I also received the following communication:
“The question ‘What is conscience?’ came up in one of our meetings. It was assigned as after-recess material. We had a spirited discussion on the question but could not reach much agreement on it, and the general feeling was that there was much more in the question than we realized. Just before the meeting adjourned a motion was made to ask the editor of the Standard Bearer some time at his convenience in the not too distant future to answer the questions: ‘What is conscience? Did Adam have a conscience in the state of rectitude? Will we have a conscience in that state of glory?’
“Will you give this matter your attention?
“We hope you will grant us this favor. In the meantime we look with anticipation for something in print in the Standard Bearer.
Creston Prot. Ref. Men’s Society. John Oosse, Sec’y.”
I am not surprised that the Men’s Society of Creston as they were discussing this question developed “the general feeling that there was much more in the question than they realized.” The question is a very old one, one that holds the interest of laymen and philosophers alike, and volumes have been written on it and its related problems. For the same reason it is quite impossible to give a satisfactory and complete answer to the question in the brief space of an article in our paper. Perhaps, the various questions suggested by the Men’s Society of Creston, and others related to the subject of conscience, might be assigned as subjects to some of our associate editors to be discussed in the next volume of the Standard Bearer.
In the meantime, I can probably make a few brief remarks and suggestions on the subject that may serve to stimulate some more discussion in the meeting of the Creston Society. In this way I can at least indicate the direction which such a discussion should follow. For the Society of Creston this is, perhaps, more profitable than if I should write lengthy articles on the subject.
First of all, then, let me say that a distinction has been made between what is called “sequent conscience,” and “antecedent conscience.” Whether or not we agree that both these forms of conscience exist, it is important to take note of this distinction because this will help us in understanding the meaning and function of conscience itself. By “sequent conscience” is meant that function of conscience according to which its judgment upon the ethical worth of a certain action follows the action itself. As soon as the moral agent performed a certain act, whether in his heart and mind only, or also in the outward deed, conscience appears as judge and expressed its verdict, whether the action was good or evil. By “antecedent conscience” is meant that function of conscience according to which it declares which of two or more alternative courses of action is right, and commands the moral agent to choose and take it, before the action itself is performed.
But I shall have to continue my remarks next time, D. V.