[Model Answer QP2023 GS4 ETHICS] Is conscience a more reliable guide when compared to laws, rules and regulations in the context of ethical decision making. Discuss.


Conscience are the internal, self-reflective guiding sense of right and wrong that governs an individual’s thoughts and actions. It’s an intrinsic moral compass that helps individuals differentiate between what they believe to be morally right and morally wrong.

Conscience as a Guide in Ethical Decision-making:

Innate Sense: Conscience is an internal compass and represents an individual’s deepest-held beliefs. It is often immediate, making it valuable in situations that demand quick judgments.

Universal Application: While laws can be specific to regions, cultures, or situations, the conscience can apply universally, transcending these boundaries.

Moral Evolution: Over time, societal views on morality evolve. Before laws catch up, individuals’ consciences can guide them. For example, many people opposed slavery on the basis of conscience long before laws were enacted to abolish it.

Limitations to Conscience as a Guide in Ethical Decision-making:

Subjectivity: Conscience varies among individuals based on upbringing, culture, experiences, and personal beliefs. What seems morally right to one person might be wrong to another.

Potential Bias: People can sometimes rationalize their desires or prejudices as the voice of conscience.

Lack of External Checks: Conscience operates internally without the checks and balances that laws or societal rules offer.

Laws, Rules, and Regulations as Guides in Ethical Decision-making:

Consistency: Laws provide a standardized code of behavior, ensuring that everyone in a particular jurisdiction knows what’s expected.

Clarity: Clear laws offer guidance on how to act or not act in specific situations, removing ambiguity.

External Validation: Laws often emerge from collective agreement or discourse, representing a societal consensus on an issue.

Limitations of Laws, Rules, and Regulations as Guides in Ethical Decision-making:

Inflexibility: Laws, once enacted, can be rigid and may not accommodate unique or unforeseen situations.

Time Lag: The process of enacting or amending laws can be lengthy, making them slower to adapt to changing moral views.

Potential for Misuse: Just because something is legal does not mean it’s ethical. Laws can sometimes be manipulated or misused to justify unethical actions.


While conscience and laws serve different functions, they often interrelate. Laws can shape individual consciences, and collective conscience can drive the creation or amendment of laws. Also, in some cultures, the emphasis on individual conscience might be stronger, while in others, the emphasis might be on adhering to societal norms and rules.

Hence ethical decision-making often requires a delicate balance between the two, taking into consideration the specific context and the broader societal implications.

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