The intriguing truth of the matter is that much of what we do that looks like conscience is motivated by some other thing altogether—fear, social pressure, pride, even simple habit.
Being nice is also not necessarily conscience. For brief periods, any reasonably clever sociopath can act with saintlike niceness for his own manipulative purposes. And people who do possess conscience are often unkind despite themselves, out of ignorance or inadequate empathy or just run-of-the-mill psychological denial.
Nice behavior, prudent action, thoughts about how other people will react to us, honorable conduct in the interest of our self-regard—like conscience, all of these have a positive effect on the world at least most of the time, but none can be defined as the individual’s conscience. This is because conscience is not a behavior at all, not some thing that we do or even something that we think or mull over. Conscience is something that we feel. In other words, conscience is neither behavioral or cognitive. Conscience exists primarily in the realm of “affect,” better known as emotion.
The Sociopath Next Door
Martha Stout, ph.d. 2005