In this essay I will discuss the following intriguing question: How does ethical judgement limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences?
While looking at ethical judgements, the arts and natural sciences, it becomes clear that ethical judgements do influence and/or limit the methods available in the production of knowledge. To fully understand the question, we need to focus on some aspects first. First of all, we have to be aware of the fact that there are several methods available in the production of knowledge. And as you might know, arts and natural sciences are part of them. But what is knowledge exactly’?Knowledge is the raw material of the TOK course’, IB states. It is generally accepted that knowledge is a type of belief, and that it is belief in something true or valid, but the other requirements for knowledge are a topic of philosophical debate, which we will not go into. And what do we mean with ethics? Some people might say they are moral principles governing or influencing conduct. And what does ethical judgements mean as a whole? According to Hunt and Vitell (1986), ethical judgment is the process of considering several alternatives and choosing the most ethical alternative.
What do we actually mean with ethics? Some people might say they are moral principles governing or influencing conduct. And what does ethical judgements mean as a whole? According to Hunt and Vitell (1986), ethical judgment is the process of considering several alternatives and choosing the most ethical alternative. In the area of knowledge ‘ethics’, it is tempting to conclude that because there is no agreement about standards of right and wrong, it follows that there is no knowledge in ethics. After all, individuals and cultures do not have the same moral standards. However, our ethical judgements are just that ‘ judgements. We can make better or worse judgements in ethics and we should know the difference. But what could be a good example for ethical judgements? I think that almost every judgement that says how something needs to be is ethical, since ethics work with social practices and what is/isn’t acceptable in societies. In short, ethics is a very broad and vague term, which you can interpret in different ways.
An example everybody knows is testing on humans and/or animals. There is a large group of people that do not agree with this way of gathering information (producing knowledge). So, when testing is not possible, and we are unable to gather information from it, there is one way of producing knowledge which we can’t use. An example of unethical testing might be that In 1963, 22 elderly patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn (New York) were injected with live cancer cells by Chester M. Southam, who in 1952 had done the same to prisoners at the Ohio State Prison, in order to “discover the secret of how healthy bodies fight the invasion of malignant cells”. This of course is a felony and Southam should be punished. But think about it. Although some people might argue that human and/or animal testing is unethical, it is also a way to innovate and find cures for the world’s most bizarre diseases. And if it is legal and people voluntarily ‘donate their body’ for scientific research, what is the problem?
In the arts, ethics are a very evident and reoccurring topic of discussion. For some reason, this discussion is never finished and keeps on going. You could say that art is a very intellectual way of expressing your knowledge (I think we must all agree with that), but it’s up to you to decide what it means for you. Everybody has a different opinion and sees it from their point of view, so that is why there is so much discussion going on around arts in relation to ethics: there might be people that interpret it the same way as others, but no matter what, there will always be different opinions and interpretations. But that is a part of art I must say, since artists sometimes make a painting with the intention of creating something that will speak to your imagination and let you think about it. But when will the actions of portraying knowledge become unethical? Where is the line, and when will you cross it? Some people might say that art is just a way of visual entertainment. But we must agree that it is much more than that. It can be a intellectual and precise tool, if the artist knows how to use it. They can show or portray their message and opinion, or even raise awareness for a question.
The viewer however, might not immediately think about this, and look at art with an emotional point of view. For example, when an artist is to be blamed for something private, which has nothing to do with his art: would the presenter have the right to have all the artist’s work removed? While the presenter might be using the artist’s work with full pride before it happened, but is disgusted when he removes everything. Is this fair? Another perfect example, is when someone showed me some paintings and asked what I thought of it. It was a decent painting, and I was impressed. Afterwards, that person told me Hitler painted those. I immediately felt disgusted, because I liked something that is associated with Hitler, who is responsible for so many deaths (and even war). In my opinion, this is the perfect example for emotional response in relation to arts. I must say that I liked the paintings, but when I heard it was painted by Hitler, I looked at it in a different way. Let me put it this way: if we all of a sudden find out that van Gogh was a child abuser, smoked crack and murdered several people. I know this might be over the top, but what if? Would every museum have the right to remove his paintings? Those paintings, who were worth over millions? Or would their value decrease? This would definately be the case if we let our emotions decide.
In my opinion, natural sciences are less influenced by ethics. But, there still is some limitation! Experimentation is a very important way of collecting data, innovate and produce knowledge. It is a fact that ethical judgements can curb those methods. I am not saying that I do not agree with those judgements, because I think that cutting in a healthy person ‘just to see what happens, we might find something useful’ is ludacris. The same thing with for example is to see how malnutrition will affect people. I think it is safe to say that it is inhuman to let people starve, and just watch them suffer. For example, I read an article of someone with a rather interesting opinion: he thought it would be useful to use homeless and addicted people to conduct research. That is not okay, since this is just plain wrong. And of course, that thought is created by ethics, but we must agree that some ways of experimenting is impossible to do. But on the other hand, if there would be no ethical judgements, we would be able to collect much more knowledge than before. I know for sure that there are certain professors who might think of a worthy experiment, but won’t develop this idea because it is inhumane and not possible to do otherwise.
An excellent example of inhumane testing is what the Nazi’s did. I visited multiple labor camps, like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen etc. And multiple people said that there were some horrible experiments on diseased people. They sometimes would cut out someone’s eyes while they were still alive, just to see how a person would react. These experiments were supposedly done for ‘experimental purposes only’, and to help German soldiers.
The central leader of the experiments was Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed experiments on over 1500 sets of imprisoned twins, of which fewer than 200 individuals survived the studies. Dr. Mengele organized the testing of genetics in twins. The twins were arranged by age and sex and kept in barracks in between the test, which ranged from the injection of different chemicals into the eyes of the twins to see if it would change their colors to literally sewing the twins together in hopes of creating conjoined twins. We must agree that sometimes, experiments that resulted in cruel and harmful results, began with a very innocent and harmless intention. If someone uses unethical experiments to find a cure for cancer, but then someone else abuses this to create a new cancer with expensive treatments? The first person started it with the best intentions, but someone else misuses the outcomes.
It is very difficult to find an honest balance between what is an ethical issue and what is not. On one hand, you might say that art should not be influenced and/or limited by ethical judgements. Art is what it is, and is made with several reasons. But on the other hand, I personally experienced that your conscious does influence the way you look at something, just by knowing something that has completely nothing to do with the art itself. So must we let ourselves be influenced by our conscious, or should we know better than that? It is very difficult to choose a side, since it sometimes happens without you knowing it. Same thing with experiments. Experiments like those in the second World War make me feel sick, but some (modern day) experiments produced a lot of knowledge. The kind of knowledge we really need to survive. Because honestly, we know and learned so much by experimenting! If we would’ve never done that because we think it is unethical, how would the world look like?