A psychological view of conscience
An essay by C.G Jung and upcoming podcast discussion
It was not until recently that I discovered C.G Jung’s late essay ‘A psychological view of conscience’ (CW10). I learned from Jungian Analyst and scholar Murray Stein that it was a part of a collection of essays entitled ‘Das Gewissen’ and released by the C.G Jung Institute in 1958.
In this essay Jung differentiates between two levels of conscience, the moral and the ethical. The first relates to Freud’s theory of the superego while the latter to Jung’s theory of individuation, the archetypes, and the Pax Dei (the voice of God). Jung writes about how the differentiation between the moral and ethical level of conscience is important in psychological development. In a sense, individuation can be understood as the process of making one’s conscience conscious.
But if the voice of conscience is the voice of God, this voice must possess an incomparable higher authority than traditional morality. Anyone, therefore, who allows conscience this status should, for better or worse, put his trust in divine guidance and follow his conscience rather than give heed to conventional morality.
If the believer had absolute confidence in his definition of God as the Summum Bonum, it would be easy for him to obey the inner voice, for he could be sure of never being led astray. But since, in the Lord’s Prayer, we still beseech God not to lead us into temptation, this undermines the very trust the believer should have if, in the darkness of a conflict of duty, he is to obey the voice of conscience without regard to the “world” and, very possibly, act against the precepts of the moral code by “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5: 29)” (par. p. 445, par 840)
The question of consciences role in psychological development and how to separate it from the voice of the often authoritative superego I discussed with Donald Carveth in episode 9 of Psychology & The Cross (who wrote important book ‘The Still Small voice - Psychoanalytic reflections of guilt and conscience’). Reading the essay of Jung made me realize there’s more to discuss and that it’s essential to return to the question of conscience's role in psychological development.
I shared the Jung essay with Donald as well as Sean McGrath, my philosopher and theology friend and they both found it fascinating and important to further discuss further. The recording of that conversation will make up the next podcast.
For those of you who want to deepen your understanding of this matter I recommend you to read the essay of Jung in beforehand. I found a link to a PDF version here.
Further recommended reading:
Murray Stein wrote the book ‘Solar and Lunar conscience - An Essay on the Psychological Foundations of Morality, Lawfulness, & the Sense of Justice’ taking as a starting point the essay by Jung.