What is morality but immemorial custom? Conscience is the chief of conservatives.

What did Henry David Thoreau mean by:

What is morality but immemorial custom? Conscience is the chief of conservatives.


This quote essentially suggests that morality is deeply ingrained in societal customs that have been passed down through generations. It implies that our moral compass isn’t necessarily an inherent aspect of our individual consciousness, but rather a product of long-standing traditions and norms we’ve been socialized into.

The second part of the quote, "Conscience is the chief of conservatives," reinforces the idea that our conscience, the internal sense of right and wrong, is inherently conservative. It conserves and upholds these traditional moral standards, often resisting change or deviation. In other words, our conscience is the gatekeeper of these age-old norms, preserving and enforcing them.

In today’s world, this perspective can be seen in ongoing debates about moral issues. For instance, discussions on topics like same-sex marriage, abortion, or euthanasia often revolve around traditional beliefs. Those who oppose changes to these norms might be viewed as having a conservative conscience, as they strive to uphold longstanding customs.

In terms of personal development, this quote could be interpreted as a reminder to question and critically examine our moral beliefs. Are they truly our own, or simply reflections of societal norms we’ve been taught? It encourages introspection and the courage to challenge and redefine our moral compass if necessary.

Overall, the quote suggests that while societal customs play a vital role in shaping our morality, it’s important to remember that they are not the only source. Personal experiences, empathy, and reason also contribute to our understanding of right and wrong.

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