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I want to have a clear conscience so that I know to judge clearly what is right or wrong.

vs.

I want to have a clean conscience, therefore I will not do such an ugly thing.

The dictionary tells that 'clear conscience' is the same as 'clean conscience'. Both are idioms. However, my intuition is that a clear conscience is more about giving a clear judgment, whereas clean conscience is more about avoiding bad deeds and being free of guilt. I might agree that 'clear conscience' covers the two meanings, but I would say 'clean conscience' would better be restricted to the meaning as in the second example. Am I wrong?

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What do you mean by “giving a clear judgment”? That makes no sense to me in the context of having a clear conscience. ‘Clear’ here does not refer to clarity or perspicacity, but to lack of clutter and having been cleared away; like a clear table, which is a table that all items have been removed from. A clean conscience and a clear conscience mean the exact same thing to me: while a cluttered table is not the same as a dirty table necessarily, there's no real way of making that (or the antonymic) distinction with a conscience. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 26 at 12:37
    
Precisely the same as that between clear and clean. I could see the difference, can you? –  Kris Jan 26 at 12:48
    
@JanusBahsJacquet books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Kris Jan 26 at 12:53
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2 Answers

I agree about a "clean" conscience being "untainted by misdeeds of the past" -- that is, without even the faintest tinge of wrong or ambiguous judgment. But "clear" conscience has always implied to me a looking-back over deeds and judgments that might have been questionable; and, upon reflection, they came up good. So, perhaps, a "cleared" conscience?

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In the context of conscience, clear does not necessarily have associations with negativity, it is merely being free of distractions. (cf. 'clear thought' vs. 'clean thought')

Clean, on the other hand, implies being free from negativity.

One with a clear conscience is not influenced by anything in his decision making.

One can have a clean conscience only when not tainted by misdeeds of the past.

As for the dictionary definition, the point could be that in actual usage the phrases are generally interchangeable and the distinction is too subtle in most contexts.

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Someone voted with a clean (or clear?) conscience. Thanks. –  Kris Jan 26 at 13:52
    
Thank you, Kris, you have just given some reason for my vague intuition. I completely agree with you. –  user51369 Jan 27 at 0:18
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