While it is generally believed that the role of ethics with regard to production of knowledge in the arts and natural sciences is restrictive, i.e. ethics limits the available methods of knowledge production, we seek to challenge this assumption. Ethics application in the natural sciences and the arts is not about imposing limitations on certain forms of knowledge production, it is rather about provision of a well-balanced and objective perception of the reality and maintenance of natural condition of the human mind. This paper will argue in favor of application of ethics in the domains of natural science and the arts, based on the philosophical foundations of the methods of knowledge production, the meaning of knowledge within the theory of knowledge, the meaning of art and natural sciences, and the role of ethics with reference to every human being’s existence. It will prove that ethics performs a building role and serves as an advantageous regulator of the humanity’s progress.
First of all, let us explore the meaning of knowledge in the context of knowledge production and knowledge production methods. The branch of philosophy “epistemology” is preoccupied with exploring the value of knowledge. It explores a variety of knowledge theories while seeking to answer the key question of what distinguishes true knowledge from false one. This is done through psychology of knowledge (description, analysis, examination of knowledge facts), testing of knowledge value, and critique of knowledge (testing its limits, conditions of validity, and range) (Step, “Epistemology”).
Two important subjects of epistemological exploration are the nature and the extent of human knowledge. While the question of the essence of knowledge seems relatively simple to answer, it remains the subject of philosophical debate. A variety of theories have been developed to explain the nature and extent of human knowledge. Epistemological dualism posits that the idea on an individual’s mind and the reality of the outside world correlate as the subjective and the objective. Hence, knowledge about the outside world is not always possible and can be imperfect. Further, epistemological monism posits that the reality of the outside world and knowledge of the outside reality are in closely related. Thus, the objects of the physical world around us make sense only if are construed as statements about human sense data. In addition, epistemological pluralism posits that knowledge is neither one type of thing (as in monism: either physical or mental) or two types (as in dualism: both mental and physical), but is relative to a variety of cultural and historical forces (Steup).
The existence of different theories of knowledge does not, however, provide for a unanimous definition of knowledge. While this question remains open, it is discussed how people know what they know or how knowledge is produced. With reference to knowledge production, much knowledge comes to humans through perception via our senses. This process is partially determined by the outside world and partially by humans. People know by acquiring knowledge which is procedural or “know-how” (e.g. how to ride a bike) and propositional (that purports to provide a description of a fact or of the state of affairs) or “that-knowledge.” The latter is related to understanding that any truth night be knowable as well as there may be unknowable truths. Propositional knowledge is divided between a priori (non-empirical) knowledge, i.e. knowledge of logical truths and a posteriori (or empirical) knowledge, which derives from certain experiences (Steup).
The essential components of knowledge are belief, truth, and justification. Philosophically, knowledge is based on and requires belief. Yet, since not all beliefs make up knowledge, this belief needs to be true in order to be a sufficient element of knowledge. Just as knowledge requires belief that is factual, this belief also needs to be justified by evidence. These components of knowledge help understand the nature of knowledge (Steup).
Now let us comment on knowledge production in the natural sciences. In the natural sciences, knowledge is based on empiricism. The latter is a philosophical concept that describes experience (which consists of observation and experimentation) as the source of knowledge. Empiricism posits that only that information that is gathered through a person’s senses can be used to make decisions, disregarding reason as well as religious and other teachings (proponents: Locke, Kant, Berkeley, and Hume). Also, knowledge is based on rationalism, which posits that reason is a knowledge source. This approach stands in opposition to sensationalism of empiricism (proponents: Descartes, Plato, and Kant) (Steup).
The arts are also a means of knowledge production (See Figure 1). Yet, in the arts, knowledge production is believed to happen within a different framework and the irrational nature of knowledge is stressed. For example, Plato regarded mimetic art to be “a double assault on reason” because it exalted irrational emotions and crippled what he considered to be genuine knowledge. Socrates, too, believed that art waters the process of growth of passions (Gaut 2). In particular, he believed that poetry fostered irrational emotions. The process of production of knowledge in art was heavily criticized by Plato and Socrates because art (they spoke about poetry) peddled beliefs only about some particulars and about shifting shadows of what he believed to be mere appearances. This contrasts with Plato’s understanding of knowledge as universal and knowledge of the Forms (Gaut 3). He and Socrates associated art with emotions and argued that art corrupted knowledge of individuals. Therefore, the ethical dangers of art were formulated.
At the same time, there is something from the rational approach in the arts. While the whole paradigm of the western art is based on striving to produce the ideal of beauty, i.e. art is perceived as “the invention of beautiful lines and beautiful color harmonies”, oftentimes production of knowledge in the arts is nothing else but rational seeking for ways to achieve the beauty standards rooted in the perceptions of the arts common in Ancient Greece (Dubuffet 13). The belief in beauty drives people to create and expand its cult and seek for its accurate definition, since the premise is that beauty is hidden and its discernment requires a special sense, “which many people are not endowed” (Dubuffet13) . This is the point expressed by a well-known French painter Jean Dubuffet.
With reference to the arts, application of the world “limits” creates a biased perception of ethics as a restrictive (i.e. negative) mode of knowledge development. For ethical reasons, for example, the society has expressed its fear and negative reaction against such artworks which confront their ethical judgments (including the homoerotic photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe or Serrano’s photograph of a plastic-made crucifix that was immersed in the urine of Serrano) (Gaut 2). In this case, the works produced by the artists contradicted the very perception of the art in the masses: art as necessarily imbued with ethical value. The humanist approach to art viewed the role of art in teaching virtue (this view was expressed by Horace, poet Sidney, writer Tolstoy, and others) (Gaut 5). Art has been seen as the way to elevate the audience morally. Whereas two other approaches to art have gained their popularity over the past century, which deny the humanist approach to art, they can be dismissed by reminding that art always conveys some meaning, so art never exists for its sake, but serves as propaganda of one thing or another. Therefore, true and not true art exists, as Aristotle pointed out. Ethics is what helps to distinguish true arts.
Similarly, in science ethics is a necessary mechanism of operation of any scientific research. As Elgin (262) asserts, the members of the scientific community all have obligations to one another, without which research is impossible. These obligations naturally relate to the epistemic aims of science. Trust is what the scientific discourse operates on. Therefore, ethics and scientific research and ethics and science education are inseparable. Ethics is the basis of all scientific activity. The application of ethics again should not be perceived as restrictive, but rather as elevating and purifying. This is explained by the goals of modern science. In our highly industrialized world, many scientific quests and experiments are done for the purposes of earning money. Ethics will serve as a lens through which laymen will be guarded against beings used in the interest of greedy business owners.
In conclusion, ethics and art and ethics and natural sciences are inseparable. Ethics serves to elevate humans through art, uncovers the true nature of art, and helps to direct art to humanistic beginnings rather than senseless searches of beauty ideals. In the natural sciences, it directs the activity of researchers in the way other people do not get harmed and propels the scientific research by ensuring the trustworthiness among the community of scientists. Therefore, ethics and production of knowledge are beneficial for each other.
- Gaut, Berys. Art, Emotion, and Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
- Elgin, Catherine. “Science, Ethics, and Education.” Theory and Research in Education 9.3
(2011): 251-263. Print.
- Dubuffet, Jean, Roth, Richard, Roth Susan. Beauty is Nowhere: Ethical Issues in Art and
Design. Psychology Press, 1998. Print.
- Steup, Matthias, “Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/