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Conscience Formation: A Sine Qua Non for National Development

Updated on November 9, 2017
Odewoye Francis profile image

Odewoye,Graduate Electrical Engineering,Registered member, Engineering Council U.K,Registered member(COREN) Nigeria. Professional Engineer.


Our quest for national development and integral unity cannot come to the fore without taking cognizance of the role which the inner self-has to play on the outer self. This takes its derivation essentially from the dualistic approach to the unity of man with reference to the Aristotelian view of man. Aristotle conceives of the body as that which functions to meet the ends of the soul. Ignatius Okoroji puts this succinctly when he said “he (Aristotle) sees the function of the body as that of accomplishing the desire of the soul, it is by reason that man knows the truth. And every action of man should tend to the truth.

Though the body may be a source of knowledge it does not tell us what is true or false, rather it gathers information for the soul to interpret.” It is for this reason that we should allow our inner self (conscience) to play a greater role in our actions. What this immediately calls to our mind within the context of this article is the interplay between the human mind and the body, that is, the interaction between the conscience and the action of the human person, with the bid to build an integral national bond and development.

From the foregoing, our concern in this work is not so much to dwell on the mind-body debate, but to a great extent, since we often attribute the conscience to be part of the immaterial component of man, we shall expose its formation and processes in national development. Human life and existence have been hinged theologically and philosophically on the conception that man is s composite being made up of the material and the immaterial by different scholars.

At this juncture, in a country like Nigeria which seems to have been subjected to moral decadence and egocentric attribute manifested in trends of ethical relativism and subjectivism, if we ascribe the conscience to be the spirited part of the composition of man, what then is the conscience which has such a vital role to play in the course of building our nation?

Concept of Conscience
Concept of Conscience

1. What is Conscience?

Conscience is defined in the Roman Catholic Catechism as the voice of God in man's innermost self-telling him right from wrong. The conscience tells you when you are doing wrong things and it has become part of you. If you consider stealing something some part of you will most likely be against it, that is the conscience.

The awareness of an ethical or moral aspect to one's conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.

Conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when actions conform to such norms.Values or norms determined moral judgment (principles and rules). In psychological terms,

Conscience was the inner warning voice of God. Among Stoics, it was a divine spark in man. Throughout the Middle Ages, conscience, synderesis in Greek, was universally binding rules of conduct. Religious interpretations later changed in psychiatry.

As humans distinct from lower animals, our decisions have the great effect on us individually or as a community, that is, it can either make or mar such individual or community. The consequence of our decision is passed through the scrutiny of our conscience in line with the action one has carried out. Norman (1969) defines conscience “as a derivation from the Latin word cognoscenti which means, interior knowledge ending in judgement.” Thus it is the knowledge with and within oneself.

According to Moorage (1993), “Socrates spoke of a ‘mysterious voice’ which he called ‘daimomion’.This mysterious voice is an interior voice always guiding and telling him not to do certain things.” This is aptly captured in the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes no.16. It states “deep within his conscience, the man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Sounds in his heart at the right moment, Its voice, ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil, ” The conscience as Ratzinger puts it “ appears here as the bulwark of freedom and contrast to the encroachment of authority on existence”.

It is deeper than constructed and conventional conscience of the moralist i.e the true original conscience in us, for it is this which points always towards Truth and Right and Beauty, towards Love and Harmony and all that is a divine possibility in us.” Perhaps conscience can be viewed as a double-pane window, with the self in between. On one side, it looks toward ego and free will to obey community’s laws. On the other side, it is the soul and divine will to follow universal law. They often converge to dictate the same, or a similar, course of conduct…and sometimes not.

In a nation like Nigeria, with several issues and need to deal with illegal activities like corruption, economic and religious freedom, anarchistic behaviours, and reckless relativism to even bribery being perpetrated by individuals the individual consciences are thus burdened with an enormous possibility. For instance, those consciences that are not well-formed would make decisions that would mar the society the more.

Conscience formation.
Conscience formation.

2. Conscience formation: What it takes?

When you do something that is wrong. For example, if you are contemplating stealing a candy bar, your conscience should be telling you this is wrong. The function of the conscience is to signal your brain.

There are some people who basically manipulate people and hurt them physically, mentally, financially, anyway they can and feel no empathy for the people they victimize, and have no guilt about what they do, such people are called sociopaths.

Basically, a sociopath is someone who has no conscience. But some might argue that the need to love and be loved is inherently human and that even incredibly sick, damaged people like sociopaths have an inner core of humanity that can't be eradicated. They might not have enough humanity to make them good people, and it might be impossible to ever rehabilitate them into good people, but the touch of humanity is still there.

To help someone else (such as one’s children, one’s students, the members of one’s flock) reach – an awareness of moral truth by which to direct one’s life to what is truly good and fulfilling is the purpose of the formation of conscience. The process of promulgating laws, rules, and regulations, plus, perhaps, special rules to apply in case there is doubt whether a law or rule applies is not simply the formation of conscience: This is to view things legalistically. Rather, the goal of formation of conscience is to understand moral truth and to be able wisely to direct one’s life.

From the foregoing, only a well-formed conscience would be able to bring about national development in a country with so many challenges. Conscience formation is thus an imperative. This is done through proper education process so much so that there is a deliberation, choice, action and then assessment. In the light of St. John Paul II, the conscience is not a decision but a judgement made with the intellect. It is about the discovery of objective truth. Hence, that the formation of a conscience is a lifelong process since it is not infallible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts this succinctly, “conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful”. (CCC 1783) such a conscience is what is needed for national development especially in a country like Nigeria where embezzlement of the general fund, violation of people’s right, bribery, to mention but a few are the order of the day.

3.Types of Conscience.

Moral Conscience:

The complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.What is right or wrong the inner sense impelling one toward right action in one's motives or conduct: to follow the dictates of conscience...

Erroneous Conscience:

Moral judgments are true or false, on the common-sense suppositions, therefore, conscience can be correct or erroneous, whereas on the other hand it is morally right to follow and wrong to disobey one's conscience, we seem to be faced with a paradox in ethics.

Certain conscience-

A state of mind about its judgment on some moral issue when it has no prudent fear of being wrong firmly decides that some action is right or wrong.

Doubtful conscience-

A state of mind when it cannot certainly decide for or against a course of action and leaves the person unsure about the morality of what one is to do, or what one may have done. When conscience gives rise to a positive judgment with a sign of a doubtful and with a prudent fear of being wrong, or more commonly to a negative judgment in which the person does not know whether an act is lawful or not.

Tender conscience-

A conscience with comparative ease even in finer distinctions between good and evil and that forms objectively correct judgments.

Antecedent conscience-

The judgment of a person deciding on a moral matter prior to acting on it. Antecedent conscience either commands or forbids, counsels or permits the performance of an act.

Consequent conscience-

The judgment of the mind on the morality of an action already performed. The conscience either approves what has been done, giving peace to the mind and spiritual joy or disapproves of what was done, thus causing remorse and a sense of guilt.

Right/True conscience-

The mind making a correct moral judgment on some action either to be performed or already done. When the conscience is true, a person's subjective judgment corresponds to the objective fact that a particular human act is morally good or morally wrong.

President Buhari of Nigeria.
President Buhari of Nigeria.

4. Conscience Formation and National Development:

Given the level of structural imbalance in the economic and political facet of Nigeria; where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and there abound rulers instead of leaders. Voted officers turn out to be rulers that embezzle public funds and champion corruption. What about our educational sector, where cultism, examination malpractice, tribalism etc. is the order of the day? All of these practices perpetrated at different levels defy and violate the Human conscience all the more.

Thus only a well-formed conscience can bring about the change we need as a nation. Thus, like every other people around the world, we should wake up to what has always been inherent in every human heart. While most people exercise their innate endowment of free will, others are asserting their right to freedom and self-determination. We should at thus examine the content of our hearts, through a genuine evaluation of conscience.

5. Some Avenues for Conscience Formation:

Conscience formation begins when we start teaching in our school and homes the right code of conduct, morality, and customs to guide give the heart of individuals. This should begin from the grass root in the life of every individual. For us to have a national development, the following should put their hands on deck to ensure that human consciences are well formed.

1. The Family:

The family which is the first place of educational development has a great role that cannot be underestimated. This is because in infancy and even as the child grows, he or she learns from what he or she sees. Thus parents and guardians should endeavour to see to the well-being of their children, infants and teenagers especially on matters of morality and faith.

2. The Religious Institutions:

The religious affinity of every individual has a very important role to play in the formation of one’s conscience. For instance, in the Catholic Church, the Magisterium and Sacred Scriptures serves as the guide for the formation of conscience.

Hence, whatever our religious institutions, whether Christian, Islamic or Traditional African Religion teaches us, should be the basic tenet of these religions that have regard for human life, faith and morals.

The role of Church Teaching: How should the teaching of the Church function in the formation of conscience? Some authors say Church teaching should be consulted and should be one factor among many in our decision-making, but not anywhere near the primary source. This position, however, is simply not consistent with what the Church teaches. Church teaching should not be just one factor among others to be considered; it should be primary in the formation of one’s conscience.
The moral teaching of the Church is not merely a set of extrinsic rules imposed on us by clerics or even by God. The moral teachings of the Church are not rules but truths. The Pope could no more make things like contraception, abortion, and divorce and remarriage right by removing the Church’s “ban” on them than he could make the earth flat by pronouncing it so.

3. The Educational Institutions:

The schools are avenues where children, youths and even adults meet with their peers. Thus, there is the transmission of knowledge within these groups. Hence, our educational curriculum should possess the capacity of promulgating the regard for human life and formation of the right human conscience.

6. Reflections on Conscience Formation:

1.What is awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognised by conscience is what we referred to as an education of conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults.

2. Moral conscience,

i. Present at the heart of the person enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil.

ii. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.

3.The reasons whereby the human person recognises the concrete act of his moral quality of that he is going to perform is called conscience is in the process of performing or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognises the prescriptions of the divine law.

4. In the formation of conscience, the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. Before the Lord's Cross, we must also examine our conscience. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.

7. Recommendation:

1. From the above, we all have our roles to play individually in the national development of our country. This is because the development of individuals is the development of all. Thus, as a recommendation, in forming our consciences essentially on the part of both the leaders and their followers, we should all learn to live within our means. For instance, a student who receives the allowance of twenty thousand monthly, and is insatiable would consider stealing a potion in order to meet up with probably unneeded desires.

2. Secondly, it is recommended that there should be justice and equality before the law in the part of the government. In the implementation of the law, tribal and ethnical bigotry should be shunned. This goes to help curb the unnecessary dependence on family and social relationship on those in office. That is, in situations when too much is expected from a man because of the office he occupies in the society. This often comes from family, friends and even Churches in guise for excessive donations beyond the capacity of theirs salaries.


Ebiem O. Nigeria, Biafra & Boko Haram: Ending the genocides through multi-state solution. New York: Page Publishing Inc. 2014.

Overberg R. K., Conscience in Conflict: How to make moral choices. Bandra Mumbai, 1998.

Pantaleon I & Anthony E. (Ed). , Kpim of Morality: Ethics, General, Special & Professional. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books, 2005.

Ratzinger. J. On Conscience. USA, The National Catholic Bioethics Centre & Ignatius Press, 2007.



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