How Many Consciences Can One Have?

Conscience, as I’ve written about many times in this blog, is a basic element in Logotherapy: the mechanism that detects meaning and conveys it to the possessor of conscience. Yet, there are at least two types of meaning as Frankl stated it: meaning and ultimate meaning. Meaning is accessible to all humans who attune their consciences towards it, whether religious or secular. Ultimate meaning is, essentially, the realm of the G-dly, the spiritual, and the absolutely moral.

Then there are the three dimensions of the human being: the biological, the psychological and the noological (the human dimension). The noological dimension is the locus of conscience and meaning within the human personality, because it is with these two endowments that man is able to transcend the limitations that his biological and psychological places upon him. In addition, it is these two endowments that makes it possible for a person to be judged according to the ethical value of his or her actions; the excuse of being “only human”, or “society’s child” is done away with by the noological capacity for transcendence (and by extension, greatness).

Now, I have wrestled with the question as to whether or not there exists a dimension above the noological, a second level of conscience, one that enables people to perceive ultimate meaning as opposed the standard meaning available to all. Because, let’s face it: what exists as spiritual truth to one person is often viewed as hogwash by another. How can this be possible? If ultimate meaning is an objective reality, how is it seemingly perceivable only to a select few, and rejected by others?

After much opposition from others within my training group to my initial foray into two consciences, and more reflection on the matter, my newest conclusion is: rather than there being two types of conscience, there are two types of meaning. Frankl’s own words serve to substantiate this, as in a number of places, he defines the noological dimension as the human or anthropological dimension of man (which he calls spiritual but not religious). The second type of meaning he left undefined, I believe, for two reasons. First, because of his contention that religion, if it is to be meaningful, has to be a uniquely personal experience. Second, because he felt that the realm of ultimate meaning was the domain of the clergyman, as opposed to being the domain of the psychotherapist.


5 thoughts on “How Many Consciences Can One Have?

  1. Yosef says:

    If we are looking at two categories of conscience, what about the first one being as you described (cognitive perception in the realm of conscience), and the second being essentially prophetic? Most people don’t necessarily have access to “ultimate meaning”, at least not consistently, but we can occasionally glimpse it. Because of this, we need to rely on that which we can receive from those who have perceived it in truth- a lot could be said for this in Judaism, and the role of Emunas Chachamim, the development of an intellectual Torah sh’baal Peh built on prophetic roots, etc. I’m thinking LM Torah 32 as well here.

    • rebtanchum says:

      For me, the jury is still out on whether the principles that are particular to Torah, namely, that category of laws called חוקים, for which there is no rational reason given, can be perceived by the conscience, or whether they must enter via another channel, like the Freudian superego. In my group, we discussed the idea that, while Torah laws may begin in their given state as imposed morality, the goal is to integrate them into the personality until conscience does detect them. What do you think?

      • I am also still thinking about that. I am thinking that if we follow what you’ve suggested as a different kind of meaning, what we can call the ultimate meaning that is revealed by divine revelation, then those laws for which a human being is incapable of finding a reason could be perceived by conscience only if conscience had privy to divine revelation, through prophecy. I wouldn’t call it the superego, although in the absence of prophecy it is possible to observe those laws either because of the superego or because of the meaning sensed by the conscience as man’s subservience to God, especially regarding that which man cannot understand on his own, and as man’s faith and trust in divine revelation per ce regardless of whether or not he has personally attained prophecy. At the same time, those laws that can be comprehended by man might possibly be observed because of superego similar to the first classification of laws but in this case the goal is to develop the spiritual sensitivity to detect them by means of conscience. I hope this made sense.

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  3. You are thinking deeply and carefully, and I like that. My understanding is that there is only one conscience, because as Lukas says conscience is the “meaning organ.” Everyone has an ear and a sense of hearing but some people can pick up higher frequencies. Similarly conscience is a tool and a tool is only accurate to the degree that it is attuned to pick up meaning. I like your formulation of two kinds of meaning. We can perhaps call them a) moral sensitivity and b) revelation. So I agree with Yosef’s comment on this. This formulation makes it clear that logotherapy only deals with moral sensitivity while religion is the domain of revelation (although it also includes moral sensitivity and cannot stand without it). Yet ironically I believe we are missing the point if we conclude that “regular” meaning is inferior to ultimate meaning. This perspective is not helpful therapeutically nor is it true. We want to help the person in his or her noological dimension to develop greater and more refined moral sensitivity. The loss of hearing in a person’s conscience as a result of being brainwashed by false ideas, delusions and just plain dullness makes up a good part of what we have to bring the person to confront. (In עלי שור the שכל has to be ישר and טהור to be true.) Yes, it is a second level of meaning that opens a person up to revelation (ultimate meaning) but it is development of sensitivity at the human level of meaning available to all that is the absolute essential condition for prophecy to even be a remote possibility. Ultimate meaning is the realm of the Godly but ordinary meaning is also the realm of the Godly – to develop the moral sensitivity and honesty to know what it is that God wants from me right now.

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