A Neglected Aspect of Conscience: Awareness of Implicit Attitudes

Authors

  • Chloë Fitzgerald


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared

Address for correspondence: Dr. Chloë FitzGerald, Institut d'éthique biomédicale, Université de Genève, CMU/1 rue Michel Servet, CH – 1211 Genève 4. Email: cnsfitzgerald@gmail.com

Abstract

The conception of conscience that dominates discussions in bioethics focuses narrowly on private regulation of behaviour resulting from explicit attitudes. It neglects to mention implicit attitudes and the role of social feedback in becoming aware of one's implicit attitudes. But if conscience is a way of ensuring that a person's behaviour is in line with her moral values, it must be responsive to all aspects of the mind that influence behaviour. There is a wealth of recent psychological work demonstrating the influence of implicit attitudes on behaviour. A necessary part of having a well-functioning conscience must thus be awareness and regulation of one's implicit attitudes in addition to one's explicit attitudes; this cannot be done by an individual in isolation. On my revised conception of conscience, heeding social feedback, being emotionally self-aware and engaging in self-monitoring are important for the possession of a well-functioning conscience. Health professionals may need specific training to help them develop and maintain a well-functioning conscience, which should involve cultivation of awareness of implicit attitudes, emphasis on social feedback and techniques to enable better control over them.

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