Ethical judgements limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences. Discuss

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Ethics have forever existed in our society as means of maintaining a moral code. Though it can be argued that the ethical code society abides by depends on our culture, humans seem to follow a universal moral code. This is put into practice when judgment is used to identify what is right or wrong, thus permitting and preventing those in the pursuit of knowledge from using methods that may go against the moral code. It must be identified the extent to which humans are able to

ignore an ethical code in the pursuit of knowledge. Furthermore, the knowledge issue that should be raised is, ‘to what extent are ethical judgments justified in the pursuit of knowledge?’  


Our ability to produce knowledge depends on methods from which we can extract new knowledge. When we believe that the processes available to produce knowledge are limited due to ethical implications, the ways in which we can produce knowledge decrease, and the ability to produce knowledge is thus limited. This is seemingly clear in the natural sciences. In Biology, scientists constantly strive to produce medical breakthroughs in order to combat some of the world’s most harmful diseases. Yet moral judgments of scientific processes can hinder methods available in the production of knowledge. Stem cell research for example, is a field of medicine and biology that involves the use of blastocysts, or embryos.1 Scientists carry out research by using donated, embryos that have been fertilized eggs outside a mother’s body (known as In- Vitro Fertilisation or IVF). Yet the initial method of IVF, and the methods of scientists carrying out stem cell research have ethical implications. Embryos are the start of human life. During IVF, several eggs are extracted and fertilized, and only few are re-inserted into the female’s body. In several cases, the embryos remaining are frozen or donated to stem cell research, and disposed of afterwards. As a result of the disposal of human life, scientists have been wary of continuing research of this process. Humans use reason to make ethical judgments, and the most common form of ethics, duty-based ethics is focused on human reasoning. Duty-based ethics states that humans have a duty to act accordingly, regardless of the good or bad consequences that may be produced.2 In this case, scientists understand that human life should not be disposed of, and thus despite the positive consequences of stem cell research, do not engage in further research.

In this case, these ethical judgments can be justified. Immanuel Kant states, ‘It is impossible to conceive anything in the world… which can be taken as good without limitation, save only good will.’3 He argues that if something is carried out with positive intentions, the process, consequences as well as the will must be good in nature. While the intention of scientific research is to produce medical breakthroughs, Kant’s reasoning of good will being universal means that the unethical process of discarding human life refutes the good. There is no way to justify destruction of human life, and our judgments regarding this unethical research process can be justified. Furthermore, it can be argued that things we should classify as ‘ethical’ should be universal in nature, meaning


1 Bethesda, "Stem Cell Information," National Institutes of Health, last modified 2010, accessed January 19, 2014,

2 BBC. "Duty-Based Ethics." The BBC. Accessed January 19, 2014.

3 Gary Haden, You Kant Make It Up! Strange Ideas from History's Great Philosophers (Oxford, England: Oneworld,

2011), [Page 151]

that we should expect all members of society to do the same in the same position. Yet, cultures and religions globally argue for the sanctity of life. Pope John Paul II argues that, ‘human embryos obtained in vitro are human beings and are subjects with rights; their dignity and right to life must be respected from the first moment of their existence.’4 If any opposition exists, universality cannot be agreed, judgments towards this scientific process are justified, and thus, methods towards the production of knowledge are limited.

Conversely, knowledge in the Arts is a multi-faceted concept. We gain emotional and factual knowledge from visual art, through a process that is largely personal and thus have less shared knowledge. While viewing art, what we may feel varies to the person next to us. Artists may produce knowledge through the creation of art and, in the majority of contexts, is a subject that has few ethical boundaries, as it is largely subjective. Art is defined as ‘the expression of application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form… producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’5 As definitions of art vary globally, so do judgments we place on the art produced. In cultures and religions globally, there are restrictions on the visual art that is displayed. In Islam for example, the prophet Muhammad is strictly never to be drawn, under reasons of blasphemy.6 Likewise, within sects of Christianity and Judaism, it is forbidden to depict God: “You shall not make for yourself an image an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”7 The

visual methods of reaching spiritual knowledge have been eliminated as a result. Knowledge is produced through religious texts and verbal teachings, yet visual interpretations of religious figures are prohibited. Faith is a personal process. However, to what extent does organized religion control shared knowledge and diminish the ability for personal knowledge to exist?

The judgments we make in this case must be justifiable. Religion is belief, and no factual information exists to denounce beliefs or cultures from which these beliefs stem. While varying opinions exist on the issue of art censorship, lack of our own knowledge on religion or culture puts us in a position to place our own judgments on what is ethical and what is not. Likewise, while it would be ethically unjustified in religious contexts to use art as a mean of knowledge, it would be unethical to denounce such judgments. As an individual who is from a particularly conservative part of the world, I understand the intricate nature of our culture that prevents depiction of religious figures and the strong emotional connection that exists among individuals following a faith. Though methods are limited in the production of knowledge, it cannot be argued that our level of knowledge is less than it would be if all methods existed. Art has never


4 Christine Vestal, "Stem Cell Research at the Crossroads of Religion and Politics," Pew Research, last modified July

17, 2008, accessed January 28, 2014, of-religion-and-politics/.

5 "Art," in Oxford Dictionary, last modified 2014, accessed January 28, 2014,

6 Daniel Engber, "Does Islam Really Prohibit Images of Religious Figures?," Slate, last modified February 8, 2006, accessed February 5, 2014,

7 The Holy Bible, Exodus 20:19-4 (New International Version)

been used in the Abrahamic religions as a way of portraying the Prophet or God, and knowledge has been consistently transmitted from generation to generation. Our ability to gain knowledge has not been diminished by ethical judgments that have limited our methods towards the path of knowledge. It should be questioned whether acquiring knowledge through fewer methods leads

to bias, particularly in the case of belief and religion.

Beyond the production of new knowledge through research and creation, knowledge is produced through teaching. In traditional classrooms, whereby a teacher is sharing knowledge with pupils, an ethical code must be obeyed. The Association for American Educators, for example, provides a code of ethics that should be followed by all educators, regardless of the subject being taught.8

In conjunction with this, in conservative cultures, methods of teaching are limited in both the arts and the sciences. In the Arts, nudity may not be displayed. While students in many nations may be able to create life drawings with nude models present, the depiction of nudity at all is prohibited in many others, eliminating all artistic nudity from being evaluated. Additionally, within the natural sciences naked bodies undergoing puberty, images of sexual intercourse and sexual organs may not be shown in textbooks in Middle Eastern nations under Islamic law. We limit methods available for students to gain deeper knowledge. Yet, such ethical judgments are based upon culture, religion and respect for other humans. A teacher’s moral code can be justified, as it is a way of ensuring the safety of all students, and the establishment of boundaries. Regarding censoring nudity in the Arts and the Natural Sciences, we are basing ethical

judgments largely on culture and religion. While it can be argued that is unethical to prevent knowledge, it can also be argued that knowledge is limited, but not hindered.

However, in both the Arts in the Sciences, ethical judgments do not limit methods available in the production of knowledge. Animals have been used for art and scientific research, with little consideration placed upon the ethical duty we have as a society towards the sanctity of animal life. In the Natural Sciences, Monkeys are used in research by many universities and scientific establishments in the USA as test subjects for recently developed vaccinations, with little progress in positive results for human, and are killed following the experiments and dissected for further research.9 In the Arts, an exhibition by Marco Evarissti in Trapholt Art Museum in Denmark placed blenders filled with goldfish in front of spectators.10 The spectators had the ability to turn on the blender, or simply watch others blend the fish, eventually resulting in the death of the goldfish. These examples highlight how animals are treated in the production of knowledge. As a society, we know these methods are unethical, but the judgments we make do not limit these methods, and are instrumental in our production of scientific and artist knowledge.


8 "Code of Ethics for Educators," Association of American Educators, accessed February 5, 2014,

9 PETA, "Primates in Laboratories," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, accessed February 5, 2014,

10  Clemens Bomsdorf, "Goldfish in a Blender? Marco Evaristti Calls It Art," The Wall Street Journal (New York City,

USA), Arts & Entertainment, accessed February 5, 2014,


Art is not factual. It is based upon the way we express and interpret emotions. The role of emotions in a moral context is difficult to define and justify. The Morality Play by Baggini and Stangroom highlights that when emotions are involved our ability to act morally in ways we would if we were an objective third party are suddenly diminished.11 Through this, we can understand that an artist may aim to interpret his own emotions or thoughts through art, and it is therefore more difficult to justify the wrongdoing or unethical methods in which he aims to produce art or share his emotions.

However, in the case of animals, there is no justification of the cruelty placed upon these creatures. Yet, if we use a utilitarian approach, it can be argued that scientific methods we use to produce medical advancements produce the best over all consequences for the human race.12 We cannot use humans for scientific testing, and many argue that animals are less valuable than humans. Should there be any positive results, we would be making a change in the quality of life of humans.

In the case of issues of value, such as medical advancements made in the way of humans, and religion, knowledge is only knowledge if society deems it be worthy of any sort of methods. By their nature, ethical judgments regulate what knowledge is in the first place. It is difficult to justify ethical judgments, particularly in the way of beliefs and emotions, whereby denouncing such things are difficult. Where we cannot truly justify the unethical judgments of humans, we must

not only value the sanctity of human life, and the belief of humans, but also the sanctity of life of all creatures.


11 Sue Bastian et al., Theory of Knowledge (New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, 2008), [Page 244]

12 Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma, 6th ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University

Press, 2009),[Page 385]

Works Cited List

"Art." In Oxford Dictionary. Last modified 2014. Accessed January 28, 2014.

Association of American Educators. "Code of Ethics for Educators." Association of American Educators. Accessed February 5, 2014. code-of-ethics.

Bastian, Sue, Vivek Bammi, Craig Howard, Julian Kitching, John Mackenzie, Dennis Oberg, Manjula Salomon, and David Wilkinson. Theory of Knowledge. New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, 2008.

BBC. "Duty-Based Ethics." The BBC. Accessed January 19, 2014.

Bethesda. "Stem Cell Information." National Institutes of Health. Last modified 2010. Accessed

January 19, 2014.

Bomsdorf, Clemens. "Goldfish in a Blender? Marco Evaristti Calls It Art." The Wall Street Journal (New York City, USA), Arts & Entertainment. Accessed February 5, 2014. making-waves/.

Engber, Daniel. "Does Islam Really Prohibit Images of Religious Figures?" Slate. Last modified February 8, 2006. Accessed February 5, 2014.


Haden, Gary. You Kant Make It Up! Strange Ideas from History's Great Philsophers. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2011.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. Michigan, USA: Zondervan, 2010.

PETA. "Primates in Laboratories." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Accessed February 5, 2014. experimentation/primates-laboratories/.

van de Lagemaat, Richard. Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma. 6th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Vestal, Christine. "Stem Cell Research at the Crossroads of Religion and Politics." Pew Research. Last modified July 17, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2014. religion-and-politics/.


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