ABSTRACT

The word ‘conscience’ covers, as a matter of fact, several different feelings; the simplest of these is the fear of being found out. You, reader, have, I am sure, lived a completely blameless life, but if you will ask someone who has at some time acted in a manner for which he would be punished if it became known, you will find that, when discovery seemed imminent, the person in question repented of his crime. I do not say that this would apply to the professional thief who expects a certain amount of prison as a trade risk, but it applies to what may be called the respectable offender, such as the Bank Manager who has embezzled in a moment of stress, or the clergyman who has been tempted by passion into some sensual irregularity. Such men can forget their crime when there seems little chance of detection, but when they are found out, or in grave danger of being so, they wish they had been more virtuous, and this wish may give them a lively sense of the enormity of their sin. Closely allied with this feeling is the fear of becoming an outcast from the herd. A man who cheats at cards or fails to pay his debts of honour has nothing within himself by which to stand up against the disapproval of the herd when he is found out. In this he is unlike the religious innovator, the anarchist, and the revolutionary, who all feel that, whatever may be their fate in the present, the future is with them and will honour them as much as they are execrated in the present. These men, in spite of the hostility of the herd, do not feel sinful, but the man who entirely accepts the morality of the herd while acting against it suffers great unhappiness when he loses caste, and the fear of this disaster, or the pain of it when it has happened, may easily cause him to regard his acts themselves as sinful.