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Lewin, B.D. (1930). Conscience and Consciousness in Medical Psychology—A Historical Study. Psychoanal. Rev., 17(1):20-25.

(1930). Psychoanalytic Review, 17(1):20-25

Conscience and Consciousness in Medical Psychology—A Historical Study

Bertram D. Lewin, M.D.

In twelfth century French one finds the word conscience used in its ethical sense: conscience, consciousness of guilt. This word was introduced into middle English where it completely superseded the older Anglo-Saxon inwit (cf. German “Inne-wissen”). What inwit signified is not entirely clear. It is generally thought that the word stood for both “conscience” and “consciousness.” It is certain that little distinction was made between these two ideas. According to Harzfeld and Darmsteter, the French word conscience originally signified only conscience in the present-day English sense of the term, and in the other sense “la connaisance immédiate et directe que l‘ǎme a d'elle měme,” is only to be found since Malebranche (d. 1715). In English, too, we find this same ambiguity up to the time of John Locke. It was he who in 1678 first defined consciousness as the “perception of what passes in a Man's own mind,” and who in 1690 first used the form conscious, stating that it meant “having internal perceptions of one's own sensations, feelings, thoughts, etc.” Since this time, that is, about the end of the seventeenth century, the two concepts, conscience and consciousness, have been quite distinctly separate. In German, the word Bewusstsein has had a not dissimilar history. It is to be found in Luther's translation of the Bible, where it means consciousness of guilt, or conscience. In its present meaning (consciousness), according to the philologist Weigandt, it was first used by Christian Wolff in the year 1720. Grimm in his dictionary merely states: “Erst im achtzehnten Jahr-hundert gebildet und haufig gebraucht.” (“First invented and frequently used in the eighteenth century.”)

From this etymological discussion one point emerges clearly: the concept of consciousness evolved from the concept of conscience. Consciousness was at first a sort of secularized conscience.

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