I've been thinking recently about the definition and imagery behind the concept "conscience." Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door defines conscience as necessarily having an emotional component:
Psychologically speaking, conscience is a sense of obligation ultimately based in an emotional attachment to another living creature (often but not always a human being), or to a group of human beings, or even in some cases to humanity as a whole. Conscience does not exist without an emotional bond to someone or something, and in this way conscience is closely allied with the spectrum of emotions we call "love." This alliance is what gives true conscience its resilience and its astonishing authority over those who have it, and probably also its confusing and frustrating quality.I don't know if I agree with that definition, but maybe my opinion doesn't count for much. I do find it interesting that there are basically two types of imagery used to portray conscience: (1) the devil and the angel on the shoulder and (2) a separate entity telling you to do the right thing, e.g. Jiminy Cricket. The origin of the devil and angel is obvious -- Judeo Christian beliefs include the concept of the "holy spirit" and guardian angels, and even God telling you what to do, and there is also a fallen angel, the devil, tempting you to do wrong things. The origin of Jiminy is less clear, but I would imagine that most non religious people would associate their conscience with this type instead of the angel/devil. When I asked my friend which he thought was most accurate, he said:
Friend: Jiminy CricketIs a conscience like other organs in our body? We never notice it until we hurt it? And if so, is it more like the heart? The lungs? Or the appendix? The gall bladder? Is it something else? If we're defining sociopaths based partially on a lack of conscience (e.g. Robert Hare's book, Without Conscience), what is it that other people have that sociopaths lack?
M.E.: Yeah, interesting. So it is a separate person? eparate little part of you?
Friend: I don't know, you can "tap into" your conscience, or suspend it, push it aside...
M.E.: So sort of separate, right?
Friend: I guess so, right?
M.E.: Hard to know. I guess it has to feel separate from us, otherwise we wouldn't come up with a separate name for him.
Friend: I feel like it doesn't feel separate most of the time until you feel fractured about it, when something disturbs it.
M.E.: Like a bone or your kidney?
Friend: Yeah, exactly.