First let me say that I like Shelley very much, though he is something of an anachronism. But his account of what a poet is possesses real insight into, for example, language as metaphor and religion as allegory. So I will start with just a few duly inspired thoughts. It is a striking observation that the poet is one who has the gift of synthesizing ideas in novel ways, and these are built up out of history's prior inherited "poetic" production. The impressive idea comes from his claim that language is inherently poetic. Given that poetry is metaphor, essentially, Shelley plays this out thusly: Poets, or, let's call them the poets of language, conceive through the imagination, novelty in relations between what is given in an age and what is possible in recombination. Poets proper are very good at this, in their discovering possibilities wrought out of metaphor. Thus the spoken word in daily living is metaphorically conceived through the seminal work of poets and their benefactors, everybody else through the ages, and the life we live is essentially poetic. The "true and the beautiful" inhere in language as such, making our most common utterances as well as our most noble, expressions of an "indestructible order" the pinnacle of which is religion, an allegory of the unseen that discloses itself, or intimates itself, to follow Wordsworth, (though W does not depend on sophisticated metaphor, but on the innocence presumably that was in place before the "copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar" evolved out the primitive "chaos" of more natural systems of thought).
The bad news is that Shelley is hopelessly obscure. The true and the beautiful as part of some indestructible order that is an integral part of language as such is a tall tale to defend. It is not that he is so impossible to reason through, it's that he really doesn't even try. this is the problem with identifying enlightenment with metaphor, like his Æolian lyre that is supposed to explain human production of the harmony that "accommodates" the world. It's not that he's is wrong, it's that he explains with language that is at least as equally mystifying as what he is supposed to explain. I am a lyre, am I? And my poetry is like a song of the world? Then this talk about "the eternal, the infinite"; one has to ask, what IS he talking about? (Especially given that he was an atheist. So he was a romantic atheist? Possible?)
Anyway, regarding your most recent comments, Dachshund, something there are about good and evil in the world and human conscience. But all of this:
You should know by now my interest is only with basic questions, NOT the historical context of it all.o begin with, there is something very like a proto-concept of conscience in the Old Testament. In "The Book of Samuel", we read that, when David was aware he had committed some moral wrong, "his heart smote him", where the word translated into English as "heart" is the Hebrew word , lev , which can also mean, more generally the viscera. Also, in Psalm 16.7, we read that "the kidneys chastise a man" when he does wrong, and here again, the Hebrew word, kelayoth, which literally means "kidneys", can also refer to other internal organs. More Generally speaking, in the Old Testament there is a suggestion that when a person does wrong, the wrongdoer, at least if morally engaged, will suffer what you could call a backlash from his/her own viscera, or, to put it more bluntly a sort of "pang" or "stab" of palpable self-disgust that is felt in his own "guts" ( innards).
The first mention that we have of conscience as a moral concept in Western philosophy came from Socrates when he was on trial charged with corrupting the youth of Athens. Plato reports that Socrates defended his actions by saying...
"In the past the prophetic voice ( the Greek term is "daimon") to which I have been accustomed has always been my constant companion, opposing me in even quite trivial things as I was going to take the wrong course."
Socrates then goes on to point out that, when he engaged with the youth of Athens in dialectic, his "daimon" was silent, therefore he cannot have been doing any wrong. Put in modern terms, Socrates was basically saying, " I cannot have been doing any wrong, knowingly and willingly, because my conscience was clear", which is, in essence, the structure of any argument from the authority of conscience.
St Augustine, the Christian Bishop of Hippo ( 354 - 430 AD) ( a confirmed Platonist), had a view of conscience that could be described as Socratic", the only major difference being that Augustine substituted the divine illumination of God in place of Socrates' prophetic voice or "daimon". Augustine writes of the source of knowledge of the moral law or conscience as "my divine illumination" and also as an "interior law ( lex intima) written in the heart itself ( in ipso tuo corde conscripta)"
The classical Christian account of conscience as a moral concept was most developed in post-Reformation Protestant theology. Thus, John Calvin (1509 - 1564) for instance, wrote in his famous text. "The Establishment of the Christian Religion", that ...
"When they (Human beings) have a sense of the Divine justice, as an additional witness, which permits them not to conceal their sins, or to elude accusation at the tribunal of the supreme Judge, this sense is termed conscientia, "conscience". For it is a kind of medium between God and man; because it does not suffer a man to suppress what he knows within himself, but pursues him till it brings him to conviction."
This account of conscience by Calvin is a mixture of the Old Testament notion of conscience as a "backlash" with Augustine's idea of conscience as form of "divine illumination" within us. Arguably, Calvin's view of conscience is closer to the Old Testament version, I think, because he clearly see it as a post-factum visitation from "that additional witness" ( i.e. the Holy Spirit within us) that tells us we have sinned and hounds us until we promise to reform. For Calvin, conscience is a kind of internal "hound of Heaven", and it is an aggressive one at that, more like a savage Irish wolfhound than a gentle Bassett hound.
Then, in the 19th century, the English divine, John Henry Newman, gave an account of conscience that was effectively a fully-fledged return to St Augustine's pre-factum view of "divine illumination". Newman wrote of conscience as: "that inward light, given as it is by God... (which) was intended to set up within us a standard of right and truth". Moreover, this source of moral authority was superior to reason , and often opposed to it. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Newman once remarked that the common room of his own Oxford college, Oriel, "stank of logic".
In summary, a general outline of the classical Christian account of conscience as a moral concept would be something along the lines of...
Conscience is an inner voice of special ( because divine and therefore morally infallible) moral illumination or expertise and of incontrovertible moral authority which reveals itself inwardly and unavoidably in consciousness ( hence the term "conscience") and warns us to do good and avoid evil, and condemns us when we fail.
The trouble with moral intuitionism, which is what you espouse when you place moral authority with conscience, is that a person's moral response to a situation is bound up with interpretation which is produced as a matter of contingency in a culture. Conscience is not reliable in imparting right and wrong judgment to a person since such determinations are arbitrarily conceived. A medieval Roman citizen, for example, would likely not have the moral sensibilities of 21st century New Yorker, who would be light years away from a 19 century Zulu warrior. If you grew up exposed daily to a mentality that freely accepts cock fights and other brutalities it is likely you would not have moral qualms about such things. On a train in India I met a soldier returning from Kashmir who was careful not to harm the cockroaches that wandered about. He had respect for all life. I thought he was a little silly, after all, how many insects did he kill daily wandering around in t he brush? But his conscience was a settled thing on the matter, regardless.
It is not to say that conscience is unimportant, but just that it is not how we determine moral rectitude: it's too fickled and variable in its alliances with circumstances. What Newman called the stink of logic is exactly what the matter needs to come to an understanding. This talk about "inward light" needs to be explained more fully, or it needs analysis. Is there anything about moral feelings that truly is infallible?