Is the conscience of the individual only the reflection of the society to which he belongs?

This topic notably fell in the philosophy test of the 2015 baccalaureate.



It is difficult with such a subject to engage with a historical event. It was easier to start your reflection, to hook your reader – in this case the corrector – either by a quotation, or by a literary work which would expose the opposition between individual and society as we will see in the definitions.


consciousness: very difficult to define, you will have to come back to this notion during your development. Malebranche defines consciousness as the inner feeling that one has of a thing of which one cannot form a clear and distinct idea, and Rousseau as the feeling that the human being has of his states and his acts

individual: Any concrete being, given in the experience, having a unity of characters and forming a recognizable whole.

reflection: the reflection is a returned image, a representation. It can also be understood as a weakened representation, a degree on which you could play in the plan.

society: State of collective life; mode of existence characterized by the life in group

We must not stop the definitions we have just given, they can evolve. However, it is interesting to note the opposition between individual and society, two terms present in the subject, and which already announced in the introduction also lead to the problematic.


The problem raised by the subject is the following: does the individual have a consciousness that is proper to him, irreducible, or is his consciousness shaped by society, the environment in which he lives? In other words, is the consciousness of the individual porous, leaving a passage between the environment and the individual? How does the individual integrate his environment in consciousness, shaping in turn this environment?


The small formula “is it” is characteristic of subjects that call for a dialectical answer, a plan in three parts. There are of course different approaches, and we offer a classic but effective plan in the development below.


I. Society influences the consciousness of individuals

“It is not consciousness that determines life, but life that determines consciousness,” said Marx

Consciousness is determined in relation to the individual, as Freud reminds us in a radical way:“Our consciousness, far from being the implacable judge of which the moralists speak, is, by its origins, “social anxiety” and nothing more

II. But the core of consciousness of the individual remains irreducible

Descartes, in order to formulate his famous formula Cogito ergo sum, first puts the watch in brackets. By doing that, he erases the society, he excludes it. The consciousness of the individual is fundamentally without society. See more explanations on the Discourse of the method.

The conscience aspires to a peace, far from the tumult of the society. It allows to understand what is good and evil, it is a “celestial voice”. In that, it moves away from the influences of the society: “The conscience is timid, it likes the retirement and the peace; the world and the noise frighten it”, as wrote Rousseau in The Profession of faith of the Savoyard vicar, an extract of the book IV of Emile.

III. The conscience of the individual is built in relation to itself and in relation to the relations to the society that it perceives

Nietzsche is opposed to the conception of a permanence of the consciousness. The conscience is not a refuge in which nobody nor even the society could enter:“One believes that it is there the core of the man: what it has of permanent, of eternal, of ultimate, of more original! One holds the conscience for a given stable quantity! One denies its growth, its intermittences! One conceives it as “unit of the organism”! This overestimation and this ridiculous ignorance of the Consciousness had for happy consequence to avoid its too fast development.

Sartre distinguishes “in itself” and “for itself”, which makes it possible to understand that the subject consciousness can be different from what it is, and that the man is a project thanks to his consciousness.

Propose your plans and ideas, there is not only one possible correction, especially in philosophy. Do not hesitate to comment below!

Topics in philosophy for the 2015 bac

2 thoughts on “Is the conscience of the individual only the reflection of the society to which he belongs?

  1. for my part I spoke about it in the opening because I did not really see how to place it. It all depends on how you brought it. You have to ask yourself if this partly answers your problem, everything can pass to this extent. Moreover if it is an HS, it is not likely to weigh on your note if it is a sub part. good evening!

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