Where does conscience fit into one’s decision-making and what are one’s obligations to conscience in discerning what’s right or wrong?
“Conscience,( according to Thomas Aquinas) is the act of determining that which I ought to do or not do, or that I was right or wrong in performing that action.” This issue here is what is the process by which one determines whether one is using conscience appropriately? Aquinas reflects that in order to use conscience effectively, one is obliged to always follow one’s conscience, and
one must insure that conscience is well informed and objectively educated. It is then and only then one is morally obligated to act on it. There lies the crux of decision-making! Making a decision on the solely on emotions, subjective reasoning or rationalization is not an ethical way to make decisions. You have a moral obligation to put the time and effort into being well informed and being able to understand opposing viewpoints, in order to more objectively make the best decision. This decision calls for introspection, information and application.
Your values, your code of ethics and the internalization of the same are the basis for the development of conscience. It is important that you internalized in advance what your values are, keeping in mind, much will be dependent on the situation and how those values are applied. Not that that each situation will determine the ethics needed to make the decision, but rather it’s the challenge of applying one’s values and code of ethics differently depending on the variables of the situation. The process is not one of finding values to fit the situation, but rather how do my values relate to each particular situation?
Once you’ve created your own personal code of conduct, the next step is to internalize these ethics and values, making them a natural part of your decision-making process.
Even when you have a clear code of ethics to guide you, the tough choices aren’t any less difficult; they’re just clearer. Often the “right” course is simply the one that will cause less damage in the long term.
But then comes the hard part: you must choose to abide by those ethics and values in each situation that arises. You have to choose to take the ethical action in every context, and your code of conduct is always an integral part of that decision-making process.
This doesn’t mean you need to be rigid in your interpretation of your ethics and values. You can stay true to the essence of your code of conduct while being flexible in its application. The Constitution of the United States is a great example of this principle in action. The Constitution is the essence of our law, but how it is applied or amended can vary depending upon circumstances and requirements. In the same way, you need to abide by the essence of your own code of conduct (and if your business has a mission statement or code of its own, to abide by that). At the same time, you must be open to the fact that your values are not absolute and may need, at times, to be reevaluated and adapted.
To choose well, you need to analyze your values and ethics, apply them in a consistent yet compassionate manner, and make sure your workplace values and personal values are not in conflict. You must make sure your values are not situational—that is, you have one set of rules for your work and another for your personal life. That kind of “moral schizophrenia” can only make your choices more difficult, not less. Like the Constitution, if your code of conduct is something you believe in then you should hold onto it, apply it even-handedly, change it slowly, after much deliberation, and recognize that it will ultimately define who you are because it controls what you do.