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The light of conscience ... enters the eyes of the soul, as the light of the sun enters the eyes of the body; and to open the former requires no greater effort than to open the latter. ~ Alexandre Vinet
Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? ~ Henry David Thoreau
Persons with feeble and untrained intellects may live according to their conscience; but the conscience itself will be defective. … To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty; and when this truth is fairly recognized by men, the religion which teaches that the intellect should be distrusted and that it should be subservient to faith, will inevitably fall. ~ William Winwood Reade

Conscience is the capacity to recognize whether one's actions are right or wrong.

Arranged alphabetically by author or source:
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  • Oh! think what anxious moments pass between
    The birth of plots, and their last fatal periods,
    Oh! 'tis a dreadful interval of time,
    Filled up with horror all, and big with death!
  • O dignitosa coscienza e netta,
    Come t' è picciol fallo amaro morso.
    • O faithful conscience, delicately pure, how doth a little failing wound thee sore!
    • Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio (1321), III. 8.
  • Se tosto grazia risolva le schiume
    Di vostra conscienza, si che chiaro
    Per essa scenda della mente il fiume.
    • So may heaven's grace clear away the foam from the conscience, that the river of thy thoughts may roll limpid thenceforth.
    • Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio (1321), XIII. 88.
  • A bad conscience does not necessarily signify a bad character.
    • Hannah Arendt (1994), cited in: Duco A. Schreuder. Vision and Visual Perception, 2014, p. 148.


  • If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.
  • Sin in the conscience, is like Jonah in a ship, which causeth such a tempest, that the conscience is like a troubled sea, whose waters cannot rest, or it is like a mote in the eye, which causeth a perpetual trouble while it is there.
    • Thomas Brooks in A Cabinet of Jewels (1669) from Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. 3, Nichol's Series of Standard Divines, Puritan Period, with General Preface by John C. Miller, D.D.; Rev. Thomas Smith, General Editor, Edinburgh, James Nichol, 1866. pg.295.
  • They have cheveril consciences that will stretch.
    • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Pt III, Section IV. Memb. 2. Subsect. 3.
  • Why should not Conscience have vacation
    As well as other Courts o' th' nation?
    Have equal power to adjourn,
    Appoint appearance and return?
  • A quiet conscience makes one so serene!
    Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded
    That all the Apostles would have done as they did.
  • But at sixteen the conscience rarely gnaws
    So much, as when we call our old debts in
    At sixty years, and draw the accounts of evil,
    And find a deuced balance with the devil.


  • My idea, mamma, is that all our trouble is because there is so little conscience in people. I see through things, mamma, and I understand. If a man has a stolen shirt I see it. A man sits in a tavern and you fancy he is drinking tea and no more, but to me the tea is neither here nor there; I see further, he has no conscience. You can go about the whole day and not meet one man with a conscience. And the whole reason is that they don't know whether there is a God or not.
  • The range of a fine conscience covers more good and evil than the range of conscience which may be called, roughly, not fine; a conscience, less troubled by the nice discrimination of shades of conduct. A fine conscience is more concerned with essentials; its triumphs are more perfect, if less profitable, in a worldly sense.
  • The still small voice is wanted.


  • His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man's animal care for his own skin: that awe of the Divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing. Such terror of the unseen is so far above mere sensual cowardice that it will annihilate that cowardice: it is the initial recognition of a moral law restraining desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of imperfect thought into obligations which can never be proved to have any sanctity in the abscnce of feeling.


  • God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, "God is All Things to All Men," in Hinduism According to Gandhi: Thoughts, Writings and Critical Interpretation (2013), p. 75.
  • Conscience is a coward, and those faults it has not strength to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to accuse.


  • The Ten Commandments have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention, it is a blemish like circumcision.
  • Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirty and degrading self-mortification of a false vision called conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and independence which only a very few can bear.


  • God desires the smallest degree of purity of conscience in you more than all the works you can perform.


  • The relationship between the individual and God, the God-relationship, is the conscience.
  • On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man.


  • Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.


  • He that has light within his own clear breast,
    May sit i' the centre, and enjoy bright day;
    But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts,
    Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
    Himself is his own dungeon.
  • Now conscience wakes despair
    That slumber'd, wakes the bitter memory
    Of what he was, what is, and what must be
    Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue!
  • O Conscience, into what abyss of fears
    And horrors hast thou driven me, out of which
    I find no way, from deep to deeper plunged.


  • The conscience exists, standing before us now asking not to be created or perfected but to be chosen and defended, in need of champions, not exiles.
    • Carl Oglesby, "The Deserters: The Contemporary Defeat of Fiction," in Radical Perspectives in the Arts (1972), p. 51


  • A consoling thought: what matters is not what we do, but the spirit in which we do it. Others suffer too; so much so that there is nothing in the world but suffering; the problem is simply to keep a clear conscience.
  • I am confident that if a man surrenders his conscience to his idea of community, or to his Fuhrer, it doesn't must matter whether he calls himself Communist or Fascist- he has foresworn the element in himself which alone can keep society human. And for want of that element, society must and will inevitably grow more and more barbarous. You can see it happening.
    • Max Plowman Peace News, February 5th, 1938. Reprinted in "Ten Years Ago", Peace News, No. 606. February 6th, 1948 (p.4).
  • 要問心無愧,唔係叫你做個乖巧嘅人,而係要繼續做個好人,去阻止錯嘅嘢發生。


  • As the saints and prophets were often forced to practise long vigils and fastings and prayers before their ecstasies would fall upon them and their visions would appear, so Virtue in its purest and most exalted form can only be acquired by means of severe and long continued culture of the mind. Persons with feeble and untrained intellects may live according to their conscience; but the conscience itself will be defective. … To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty; and when this truth is fairly recognized by men, the religion which teaches that the intellect should be distrusted and that it should be subservient to faith, will inevitably fall.


  • The play's the thing,
    Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
  • Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
    And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.
    And enterprises of great pith and moment,
    With this regard, their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.
  • Better be with the dead,
    Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
    Than on the torture of the mind to lie
    In restless ecstacy.
  • Well, my conscience says, "Launcelot, budge not." "Budge," says the fiend: "budge not," says my conscience. "Conscience," say I, "you counsel well." "Fiend," say I, "you counsel well."
  • I hate the murderer, love him murdered.
    The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labour,
    But neither my good word nor princely favour:
    With Cain go wander through shades of night,
    And never show thy head by day nor light.
  • The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!
    Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv'st,
    And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
  • 'Tis a blushing shamefast spirit that mutinies in a man's bosom; it fills one full of obstacles.
  • My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
    And every tongue brings in a several tale,
    And every tale condemns me for a villain.
  • Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
    Devis'd at first to keep the strong in awe;
    Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
  • I know thou art religious,
    And hast a thing within thee called conscience,
    With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies,
    Which I have seen thee careful to observe.
  • The confusion of marriage with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other single error.
    • This has also been paraphrased as: Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error.
  • George Bernard Shaw Man and Superman (1903)
  • Trust that man in nothing who has not a Conscience in everything.
    • Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-1767), Book II, Chapter XVII.


  • Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.
  • How far should one accept the rules of the society in which one lives? To put it another way: at what point does conformity become corruption? Only by answering such questions does the conscience truly define itself.
    • Kenneth Tynan, review of Le Misanthrope, by Molière, at the Piccadilly (1962), from Tynan Right and Left (1967), p. 117.


  • Conscience is a man's compass, and though the needle sometimes deviates, though one often perceives irregularities in directing one's course by it, still one must try to follow its direction.
    • Vincent van Gogh, as quoted in Dear Theo: the Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (1995) edited by Irving Stone and Jean Stone, p. 181.
  • The light of conscience ... enters the eyes of the soul, as the light of the sun enters the eyes of the body; and to open the former requires no greater effort than to open the latter.


  • A minority may do for a society what the conscience does for an individual.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 130-31.
  • And I know of the future judgment
    How dreadful so'er it be
    That to sit alone with my conscience
    Would be judgment enough for me.
  • There is no future pang
    Can deal that justice on the self condemn'd
    He deals on his own soul.
  • Yet still there whispers the small voice within,
    Heard through Gain's silence, and o'er Glory's din;
    Whatever creed be taught or land be trod,
    Man's conscience is the oracle of God.
  • The Past lives o'er again
    In its effects, and to the guilty spirit
    The ever-frowning Present is its image.
  • Oh, Conscience! Conscience! man's most faithful friend,
    Him canst thou comfort, ease, relieve, defend;
    But if he will thy friendly checks forego,
    Thou art, oh! woe for me, his deadliest foe!
  • Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
    Die eine will sich von der andern trennen.
  • Hic murus aeneus esto,
    Nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa.
    • Be this thy brazen bulwark, to keep a clear conscience, and never turn pale with guilt.
    • Horace, Epistles, I. 1. 60.
  • A cleere conscience is a sure carde.
    • John Lyly, Euphues, p. 207. Arbor's reprint (1579).
  • Whom conscience, ne'er asleep,
    Wounds with incessant strokes, not loud, but deep.
  • Conscia mens ut cuique sua est, ita concipit intra
    Pectora pro facto spemque metumque suo.
    • According to the state of a man's conscience, so do hope and fear on account of his deeds arise in his mind.
    • Ovid, Fasti, I. 485.
  • One self-approving hour whole years outweighs
    Of stupid starers and of loud huzzas.
  • True, conscious Honour is to feel no sin,
    He's arm'd without that's innocent within;
    Be this thy screen, and this thy wall of Brass.
  • Some scruple rose, but thus he eas'd his thought,
    "I'll now give sixpence where I gave a groat;
    Where once I went to church, I'll now go twice—
    And am so clear too of all other vice."
  • Let Joy or Ease, let Affluence or Content,
    And the gay Conscience of a life well spent,
    Calm ev'ry thought, inspirit ev'ry grace,
    Glow in thy heart, and smile upon thy face.
  • What Conscience dictates to be done,
    Or warns me not to do;
    This teach me more than Hell to shun,
    That more than Heav'n pursue.
  • Sic vive cum hominibus, tanquem deus videat; sic loquere cum deo, tanquam homines audiant.
    • Live with men as if God saw you; converse with God as if men heard you.
    • Seneca the Younger, Epistolæ Ad Lucilium, X.
  • Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called Conscience.
  • Men who can hear the Decalogue and feel
    No self-reproach.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • A good conscience is the palace of Christ; the temple of the Holy Ghost; the paradise of delight; the standing Sabbath of the saints.
  • Be fearful only of thyself, and stand in awe of none more than thine own conscience.
  • The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.
  • Every one of us, whatever his speculative opinions, knows better than he practices, and recognizes a better law than he obeys.
  • An old historian says about the Roman armies that marched through a country, burning and destroying every living thing, "They make a solitude, and they call it peace." And so men do with their consciences. They stifle them, sear them, forcibly silence them, somehow or other; and then, when there is a dead stillness in the heart, broken by no voice of either approbation or blame, but doleful, like the unnatural quiet of a deserted city, then they say, "It is peace;" and the man's uncontrolled passions and unbridled desires dwell solitary in the fortress of his own spirit! You may almost attain to that.
  • We never do evil so effectually as when we are led to do it by a false principle of conscience.
  • It is quite certain that, if from childhood men were to begin to follow the first intimations of conscience, honestly to obey them and carry them out into act, the power of conscience would be so strengthened and improved within them, that it would soon become, what it evidently is intended to be, "a connecting principle between the creature and the Creator."
  • Conscience is that peculiar faculty of the soul which may be called the religious instinct.
  • The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it, but it is also so clear that it is impossible to mistake it.
  • Trust that man in nothing, who has not a conscience in every thing.
  • There is in man a conscience which outlives the sensations, resolutions, and emotions of the hour, and rises above them all.
  • Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.
  • There is no evil which we cannot face or fly from but the consciousness of duty disregarded.

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