Conscience and <i>Synderesis</i>

Tobias Hoffmann

in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195326093
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Conscience and Synderesis

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  • History of Western Philosophy
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Aquinas played a significant role in clarifying the concept of conscience and the theoretical problems connected with it. Aquinas assigned to synderesis principally a cognitive role. He argued that human beings have a fundamental grasp of right and wrong, which is infallible. Aquinas connected synderesis to natural law, identifying the first practical principles, of which synderesis is the habit, with the general principles of natural law. He occasionally replaced the word synderesis by the term understanding (intellectus), the intellectual virtue of grasping the first principles of reason in his Summa theologiae. Aquinas understood the directives of synderesis as formal principles, not as concrete moral norms. Aquinas conceived of synderesis as habitual knowledge. According to Aquinas, conscience is the consideration of a specific case in light of one's moral knowledge. Moral knowledge comprises the first principles of synderesis, as well as more particular moral directives. For Aquinas, the distinction of generally good, evil, and indifferent acts does not have any bearing on when erring conscience binds and when it does not. Aquinas argued that the binding character of conscience, whether erring or not, means that acting against conscience is always evil.

Keywords: conscience; synderesis; cognitive role; Summa theologiae; intellectus; habitual knowledge

Article.  4429 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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