your morals . Have you ever seen the conscience portrayed in a TV show or movie? Often, it’s represented by the “good angel” on a character’s shoulder. In real life, though, the conscience isn’t always so easy to find.

Where is your conscience located? Scientists say it’s in your brain. In fact, brain scans have revealed what experts call a “moral network” in the human brain. This is made up of three smaller networks , each of which carries out an important function. They enable humans to understand each other, care about other people, and make decisions based on understanding and caring.

Have you ever WONDERed why you have a conscience? Experts think it goes back to early humans’ need to help each other. Primitive human beings learned that they had a better chance of survival when they worked together to do things like catch food. Over time, the conscience evolved to encourage people to help each other.

Humans aren’t the only ones who show this type of behavior. Other animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, and some birds, work together for survival. However, people do more to reward each other for cooperation . That helps humans develop a conscience and gives them more incentive to help each other.

Today, we know that humans learn right from wrong in much the same way. Every interaction we have with others helps form our conscience. When they react to our actions, we learn which behaviors are and aren’t acceptable. Our consciences are also formed by watching other people and understanding the choices they make.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine you and a friend are playing outside. Your friend falls down and hurts their knee. What would you do? Most people would either help their friend up or go find a trusted adult to help. They have learned this is the right thing to do from prior experience or from watching others. That’s your conscience in action!

People don’t always listen to their consciences, though. What if you didn’t help your friend? How would you feel afterward? Most people would feel guilt for not helping. They might even feel shame for causing a friend even more distress . These emotions can manifest themselves in physical symptoms, like a stomachache. That’s one way the conscience pushes people to do the right thing in situations like these.

Can you think of a time when you had to make a tough choice between right and wrong? What did your conscience tell you? Did you listen? Talk with an adult about how your conscience guides your daily life.

SisterAgnes Walsh, a Daughter of Charity, is remembered for her heroism in France during World War II. In 1943, when France was occupied by German Nazis, the search for Jews began. In the face of grave peril, Sister Agnes convinced her mother superior to open their convent and offer refuge to a Jewish family. The sisters did the right, but very challenging, thing when many would have told them to take the easy way out.

Most of us won’t face the extreme circumstances these women faced, but we all have our own challenges. What do I do if my boss gives me a task I believe is wrong? How do I make ethical decisions about medical treatment in times of serious illness?

In the life of following Jesus Christ, both great heroes and ordinary saints alike need the same thing: a well-formed conscience.

What is conscience?

God creates us with a capacity to know and love him, and we have a natural desire to seek the truth about him. Fortunately, we don’t search for God unaided; indeed, he calls us to himself and writes his law on our hearts to help us draw closer to him.

Conscience helps us hear the voice of God; it helps us recognize the truth about God and the truth about how we ought to live. Conscience is “a judgment of reason” 1 by which we determine whether an action is right or wrong.

Jesus told the apostles, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We deepen our relationship with God by following him, and in doing so, we become more fully ourselves.

Importance of a Well-Formed Conscience

Have you ever made a decision that turned out badly, but if you had more information beforehand, you would have made a better decision? Sometimes, we may have the best of intentions to do good, but choose an action that is, in itself, wrong.

For example, think of learning a new language. We can only speak with the language we have, and if we have not received good education in vocabulary and grammar, we will communicate poorly, and others will not understand us. It is similar with conscience.

If our conscience isn’t well-formed, we aren’t well-equipped to determine right from wrong. All of us have the personal responsibility to align our consciences with the truth so that, when we are faced with the challenges of daily life, our consciences can help guide us well.

How to Form Our Consciences

Wherever we are on our journey with Christ, we can grow deeper with him by continuing the work of forming our consciences well, so that we may follow him ever more closely. Although not a complete list, these suggestions can help us as we seek to inform and strengthen our consciences with God’s truth.

    Pray
    Through prayer and participation in the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, we encounter the living God. Spending time with the Lord, such as in silent adoration, opens our hearts to him. In drawing closer to the Lord, we allow God’s grace to conform our minds and hearts to Christ, so that we might better discern in every moment how we ought to act.

Two Challenges

A couple challenges we may face in following our consciences are worth noting.

    Indifference
    When we are bombarded with news, images, stories, and sound bites, it’s easy to become numb to other people and the world around us. Conscience requires us to be attentive. We must listen to God, who speaks to us. Having a well-formed conscience doesn’t mean we have all the answers to the complex problems in the world, but it does mean that we are sensitive to the needs and struggles of other people.

Our Response

Inspired by the example of Sister Agnes Walsh and her mother superior, let us devote ourselves anew to following wherever the Lord leads. Let us take courage from their example of faith and, when facing our own trials, remember what Jesus promised his apostles before ascending into heaven: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Be not afraid; God is with us.

The formation of a good conscience is another fundamental element of Christian moral teaching. “Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act” (CCC, no. 1796). “Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary” (GS, no. 16).

Conscience represents both the more general ability we have as human beings to know what is good and right and the concrete judgments we make in particular situations concerning what we should do or about what we have already done. Moral choices confront us with the decision to follow or depart from reason and the divine law. A good conscience makes judgments that conform to reason and the good that is willed by the Wisdom of God. A good conscience requires lifelong formation. Each baptized follower of Christ is obliged to form his or her conscience according to objective moral standards. The Word of God is a principal tool in the formation of conscience when it is assimilated by study, prayer, and practice. The prudent advice and good example of others support and enlighten our conscience. The authoritative teaching of the Church is an essential element in our conscience formation. Finally, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, combined with regular examination of our conscience, will help us develop a morally sensitive conscience.

Because our conscience is that inner sanctuary in which we listen to the voice of God, we must remember to distinguish between our subjective self and what is objectively true outside ourselves. We can be subjectively in error about something that is objectively true. On the objective level, if our conscience is “correct,” then there is no error between what is internally perceived to be true and truth itself. If there is an incorrect conscience, that means that the conscience is erroneous in its view of truth.

On the subjective level we can have a “certain” conscience, which means we believe that our conscience is in conformity with what is objectively true. A person can have a “certain” conscience on the subjective level but an “incorrect” one on the objective level. For example, a person thinks that Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation and chooses to miss Mass anyway. The person thinks it is a Holy Day (certain subjectively but incorrect objectively) and acts on it. This person has a certain but incorrect conscience. But because the conscience acted against what it perceived to be objectively the good, the conscience chooses to sin.

There are some rules to follow in obeying one’s conscience. First, always follow a certain conscience. Second, an incorrect conscience must be changed if possible. Third, do not act with a doubtful conscience. We must always obey the certain judgments of our conscience, realizing that our conscience can be incorrect, that it can make a mistake about what is truly the good or the right thing to do. This can be due to ignorance in which, through no fault of our own, we did not have all we needed to make a correct judgment.

However, we must also recognize that ignorance and errors are not always free from guilt, for example, when we did not earnestly seek what we needed in order to form our conscience correctly. Since we have the obligation to obey our conscience, we also have the great responsibility to see that it is formed in a way that reflects the true moral good.

Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and the right solution to many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct. (GS, no. 16)

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

How to get a conscience

Conscience vs. conscious is a classic question of vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation. If you’re anything like us, you have to think very hard each time you spell or say each word—and double check if you’re using the right one.

Luckily, we can provide some tricks and examples that will not only help you remember how to say and spell each word, but also help you to keep them straight from now on. Stick around to the end and quiz yourself to see if you’re really conscious of the difference!

Quick summary

Conscience [ kon-shuhns ] is a noun that refers to a person’s inner sense of right and wrong. Conscious [ kon-shuhs ] is an adjective meaning aware or, more literally, awake—as in the opposite of unconscious. Like many other adjectives, conscious ends in -ous. In contrast, conscience has the noun ending -ence—to remember its spelling, picture it as a combination of con- and science.

Is it conscious or conscience?

To determine the right choice in terms of conscious vs. conscience, first think about what each word means.

Conscience [ kon-shuhns ] is a noun that refers to a person’s inner sense of right and wrong—the feeling you get that tells you whether or not you’re doing the right thing.

Conscious [ kon-shuhs ] is an adjective whose most literal sense means awake or having full mental faculties (i.e. not unconscious), as in You will be fully conscious during the operation. It is also often used to mean fully aware of or sensitive to something, as in I’m conscious of my shortcomings or Be conscious of your surroundings. Sometimes, it means intentional, as in It was a conscious choice. It has other shades of meaning, but they all involve intention or awareness.

The noun form is consciousness. The word subconscious can be a noun referring to a person’s underlying mental state—all the mental activities they’re not fully aware of. It can also be an adjective used to describe things related to a person’s subconscious, as in subconscious desires.

Because subconscious can be a noun and it involves a mental state, be careful not to confuse it with conscience.

How do you spell conscience and conscious?

The ending -ence is a good reminder that conscience is a noun. The – ence ending is used in nouns like sentence , difference , and, importantly, science . To remember the spelling of conscience , picture it as a combination of con- and science (it can even help to pronounce it that way in your head to get the spelling right). The con- prefix comes from a word meaning “with,” so remember: conscience should always be spelled with science .

Conscious starts out the same as conscience, but, like many of its fellow adjectives, it ends with the popular adjective ending -ous.

Examples of conscience and conscious used in a sentence

Take a look at these example sentences with conscience and conscious to get a better idea of how the words are used and how they’re different.

  • None of the bad things he does seem to bother him—it’s like he has no conscience at all.
  • I feel like I have to serve as the company’s conscience sometimes.
  • She bumped her head really hard, but luckily she managed to stay conscious.
  • She was not conscious of the reputation that followed her, nor was she aware of the traits that contributed to it.
  • It was a conscious decision—it was made with full knowledge of the consequences.
  • I’m especially conscious of my conscience when it’s telling me I’m wrong.

Take the quiz: do you know when to use conscience and conscious?

After reviewing these words, you can’t in good conscience skip our short quiz on when to use these two words! Stay alert and you’ll pass it easily.