Our entire life is a continuous process of gaining and retaining information, expanding our knowledge as individuals. Most people spend quite a bit of time in their childhood years in school learning, taking in knowledge that has been produced. As a species humans have produced a wealth of knowledge in a variety of ways. However there comes a time where you have to wonder what extent people would go to, to produce knowledge. Where is the line? When are we doing something ethically wrong? All of these questions bring up another question, do ethics get in the way of producing knowledge? The arts and natural sciences are two areas of knowledge that deal a lot with ethics. The arts are a very free area of knowledge in with people are allowed to express themselves, the natural sciences require a lot of experimentation. In my opinion, knowledge is very valuable, and the production of it should be a priority if the sacrifice is reasonable.
The arts are a valuable source of knowledge, producers of art tend to try to convey a message through their artwork. Art comes in many different forms, ranging from visual arts to music and even literary arts. Throughout all forms most of art there are lessons embedded in the art piece, or at least messages conveyed through the art. Similarly, most art contains some form of censorship, artists are not allowed to touch on certain topics. Even if artists decide to make art that touches on controversial or different topics, their art is typically not accepted in society and does not receive any publicity.
Again, this is the case with almost all art, however for the purpose of this essay I am going to focus on literary art. An example that is very prevalent in my mind is the ban of _The Book of Negroes_ by Lawrence Hill. A dutchman named Roy Groenberg wrote a letter to Lawrence Hill. In the letter he wrote that a group of people in the Netherlands were going to burn Hill’s book because in contained the word ‘negro’ in the title (Hopper). _The Book of Negroes_ is an award winning book that is about the life of an 11 year-old girl who is kidnapped in a village near Segu in Africa, and sent to North Carolina to be a slave. The book continues to tell the reader about her life as a slave (Hill).
_The Book of Negroes_ is widely considered as very moving and a book that conveys important messages (Hopper). Unfortunately, because of the title it was misconceived as a book that was critical of African-Americans. Groenberg was the only person to act on his feelings, however that does not mean he was the only person to see this book as negatively directed at African-Americans. _The Book of Negroes_ was likely misconceived by many more people just because of the inclusion of the word ‘negro’ in the title. Unfortunately, society has made many ethical judgements about the word ‘negro’ which are usually justified but in this case prevent people expanding their knowledge (Hopper). This one of many examples, in which an ethical judgement limited methods available in the production of knowledge.
This brings up the question in my mind, why do people shy away from certain words? An attempt to find the answer lead me to the Theory of Knowledge diagram, more specifically the ways of knowing. One way of knowing that intrigues me is language, this seems to answer my question. Language is a very powerful way of knowing, as words can be very powerful. There are handful of words in the english language that are not spoken because of how powerful they are. It seems to me that because of this some words are not tolerated even if the context is appropriate. Which sort of explains why The Book of Negroes received some criticism. It almost makes the criticism understandable, and I can begin to justify Groenberg’s actions.
Like I said before, almost all art forms have artwork that is not socially accepted, and up to this point I’ve only discussed literary art. However in my personal life I have learned about art not being accepted, when it comes to hip-hop music. I regularly listen to hip-hop music and it is a very important part of my life. In the eighth grade for a social studies class I had the opportunity to play a song in class as part of a project. This for me was especially difficult because a lot of hip-hop music is not completely suitable for a eighth grade class setting. Even though I had found a couple of songs that were perfect for what I needed, but had a little too much profanity.
I completely understand that there are some inappropriate elements to hip-hop music that are not the best thing for a class room environment. However, I believe by the eighth grade students have developed a level of maturity, and should be able to listen to hip-hop music. All that needed to happen was for my classmates to disregard any profanity and see the song for what it truly is. Similarly, people should have looked past the title “The Book of Negroes” and read the book to see it for it’s value.
Ethical judgments are as prevalent in the arts as they are in the natural sciences. From stem cell research to animal testing, there are a plethora of examples for natural sciences. The arts are as much about entertainment as they are gaining knowledge, or maybe even more. On the other hand the natural sciences is almost entirely about gaining new knowledge and improving what is already known. In this age, developments in natural sciences are nearly only about human advancement. Whether is medically or discovering new things.
I am going to mainly focus on how various countries, such as Argentina, the United States, Russia, Iran and France, tested their space equipment. From the mid 1940s all the way to 2013, the mentioned countries have sent monkeys into space (Gray). Before leaders were confident enough to send humans into space, they sent monkeys into space to see how their equipment fared. As expected, most of these monkeys died horrible deaths in flight with no way of knowing what is happening or any way to help themselves (Gray). The most notable instances were the first few monkeys in space. In 1948 NASA sent a rhesus monkey named Albert 39 miles into the air in a rocket. Albert died of suffocation mid flight, however NASA sent another monkey in the air named Albert II. Albert II survived the flight but died due to a parachute malfunction (Gray).
When I discussed the Book of Negroes I reached a conclusion that gaining knowledge is more important than ethical issues. However, when discussing NASA monkeys it is much harder to decide. This is because lives are at stake, although they are not human lives it is still hard to think about something dying for space research. Majority of people agree that sending monkeys into space is wrong. How is it that NASA can design equipment to go into space, but can not create a machine that can detect air pressure and oxygen levels.
Again, understanding this point of view is much easier but the theory of knowledge diagram came to my mind again. In the ways of knowing there is emotion, and that is likely the main way of knowing affecting people when they imagine monkeys dying for space research. It is easy to create an emotional bond with an animal as cute as a monkey, and most people can agree monkeys are cute. When reacting on emotions people reach rash conclusions. Which I think can be applied here, I am curious what the reaction would be if NASA tested with uglier or at least less cute animals. What if NASA sent warthogs into space? This is a situation when I personally hate to play devils advocate, however if I was an astronaut in the 1940s I would certainly not go into a space rocket. I have absolutely nothing against monkeys, but if I were forced to make a decision between a monkey dying and a human dying I would choose the monkey, without hesitation.
In conclusion, knowledge is very valuable and has been something humans have cherished through the ages. The production of knowledge has been vital to the advancement of the human race. Under most circumstances in the arts and natural sciences, the production of knowledge does not require a major sacrifice, just a small loss or temporary discomfort. There are times in which it is not worth the sacrifice to learn something. However the vast majority of circumstances provide a reasonable loss for the production of knowledge. Overall, I believe knowledge and the production of knowledge is extremely valuable and should be a priority when it comes to he arts and natural sciences.
Gray, Tara. “A Brief History of Animals In Space.” NASA. NASA HQ, 02 Aug 2004. Web. 16 Sep 2013.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.
Hopper, Tristin. “Dutchman threatens to burn The Book of Negroes.” National Post. National Post, 10 Jun 2011. Web. 16 Sep 2013. .