The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Conscience and Other Virtues

Conscience and Other Virtues

From Bonaventure to MacIntyre Douglas C. Langston
  • Copyright: 2001
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 200 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-02070-9
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-02789-0
“This important book synthesizes a broad range of historical and contemporary literature dealing with conscience. It traces the development of the notion of conscience in the Western philosophical tradition from antiquity through the early modern period, and it rehabilitates conscience as a useful, even crucial, concept for current ethical theory.”
“Langston’s book provides a good account of the changing conception of conscience and its relation to the virtues. Drawing on his expertise in virtue ethics, Langston traces the rise of a rich medieval conception of conscience as a relational entity.”
“Langston’s work contributes to rethinking conscience in a way that retrieves its dynamic, experimental quality in more contemporary terms involving difference and multiplicity on individual and cultural levels.”

Conscience, once a core concept for ethics, has mostly disappeared from modern moral theory. In this book Douglas Langston traces its intellectual history to account for its neglect while arguing for its still vital importance, if correctly understood.

In medieval times, Langston shows in Part I, the notions of "conscientia" and "synderesis" from which our contemporary concept of conscience derives were closely connected to Greek ideas about the virtues and practical reason, although in Christianized form. As modified by Luther, Butler, and Kant, however, conscience later came to be regarded as a faculty like will and intellect, and when faculty psychology fell into disrepute, so did the role of conscience in moral philosophy.

A view of mature conscience that sees it as relational, with cognitive, emotional, and conative dimensions, can survive the criticisms of conscience as faculty. In Part II, through discussions of Freud, Ryle, and other modern thinkers, Langston proceeds to reconstruct conscience as a viable philosophical concept.

Finally, in Part III, this better grounded concept is connected with the modern revival of virtue ethics, and Langston shows how crucial conscience is to a theory of virtue because it is fundamental to the training of any morally good person.

Douglas C. Langston is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the New College of the University of Southern Florida. His previous book, God's Willing Knowledge, was published by Penn State Press in 1986.

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