Does the Possession of Knowledge Carry an Ethical Responsibility?

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TOK Paper: Ethics
August 2012
Daniel Go

Does the Possession of Knowledge Carry an Ethical Responsibility?

There is no singular definition of knowledge, but for the purpose of this paper; knowledge will be defined as the familiarity with a situation or fact. Ethics, on the other hand, is a set of moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. Simplifying the knowledge issue would be to state that: The familiarity of something (whether a fact or situation) entails compliance with ethical or moral obligations. In disagreement with the previous claim, I believe that the possession of knowledge does carry an ethical responsibility.

In a paper written by Steven Pinker, otherwise known as “The Moral Instinct”, he suggests that morality has a metaphorical switch. Stated as the “moralization switch”, Steven Pinker suggests, “Moralization is a psychological state that can be turned on and off like a switch, and when it is on, a distinctive mind-set commandeers our thinking.”

Much like light switches, moralization switches may be turned on and off. When the moralization switch is turned off, the reasoning for doing something (moral or amoral) changes, rather than being a matter of virtue, it becomes a matter of practicality or personal reasons. Different people may have their moralization switches turned on or off in the same scenario. An example of this is “loving thy neighbor”. One may express his love for his neighbor because it is in accordance to the Ten Commandments, which he/she truly believes in; while another person may also express love toward his neighbor purely because there is something to gain from it.

Steven Pinker, in his paper, states that morality is under assault. This could be in line with a conclusion formulated by David Couzens Hoy, a renowned professor of philosophy, based on the works of Emmanuel Levina (a French philosopher) who believed that “responsibility precedes any objective searching after the truth”....
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