"Follow your conscience" - what?

I don’t get it when people say “if it bothers your conscience, don’t do it.” Actions are either objectively good or objectively bad, not subjective. If an action is permitted for John to do, why would it be doubtful whether Tyler can? Can someone explain?

I think you might have inadvertently answered your own question. What you have described is how the properly formed conscience is supposed to inform the will on what is right or wrong to do.

The problem is that many people, especially these days, either do not have a formed conscience or are struggling to form their conscience. In other words, not everyone has the grace to know what is objectively right or wrong. It’s probably one of the reasons why the sacrament of reconciliation is so neglected.


I found this useful:

A couple of points to note:

Understand that conscience is a judgment of reason. It uses the objective principles of the moral law to judge the morality of acts in specific circumstances. Conscience is not itself the source of the moral law.

A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and his Church. (Catechism, 1783-5, 1792, 2039)

Anyone who says “the Church teaches this is wrong, but my conscience tells me this is OK” is not being guided by a well-formed conscience. Some things are still objectively right or wrong, and anyone’s feelings or what they perceive to be their conscience doesn’t change that.


The Catholic Catechism does say " A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience."


I’d like to add that the The Virtue Driven Life by Father Benedict Groeschel C.F.R. is excellent in understanding conscience and it’s relation to virtue.


For example, Father states that in order for a conscience to do it’s job, there must be a desire to do good and avoid evil. If the person’s conscience was no longer disposed to the doing a good, then the virtue of prudence, whose job is to “guide the judgement of conscience,” would become hindered. (page 39)

The second text I would recommend is The Rule of St. Benedict: particularly chapter 7 on the virtue of humility.


I can say this -
a clear conscience - is a nice pillow at night - to rest upon.

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Follow your conscience also means:
Do not do something that is opposing of anything within scripture, the Church magisterium and church tradition. It must not be grave matter committed deliberately/ freely/ with full consent as this is mortal sin.

This is why aetheists have a less informed conscience of choosing good from evil; gay marriage, fornication, abortion, cohabitation etc

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There is a teaching from moral theology that says that when you are assessing whether an action is morally good or morally bad, if you aren’t sure, basically follow your hesitation and err on the side of caution.

That’s a very broad paraphrase because it’s too early for me to go look up exactly what it said.


If you are not sure whether a food is poison, then don’t eat it. If you are not sure if an act is a mortal sin, then don’t do it. (Persons with scruples who think every little thing is a mortal sin are exempted from this rule.)

Follow your well-informed conscience, and continue to inform your conscience with the teachings of the Church, the Bible, and the Saints.


You suffer from severe scrupulosity. You are not in the same boat as people with normal or lax consciences. The same conscience rules DO NOT apply to you. You are hurting yourself trying to get answers from here.

“Scrupulous persons tend to fear that everything they do is sinful. The confessor should command them to act without restraint and overcome their anxiety. He should tell them that their first obligation is to conquer their scruples. They should act against their groundless fears. The confessor may command the scrupulous to conquer their anxiety and disregard it by freely doing whatever it tells them not to do. The confessor may assure the penitent the he or she need never confess such a thing.” — St. Alphonus Ligouri

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Yeah, I’m aware of that. This question has nothing to do regarding my scrupulosity.

Don’t worry about moral standards for others. Work on dealing with your own scruples. They are poison and must be stamped out.

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I agree with most of what you say, the better formed our conscience is the clearer the decision. However, most of us aren’t as far down the trail as some in this area. There are gray areas we all struggle that for most of us isn’t so black and white, Of courses I am not referring to serious sin, but those in which there may be both positive and negative choices to be made in each direction depending on how we choose.

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For example, a person may be mistaken in the facts. They may think that the action will directly cause dire harm to others, but they are mistaken. This person can’t do the thing that, in their view, will cause dire harm to others. But someone else, someone who is not mistaken about the facts, would not be stopped by concern from others from doing the same action.

The following is quoted by a little book called Confession: It’s Fruitful Practice. It’s published by Tan books, and might be of some help to you. It’s in the section entitled Examination of Conscience. I want to add that this advice does not apply to the scrupulous… only the doubtful.

3. The Doubtful Conscience Oftentimes persons find themselves in a state of uncertainty as to whether or not an act they intend to perform is a sin. It is a moral principle that one is not permitted to act when in a state of real doubt. St. Paul says, “For all that is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23).

“If one is uncertain whether a particular act is sinful or not, it is sinful to perform such an act. The reason is that such a person thereby shows that he is just as ready to do wrong as to do right. Some degree of moral certainty—that is to say, such as would be considered sufficient by an ordinarily prudent person—is necessary.”

“As an example, let us take a doubt which might arise regarding the fast and abstinence on the vigil of a feast.* The person knows that the vigils of certain great feasts are days of fast and abstinence from meat, but the question arises in his mind whether or not the day before the Feast of the Ascension is such a day. If he ate meat on that day, assuming that the day was not a day of fast and abstinence, but he had taken no pains to find out for certain, he would sin thereby, even though fast and abstinence were not actually prescribed by the Church. His duty is to make sure, if he can, whether or not it is a day of fast and abstinence, and to act accordingly. This he could ordinarily do by inquiry or by referring to a Catholic calendar, though circumstances might arise where it would be impossible at the time to resolve the doubt. In this latter case, he should refrain from eating meat.

Also, you might want to investigate an article called The Art of Confession by Father Chery, O.P. and translated by Fr. Laurent Demets, FSSP. Here is a link:

Also, the 7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn is an excellent book. I highly recommend it.


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The Catholic faith offers a substantial answer to your question. Look up “Primacy of Conscience”. If someone feels a cup of coffee is sinful…“really” feels it is so…they go against their conscience and violate that conscience by drinking it. Note * This does NOT mean that their conscience is “informed”. It simply means it goes against what they truly believe and cannot be expected to violate their being. I believe the Primacy of Conscience is also spelled out well in the catechism.

I’ve never heard of these books! Thank you!

Question: which would you believe would be more helpful for someone trying to better form their conscience? I struggle with Confession because I always feel like I’m saying something stupid, but I feel like it’s a sin.

You are very welcome. I recommend 7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn, but definitely read Fr. Chery’s The Art of Confession when you get the chance. It has good advice for both the nervous and the scrupulous. If I recall right, Vinny Flynn talks about what you just mentioned. Don’t worry, we all feel stupid and nervous when we go to confession. It’s normal to feel that way.

I have read Vinny Flynn’s book and it is very good. The blog excerpt is an excellent summary of confession.

Thank you! I will definitely order a copy.

I find most books tend to be very heavy on the biblical foundations for Confession and the merits of the sacrament, but light on the “What am I supposed to say?” Perhaps understandably, I think they are aimed at defending or promoting the sacrament for people who reject it, instead of those who are all “I think it’s a great thing, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

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