What is Consciousness?

What Does Conscience Mean

The word consciousness (and, in some cases, consciousness) has different meanings, all related to the human mind and lucidity, that is, the ability to perceive our environment. It is not a simple term to define, and disciplines as different as philosophy and psychology have dealt with it .



Originally, both conscience and conscience come from the Latin word conscientia , the result of the prefix con- (“union”, “together”) and the verb scire (“discern” or “mentally separate one thing from another”), and that came from from the adjective conscius ("confidant").

Around the 1st century BC. This word was used to refer to shared knowledge, general knowledge and, therefore, the self-knowledge of the human being , that is, the knowledge that had to do with their existence , their thoughts and their actions.

In that same century, however, the term was used for the first time with the sense of "remorse", by the Latin poet Horace (65-8 BC), to translate the Greek term syneidesis (equivalent more or less to "Imaginative ability"). From then on it began to be used in the sense of "having something in consciousness."

As we can see, the word has had a history of changes and nuances that have increased its meaning. Today we attribute to it almost all those meanings from Latin, especially those related to self-knowledge (as in “being aware ”) and the moral judgment of one's actions (as in “having a clear conscience ” ).

Therefore, when we speak of conscience we are referring to:

  • The ability to know our environment and locate ourselves in it, that is, lucidity.
  • The ability to reflect on reality and assume a position in front of it.
  • The ability to judge our actions from a moral perspective (good or bad).

The same meanings apply when we classify someone as conscious or unconscious, and for much more specific uses of the word, such as those that we will see later.

Finally, we must say that consciousness, understood as the ability to perceive, understand and judge one's own existence, is a capacity, that we know, exclusive to human beings.

Furthermore, it constitutes, paradoxically, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our existence: where does consciousness reside? What exactly is it? In what way is it generated? These are questions that many religions tried to answer with the notion of "soul" or "spirit", and that still do not have a definitive scientific answer.

It can help you: Cognitive

Consciousness or consciousness?

According to the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts of the Royal Spanish Academy, consciousness and consciousness are interchangeable in most contexts in which we refer in a general way to the perception or knowledge of reality, although it is common to choose the spelling simpler, the one that does not have "s" between consonants.

But the term conscience is preferred when referring to morality , that is, to the evaluation of one's own or other people's actions in terms of good and evil.

Thus, we will say that "So-and-so regained consciousness" (that is, he woke up from a faint), but that later "his conscience judged him" (that is, he felt remorse).

However, in the case of derived adjectives , conscious or unconscious is always used , that is, the formula with "s" between consonants is used. The "conscious" and "unconscious" forms are not correct.

Social conscience

When we use the term "social conscience", we are referring to the capacity or interest that an individual has regarding the living conditions of the other members of his community .

So a socially conscious person , like this, is one who recognizes himself as part of a human collective, understands and accepts the responsibilities that this implies.

On the other hand, people who live without caring about their community, or getting involved in it, or feeling in any way responsible for what takes place in it, are individuals devoid of social conscience.

More in: Social Awareness

Moral conscience

The term "moral conscience" can be redundant in certain contexts, since the exercise of conscience is usually an exercise of morality, that is, of discernment between what is considered good, appropriate, consistent, and what is considered bad , inappropriate or out of place.

Morality, however, changes according to the cultural framework where it is found , that is, from one culture to another, or from one era to another in the same culture. Therefore, moral conscience is also changing, and in general it has to do with public opinion, and with the notion of ethics : the responsibility towards others that we have when we exercise a position, a trade or an authority.

Thus, moral conscience is the ability to judge one's actions according to the cultural framework to which we belong. It is precisely to this type of conscience that we appeal when we perceive that our actions could be harmful or offensive to another, or when they imply values contrary to those that we would like to see reign in the world, if it only depended on us.

Environmental awareness

Similarly, we speak of "environmental awareness" or "ecological awareness" to refer to the degree of lucidity and knowledge of an individual regarding the environmental impact of their actions , their way of living and their daily habits .

A person endowed with environmental awareness is expected to live taking into account pollution and the degrees of environmental damage that can be prevented on a daily basis, through small actions or habits: recycle and reuse, save energy , do not consume certain brands of products , etc.

More in: Conservation of the environment

Class consciousness

The term "class consciousness" comes from Marxism , and is used to refer to the degree of knowledge that a person possesses regarding their own location within the socio-economic and power relations that exist in society .

Put more simply, a class-conscious person knows which socioeconomic stratum he belongs to, and therefore knows which sectors are opposed to the development and improvement of the living conditions of his social class , and which sectors, on the contrary, are favorable to their cause.

This concept makes sense within the logic of the " class struggle " proposed by Marxist philosophy as an explanation for historical change: social classes would compete with each other for control of the means of production , as some try to exploit others. to generate wealth ("The exploitation of man by man").

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