Ethics Paper 6
What is the human conscience? Should we always listen to that little voice? What is the purpose of guilt? These questions have intrigued philosophers throughout the ages. Joseph Ratzinger, in particular, wrote an article entitled, “Conscience and Truth” in which he discusses these topics. He maintains that a person must always follow his conscience, yet the human conscience is not infallible. This proposes a seeming contradiction, a paradox of sorts.
To answer this question, Ratzinger proposes that although humans are faulty beings, capable of error, we have the human obligation to educate and develop “a good conscience.” Since we are responsible for training our conscience yet at the same time we are prone to error, he says we must simply do our best. Ratzinger then identifies that guilt is man’s capacity to question the purity of his conscience. He elaborates, “This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience’s complaint against my self-satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain that signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning.” This quotation sufficiently explains guilt’s purpose and its use in moral human life.
Ratzinger’s view immediately reminded me of a check and balance system for the human conscience. If something is not affecting our conscience in the way that it should, guilt steps in and gives its’ “complaint.” It’s the natural way of keeping us on the