Conscience is tradition
Classical Hindu law and the ethics of conservatism
in Rules and ethics
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This chapter discusses a prominent secular example of ethical codes, the early modern manuals of civil behaviour made famous by Norbert Elias’s notion of a ‘civilising process’ on the road to modernity. Focusing on early modern England, it describes how the new ideal of civility was taught primarily as a series of printed instructions on how those aspiring to gentility should conduct themselves. These rules were set out as precepts to be rigorously followed, but were not enforced by any authority. Rather they were upheld partly by social pressure and the emotions it triggered (embarrassment, shame, a sense of exclusion), partly by the voluntary actions of individuals who chose these modes of conduct for themselves and for their children. In this pedagogical and aspirational aspect, codes of civility fit well the Foucauldian concept of the care of the self. The growing prominence of civility facilitated a major shift in eighteenth-century English society: the decreasing use of legal means to regulate personal behaviour and an increasing emphasis on internal restraints inculcated through education and self-discipline. Ideas of civility meshed with the disciplinary activities of ecclesiastical and secular courts as they sought to raise standards of personal (especially sexual) morality and restrain behaviour among neighbours, at a time when political and religious divisions were undermining the ecclesiastical courts as agents of everyday social discipline.