Religious views of conscience usually see it as linked to a morality inherent in all humans, to a beneficent universe and/or to divinity. The diverse ritualistic, mythical, doctrinal, legal, institutional and material features of religion may not necessarily cohere with experiential, emotive, spiritual or contemplative considerations about the origin and operation of conscience. Common secular or scientific views regard the capacity for conscience as probably genetically determined, with its subject probably learned or imprinted (like language) as part of a culture.
Commonly used metaphors for conscience include the "voice within", the "inner light", or even Socrates' reliance on what the Greeks called his "daimōnic sign", an averting (ἀποτρεπτικός apotreptikos) inner voice heard only when he was about to make a mistake. Conscience, as is detailed in sections below, is a concept in national and international law, is increasingly conceived of as applying to the world as a whole, has motivated numerous notable acts for the public good and been the subject of many prominent examples of literature, music and film.
Although humanity has no generally accepted definition of conscience or universal agreement about its role in ethical decision-making, three approaches have addressed it:
In the literary traditions of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, conscience is the label given to attributes composing knowledge about good and evil, that a soul acquires from the completion of acts and consequent accretion of karma over many lifetimes. According to Adi Shankara in his Vivekachudamani morally right action (characterised as humbly and compassionately performing the primary duty of good to others without expectation of material or spiritual reward), helps "purify the heart" and provide mental tranquility but it alone does not give us "direct perception of the Reality". This knowledge requires discrimination between the eternal and non-eternal and eventually a realization in contemplation that the true self merges in a universe of pure consciousness.
In the Zoroastrian faith, after death a soul must face judgment at the Bridge of the Separator; there, evil people are tormented by prior denial of their own higher nature, or conscience, and "to all time will they be guests for the House of the Lie." The Chinese concept of Ren, indicates that conscience, along with social etiquette and correct relationships, assist humans to follow The Way (Tao) a mode of life reflecting the implicit human capacity for goodness and harmony.