I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term “conscientious objector” – especially as it is used, to identify those entitled for exclusion from military service (whether in body or in wallet) on the basis of moral principles. I object to military service, on that basis, but I don’t have a conscience.
Phrases such as “Follow your conscience” and “Do what your conscience tells you” suggest that one’s conscience is a fixed sort of thing, an unchanging absolute. Indeed, it often sounds like one’s conscience is innate, something we’re born with. And something quite separate from us, a sort of homonculus, or at least an ‘inner voice’ (the voice of God?). Chomsky may have proven that there are innate structures of language in the human brain, but to date, to my knowledge, no one has proven there are, in the human brain, innate moral principles. Nor, despite a dictionary definition of conscience as “the moral sense of right and wrong”, has such a sixth (?) sense been established.
On the contrary, our ‘conscience’ is acquired: Continue reading