Ethical judgments limit knowledge in the arts and natural sciences

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

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The significance of ethics and interpretations people obtain about ethics can vary. Ethics comes from the Greek word “ethos” which means “character”.[1] Ethics refers to personal standards of what is right or wrong in terms of the well-being of individuals and society which concepts have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. In all cases we apply ethical judgments in determining if it is right or wrong. Why do we ethically judge situations? If ethical judgments are not made, there is fear that civilization, brought up by morals, may fall. When an action is judged as ethically wrong, consequences and penalties may result in order to prevent the action from happening again. There is reasonable basis for ethical judgments; on the other hand ethical judgments can limit the methods that can produce knowledge in both the arts and natural sciences.

In Andres Serrano’s photograph “Piss Christ”, Serrano puts a plastic crucifix of Jesus in a container with his urine. Many Christian groups initially judged his photograph as unethical and disrespectful to Christianity; the response was triggered by the language used in the title and the materials. Due to my ideology and Christian background, the phrase “Piss Christ” and the use of urine in the artwork was offensive, because it associated a “divine” being with human waste. Unlike Serrano, most artists would prefer to stick to conventional and conservative methods and techniques to prevent backlash for original approaches viewed as disturbing and unethical. To what extent can an artist original approach be limited by ethical judgment? “The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.”[2] According to Oscar Wilde, it is not the artist that brings about ethical judgments; it is the audience that chooses to do so. When an artist creates a work, he or she is not interested in addressing themselves to moral issues; the artist cares for the artistic production and message. When the audience ethically evaluates art, they present that the aesthetic value of art should be determined by, or reduced to, its moral value. In Serrano’s “Piss Christ”, Serrano’s message was to show how his relationship with Christ has improved, but the title and materials used in the artwork prevented some of the audience from seeking Serrano’s intention. When the audience ethically judges artwork, the artist motives may not be present due to judgment. This is important because artistic freedom may be limited in artwork which may prevent the artist to fully produce their message. When the audience finds out that while creating the artwork the artist has used methods that seem wrong in terms of the well-being of individuals and society were involved or assume that the work may be censored, not funded, and even banned like “Piss Christ” to protect viewers from difficult ideas and information. These restrictions can undermine the artist intention and the knowledge meant to be presented to the public. On the other hand, when some artistic methods are judged as crossing ethical boundaries, the production of knowledge may not be restricted by ethical judgments.

[3] Piss Christ by: Andres Serrano

When an artist creates an artwork, the artist has artistic freedom and style that can be exercised to the extremes even if deemed as unethical. When the audience interprets and artwork, the audience is free to make ethical judgments that may heighten pursue for knowledge. When ethical judgment is intended by the artist, the artist can use unconventional methods to heighten moral awareness especially even if the practice is ethically judged. The audience takes on an artistic attitude which allows them to think moral relevant thoughts about the artwork which may introduce awareness to the subject. In Marina Abramovic’s performance, Rhythm 0, Abramovic laid 72 objects some of which were objects that could give pleasure and others could inflict pain. The audience was allowed to use these objects and manipulate her body however they wanted. At the end of the performance, Abramovic was left with ripped clothes and injuries on her body. Abramovic’s intention of the artwork was to test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, but her performance was ethically judged as unprincipled. The fact that Abramovic presented objects that could have harmed her caused outrage because the idea that someone dying. The audience and the artist learned that leaving artwork can kill the artist. If it were not for the ethical judgment or unconventional methods, the idea of an audience being morally corrupted in the performance would not have come about. Ethical judgment on art does not always prevent the artist from restricting their, but if it is intended by the artist, ethical judgments can introduce knowledge regarding morality. When Rhythm 0 was ethically judged, it was a direct response caused by the audience’s sense perception or emotion while viewing the work and methods. The judgment may not prevent the artist from limiting its methods in an artwork if intended to make an ethical statement. In the natural science in which the results aren’t necessarily meant to heighten moral awareness, ethical judgments may undermine the results of a scientific finding causing an experimenter to follow ethical guidelines.

Natural science has been a powerful tool for extraordinary achievement. It has allowed scientists to identify the components of DNA, discover planets outside of the solar system, and even clone animals. Despite all the achievements the sciences have brought us, it is not the only road to knowledge. Scientific claims and theories have continuously changed over time; due to the lack of certainty natural sciences bring to us, it is not hard for someone to dispute a scientific finding. Many disputes over the effectiveness of scientific findings and experiments may not have to deal with logical substance but the ethics of the claims. To what extent can ethical protocols undermine the effectiveness of a scientific study? Scientific results are not meant to bring across ethical judgments, but the methods used can. Many critics of science have brought to attention of the dangers of a scientific procedure which may weaken the scientific knowledge brought on by the finding. In 1932, “Physician Health Study” did a study to examine the progression of untreated syphilis in African Americans. The subjects were not debriefed before or after the study, none were informed of their condition, and none of them were treated for the disease. When the results of the experiment were published in 1972, the response was public outrage bringing the study to an end. The intent of the study was to record the record the natural history of syphilis in Black which it did, but the experiment was racially implicated and did not follow ethical protocols towards its participants. According to those who take the common good approach, interlocking relationships of society are the basis of ethical reasoning and that respect and compassion for all especially the vulnerable are requirements of such reasoning. Sciences and the methodology of research are often regulated and directed by factors other than the pursuit of truth. The Tuskegee is a prime example of a research which methods and approaches were not altered to meet ethical guidelines. Not doing so, this experiment was seen as not being effective even though it did present a finding.

When ethical judgments are imposed on scientists or researches, an additional responsibility of ethics presented their voyage of knowledge. A few months ago, I was required to replicate an experiment called “the Stroop Effect”. Prior to actually doing the experiment, I noticed that rubric emphasized that I followed ethical guidelines, such as creating a consent form, providing a good testing environment, and debriefing the participants, in order to receive a passing grade. Knowing this, I focused mainly on trying to adhere to the ethical guidelines which made my experiment take longer. On the other hand, following the ethical guidelines did not limit my understanding of the experiment. Adhering to ethical guidelines did shape my methodology of the experiment, but did not limit the pursuit of knowledge. There is a controversial question of whether we should separate science and religion; religion can be substituted for ethics since it is derived from religion. Since science does not solve ethical questions, why combine the two? This claim can be refuted since modern science is raising ethical questions about application of new technologies and even the research protocols themselves such as genetically modified organisms. Since science these raising these ethical issues, it is necessary for scientist to follow ethical guidelines. And for the experiments where the aim is not to raise ethical issues must have ethical methods to protect the well-being of individuals.

Humans create ethical standards and we equate ethical judgments and concepts with our personal emotions, religion, law, or the social system. Ethical judgments have limited the methods used in the arts and sciences in order to enforce ethical guidelines. It is worth knowing the extent since some believe if we judge everything ethically, our knowledge will be limited. It is true that ethical judgments may cause an artist or scientist to manipulate their procedure to satisfy ethical demands, but this not limit the pursuit of knowledge especially if the artwork or experiments raises ethical issues.


“Ethics.” LII. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. .

Wilde, Oscar. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Gutenberg. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

“Piss Christ.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2013. .