word CONSCIENCE as typed, in a typewriter

Conscience is that still, small voice within that tells us whether something is ethically right or wrong. Here’s what some have said about conscience.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

— Abraham Lincoln

By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.

— Albert Camus

Racism oppresses its victims, but also binds the oppressors, who sear their consciences with more and more lies until they become prisoners of those lies. They cannot face the truth of human equality because it reveals the horror of the injustices they commit.

— Alveda King

Most of all, I remember those children in the classrooms and those kids who grabbed me around the knees, and I think of the old people who really need a voice when they’re trapped in wheelchairs in dirty nursing homes. The person in this office really must have a conscience to know that how they direct this government dramatically affects the lives of those people.

— Ann Richards

Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that a quiet conscience makes one strong.

— Anne Frank

Ethics should precede economics… We know this because we’ve seen the results of capitalism without conscience: the pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat; the endangerment of workers; and the sale of dangerous products — from cars to toys to drugs. All in pursuit of greater and greater profits.

— Arianna Huffington

A Humanist Code of Ethics:
Do no harm to the earth, she is your mother.
Being is more important than having.
Never promote yourself at another’s expense.
Hold life sacred; treat it with reverence.
Allow each person the digity of his or her labor.
Open your home to the wayfarer.
Be ready to receive your deepest dreams;
sometimes they are the speech of unblighted conscience.
Always make restitutions to the ones you have harmed.
Never think less of yourself than you are.
Never think that you are more than another.

— Arthur Dobrin

The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable — namely, that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man. For, firstly, the social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.

— Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

You have to have people who prick the consciences of the nation.

— Coretta Scott King

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Is there not also, perhaps, besides an innate desire for freedom, an instinctive wish for submission? If there is not, how can we account for the attraction which submission to a leader has for so many today? Is submission always to an overt authority, or is there also submission to internalized authorities, such as duty or conscience, to inner compulsions or to anonymous authorities like public opinion?

— Erich Fromm

The moral law is the expression of our inmost nature and when we live in consonance with it we feel that we are living out our true being.

— Felix Adler

The inability of those in power to still the voices of their own consciences is the great force leading to change.

— Kenneth Kaunda

While conscience is our friend, all is at peace; however once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind.

— Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves.

— Leo Tolstoy

I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.

— Lillian Hellman, letter to the US House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, 1952

The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it; but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.

— Madame de Stael

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

— Mark Twain

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Roots of Violence:
Wealth without work,
Pleasure without conscience,
Knowledge without character,
Commerce without morality,
Science without humanity,
Worship without sacrifice,
Politics without principles.

— Mohandas K. Gandhi

Conviction is the conscience of the mind.

— Nicolas Chamfort

Forget conventionalisms; forget what the world thinks of you stepping out of your place; think your best thoughts, speak your best words, work your best works, looking to your own conscience for approval.

— Susan B. Anthony

As a citizen of the world, I stand only with Truth and my conscience is my only leader. This is the only way to peace and justice on earth. To always do the right thing, be the right person, and stand with whoever is right always and forever.

— Suzy Kassem

Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.True peace with oneself and with the world around us can only be achieved through the development of mental peace. The other phenomena mentioned above are similarly interrelated. Thus, for example, we see that a clean environment, wealth or democracy mean little in the face of war, especially nuclear war, and that material development is not sufficient to ensure human happiness.

Material progress is of course important for human advancement. In Tibet, we paid much to little attention to technological and economic development, and today we realize that this was a mistake. At the same time, material development without spiritual development can also cause serious problems. In some countries too much attention is paid to external things and very little importance is given to inner development. I believe both are important and must be developed side by side so as to achieve a good balance between them. Tibetans are always described by foreign visitors as being a happy, jovial people. This is part of our national character, formed by cultural and religious values that stress the importance of mental peace through the generation of love and kindness to all other living sentient beings, both human and animal. Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquillity. In that state of mind you can deal with situations with calmness and reason, while keeping your inner happiness. This is very important. Without this inner peace, no matter how comfortable your life is materially, you may still be worried, disturbed or unhappy because of circumstances.

— Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

— Theodore Parker

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

— Thomas Paine

Those who have experienced the most, have suffered so much that they have ceased to hate. Hate is more for those with a slightly guilty conscience, and who by chewing on old hate in times of peace wish to demonstrate how great they were during the war.

— Thor Heyerdahl

The Play’s the Thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

— William Shakespeare, Hamlet
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