I was recently part of a discussion on the blog onthederech. I want to invite you to read that post and the discussion thread there. I will post here the back and forth after the initial post. Why don’t you pick it up with more questions and comments of your own?
A comment by Reb Tanchum:
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?
A comment by Yosef:
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.
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 precondition/prerequisite 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.
My comment in response to Reb Tanchum:
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.