Josie Appleton in Sp!ked:
In his Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1805), Hegel argues that Luther’s great insight is that individuals should find themselves at home in the truth. Truth should not be something that is externally imposed upon us, prescribed from without. It should not only be experienced as out there, in doctrine, scripture, or injunction, but also as something inner, internal to the individual. The truth should be something that we recognise, feel, and believe to be our truth. Luther, in this sense, is the culmination of a process that began in Ancient Greece, whereby the question of conscience, of right conduct or right knowledge, became increasingly inner, and increasingly freed from external impositions. This occurred through a series of conflicts between individuals and social authorities. The question of wrongdoing was at first an external matter: in primitive law, the harmful act is considered as a disruption or pollution, and atonement takes the form of compensation or magical acts to remove these physical consequences. Indeed, crime in Greece retained a pseudo-physical element: the criminal courts were religious sites and crimes were atoned for not only by punishments but also by religious rites, to remove the contamination that had been created. The question of right conduct was also deeply reliant on external guidance, with citizens or army generals alike posing questions to oracles or seers and following their prescriptions.
In Moral Conscience Through the Ages (2014), Richard Sorabji points out that there was a shift in Greek drama in the 5th century BC, from a more external to a more internal view of events. In Aeschylus’ early telling of a young man’s (Orestes) killing of his mother, the young man’s wrongdoing is made clear through his pursuit by the furies: his wrongdoing takes an external form. In Euripides’ later version, however, Orestes ‘shares knowledge with himself’, and Orestes is about his own view of his actions. His matricide was ordered by an oracle, to avenge her murder of his father, but it goes against his sense of right: ‘I can’t believe that what the god told me is right.’ The consequences of his murderous act are less the practical ones (of the impending trial, or communal punishment) than Orestes’s and his sister Electra’s realisation of their wrong. The torment is a subjective one:
‘O Phoebus, in the command of your oracle
Justice was hidden from me;
But in its fulfilment
You have made torment clear.’
Here, we see individuals start to develop their own standards of right, their own inner source of guidance and principles.