Monday, August 4, 2008


I found this particularly engaging--an excerpt from Fromm's Man For Himself (1947):

"But is our analysis of conscience not contradicted by the fact that in many people its voice is so feeble as not to be heard and acted upon? Indeed, this fact is the reason for the moral precariousness of the human situation. If conscience always spoke loudly and distinctly enough, only a few would be misled from their moral objective. One answer follows from the very nature of conscience itself: since its function is to be the guardian of man's true self-interest, it is alive to the extent to which a person has not lost himself entirely and become the prey of his own indifference and destructiveness. Its relation to one's own productiveness [this idea is understood as something other than the drive for glamour and success, but of living in accordance with man's true nature, and creating from that center] is one of interaction. The more productively one lives, the stronger is one's conscience and, in turn, the more it furthers one's productiveness. The less productively one lives, the weaker becomes one's conscience; the paradoxical--and tragic--situation of man is that his conscience is weakest when he needs it most.

"Another answer to the question of the relative ineffectiveness of conscience is our refusal to listen and--what is even more important--our ignorance of knowing how to listen. People often are under the illusion that their conscience will speak with a loud voice and its message will be clear and distinct; waiting for such a voice, they do not hear anything. But when the voice of conscience is feeble, it is indistinct; and one has to learn how to listen and to understand its communications in order to act accordingly.

"However, learning to understand the communications of one's conscience is exceedingly difficult, mainly for two reasons. In order to listen to the voice of our conscience, we must be able to listen to ourselves, and this is exactly what most people in our culture have difficulties in doing. We listen to every voice and to everybody but not to ourselves. We are constantly exposed to the noise of opinions and ideas hammering at us from everywhere: motion pictures, newspapers, radio, idle chatter [and internet]. If we had planned intentionally to prevent ourselves from ever listening to ourselves, we could have done no better.

"Listening to oneself is so difficult because this art requires another ability, rare in modern man: that of being alone with oneself. In fact, we have developed a phobia of being alone; we prefer the most trivial and even obnoxious company, the most meaningless activities, to being alone with ourselves; we seem to be frightened at the prospect of facing ourselves. Is it because we feel we would be such bad company? I think the fear of being alone with ourselves is rather a feeling of embarrassment, bordering sometimes on terror at seeing a person at once so well known and so strange; we are afraid and run away. We thus miss the chance of listening to ourselves, and we continue to ignore our conscience.

"Listening to the feeble and indistinct voice of our conscience is difficult also because it does not speak to us directly but indirectly and because we are often not aware that it is our conscience which disturbs us. We may feel only anxious (or even sick) for a number of reasons which have no apparent connection with our conscience. Perhaps the most frequent indirect reaction of our conscience to being neglected is a vague and unspecific feeling of guilt and uneasiness, or simply a feeling of tiredness or listlessness. Sometimes such feelings are rationalized as guilt feelings for not having done this or that, when actually the omissions one feels guilty about do not constitute general moral problems. But if the genuine though unconscious feeling of guilt has become too strong to be silenced by superficial rationalizations, it finds expression in deeper and more intense anxieties and even in physical or mental sickness."

I couldn't help but call this "voice of conscience" "intuition." Also, conscience is the moral compass that guides man to live according to his true self, or her true self.

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