Conscience is the moral dimension of human consciousness; it provides the means by which humans modify instinctual drives to conform to laws, moral codes, and social norms.
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) viewed the conscience as one of two components of the superego; the other component was the ego-ideal. In his scheme, the conscience prevents people from doing what is deemed morally wrong and the ego-ideal motivates people to do what is considered morally right. This theory suggests that the development of conscience is facilitated by parents, who convey their beliefs to their children. Children, in turn, internalize these moral codes by a process of identification with a parent.
Other psychologists have proposed different theories about the development of the conscience and the stages of moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–87), one of the dominant theorists in this field, proposed six distinct stages of moral reasoning, the foundation for ethical decisions. His stages of moral development are ranked hierarchically and evolve throughout the lifetime.
See also Freud, Sigmund; Kohlberg, Lawrence; Moral development ; Superego .
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