[Solved] What is meant by ‘crisis of conscience’? How does it manifest in the public domain? ( UPSC GS-4 Mains 2019)

[Solved] What is meant by ‘crisis of conscience’? How does it manifest in the public domain? ( UPSC GS-4 Mains  2019)

Conscience and nature of its sanctions:

 Conscience is defined by its inward looking and subjective character, in the following sense, conscience is always knowledge of ourselves, or awareness of moral principles we have committed to, or assessment of ourselves, or motivation to act that comes from within us (as opposed to external impositions).

 Through our individual conscience, we become aware of our deeply held moral principles, we are motivated to act upon them, and we assess our character, our behavior and ultimately our self against those principles. Reference to the self indicates that, from a psychological point of view, conscience involves introspection, awareness of one’s behavior, and self-assessment. Being ‘judged’ by one’s conscience can lead to guilt and other ‘punitive’ emotions. Conscience refers to a person’s sense of right and wrong. Having a conscience involves being aware of the moral rightness or wrongness of one’s actions, or the goodness or badness of one’s intentions.

 In philosophical, religious, and everyday senses, the notion of conscience may include the following separable elements.

 • Firstly, conscience may refer to the moral principles and values that a person endorses. In this sense, one can be said to go against conscience, where this means going against one’s basic moral convictions.

 • Secondly, conscience may refer to a faculty whereby human beings come to know basic moral truths.

 • A third aspect closely associated with conscience pertains to self-scrutiny: conscience involves a person’s examination of his or her own desires, and actions, and connects with sentiments of selfevaluation, such as guilt, shame, regret and remorse. This aspect of conscience is encapsulated in the expression “pangs of conscience,” which designates the painful experience of being found morally wanting by the lights of one’s own self-scrutiny. Living with painful emotions such as guilt and shame are elements in a “bad conscience”.

 Freedom of conscience:

  • Freedom of conscience is today protected by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (art. 18).
  • Constitution of India also categorically says that freedom of conscience is a fundamental rights and stands to protect it through most immediate means like writ petitions. This is because of cardinal role of conscience in growth and self-realization of an individual. A society cannot become great by dwarfing its own people.

Crisis of conscience:

  • Crisis of conscience is a situation in which someone feels worried or uncomfortable because they have done something which they think is wrong or immoral. It is the inability to act based on what one think to be right. It may be due to external obligations to act in certain specific ways. They may be structured customary morality, laws, rules, religion etc. Whatever they may be, the point is a gap between internal and external calling and inability to defend call of conscience. It leads to erosion of freedom of conscience.
  • Problematic is the moral and political debate about the freedom to act, or to refrain from acting, according to one’s conscience, especially where there are professional roles or legal obligations that would demand otherwise. In fact, appeals to conscience and freedom of conscience are often deployed to claim and justify “conscientious objection” to certain activities that someone would otherwise be required to perform. According to those who are against a right to conscientious objection, professional obligations trump any value conscience might have and any principle that might justify conscientious objection.
  • Manifestations in public domain:
  • Another example is conscientious objection to the military service where conscription is in place.
  • Although originally conscientious objection to war was mainly a religious issue, in more recent times the objection to war has been put forward and granted without explicit reference to any religious justification. There may be pacifist opposition to war.
  • In health care, conscientious objection involves practitioners not providing certain treatments to their patients, based on reasons of morality or “conscience.”
  • Crisis of conscience can at times be so strong that people are forced to commit suicide. This happened with a photo journalist who was covering apartheid Africa struck with famines. His professional ethics didn’t allow him to touch any person in the famine ridden area and hence he couldn’t help a child. Though his photo shook the conscience of the world, the inability to help and save the child created crisis of conscience in him. Within few days of return from Africa, he committed suicide due to guilt. The person was Kevin Carter
  • Conscience is inner moral sense of a person which guides him/her to regulate his behaviour. Conscience comes to play when a person is in moral dilemma and need deep assessment of scenario and his behaviour.

 Crisis of Conscience

 · Crisis of conscience is a situation in which it is very difficult to decide what is the right thing to do. The term is also used when someone is worrying because they think that they have done something unfair or morally wrong.

 · It is a case of ethical dilemma, but often in a more strong sense. When there is a crisis of conscience, the individual fear that his action may be against the voice of conscience and hence ethically wrong.

 · Sometimes, we are not able to act in the way that is in compliance to our value and principles. Either due to some external exegencies or material greed, we, sometimes, sideline our voice of conscience and act in a contrary way.

 · This, if done for a material greed, degrades our human nature and suppresses our conscience. However, there are also circumstances when, due to some external reasons beyond our control, we are not able to act according to our beliefs. Such situations create a feeling of guilt and shame.

  • Incidence from Life– When I was a child, I took a few sweets from a shop, without paying for the same. However, the shop-keeper thought that the sweets have been taken by a poor person, who was standing besides me. He started beating him excessively. I got so scared that I did not speak to him the truth. Even though I wanted to save the person from the uncalled for misery, which was given to him because of my fault, I sidelined my voice of conscience due to the fear of getting beaten by him.
  • Crisis of Conscience in public life
  • Dilemas
  • Public officials face such crisis in form of dilemas where they have to choose between two similar acts, which are valid in their own sphere. In such cases it becomes interesting to see whether an official choses his inner conscience or his duty.
  • Ex: A muncipality official has been ordered to forcefully evict illegal shelters constructed by squatters on government land. The official observes that the occupants are poor people who have small infants to take care of. In such case the official has to choose between his/her conscience of giving them time to vacate or follow government order and perform his duty.
  • Whistle blowing
  • ‘Crisis of conscience’ and its effect on individual is visible in the form of ‘whistle blowing’, where an individual brings out irregularities happening inside the organisation out into the public domain.
  • Ex: Public official in the revenue department observes that some colleagues have conspired to illegally sell a government land which has been allocated to a orphanage. They have offered him a huge sum of money to keep quiet. ‘Crisis of conscience’ will force the official to bring out this information into the public domain, even if it is anonymously.
  • Public activism
  • A public official is forced to resort to public activism if he/she is unable to do what his conscience expects him/her to do so. In this case he may follow a path of political activism or social activism.
  • Ex: An officer is trying hard to sanction drinking water project to a poor residential area but there is ignorance on the part of concerned officials. He/she is forced to file petition with court in order to implement the project.

 Ways to resolve-

 The quote from the Baha’i teachings gives us three clear, specific guidelines for dealing with any crisis of conscience:

  • Equity and Justice;
  • Mercy and kindness;
  • Treat compassionately all humankind.

 When we are having a crisis of conscience, and trying to answer a hard moral question, we need to ask ourself: What’s fair and just? How could I be most equitable here? The same values are exemplified in the Gandhi’s Talisman.

 Conscience is a reaction of ourselves to ourselves, the voice of our true selves’ that guides us to achieve our full potential. Thus, it is imperative to tune our conscience with our value systems to minimize if not completely eliminate the feelings of remorse, guilt etc.

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