Humans hear; animals fear

Frankl says, “Conscience could be defined as the intuitive capacity of man to find out the meaning of a situation (Will to Meaning, p. 63). Meaning is the opportunity/challenge/demand/invitation/requirement/call/question life asks (pick the word you prefer) for a unique individual within a unique situation to fulfill values.

What gives us this capacity to hear? Can anyone hear the meanings of situations and respond appropriately?

Not everyone has the same ability to access the voice of conscience but everyone has the potential for accessing it.

Superego makes life simpler. All that is needed is to internalize messages and habits from one’s environment. Conscience accesses the human capacity to discern meaning. We are born with this ability but at the same time accessing and developing awareness is a learned skill.

In order to demonstrate this distinction Frankl brings an illustration of a dog who wet the carpet: He explains: “Conscience on the animal level is the dog slinking under the couch because he’s wet the carpet. True conscience begins only where fear of punishment ends, where you have made a decision to behave morally.”

Thus conscience is a conscious decision that comes from the strength of one’s convictions. It indicates that we have grasped the significance of potentialities for value fulfillment, while superego is something we succumb to out of fear of what people will say or what will happen to us.

We find a parallel in Jewish texts. On the verse And now what does God want from you… the Chofetz Chaim explains: “Specifically now, meaning at every moment think about what God is asking from you.” (Gemilut Chasadim Part 2 Ch 11 footnote).

Similarly Rav Wolbe in his book Pirkei Kinyan Da’at says “God distinguishes between the holy and the profane, light and darkness…and in this same way we need to distinguish between the different situations in our lives, so that in keeping with every change of conditions we know how to behave in this new situation.”

As members of the animal kingdom people have the ability to act like animals. As the crown of creation people also have the ability to act like spirit beings if they so choose.

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