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TOK: The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility.” Evaluate this claim Essay

Every decision that one makes throughout the course of their lives affects them in even the most minor way possible. The responsibility of choosing a career path or a simple task such as picking out a restaurant to have dinner in could potentially have implications on another factor in one’s life. For instance, someone who chooses an inadequate career path will not be as content as someone who chooses his or her perfect career. Similarly, if one was to choose a restaurant that had a reputation of bad sanitation, they would be much more likely to be subject themselves and the person they are dining with to a case of food poisoning due to their poor dining choice.

Within the claim, it is already insinuated that knowledge is a virtue that can be possessed. The possession of knowledge plays an important role in these examples because if you know what you like, or what you don’t like, you most likely will choose a career that matches your interests and if you know that a restaurant is known for having poor sanitation, you probably won’t dine there.

The possession of knowledge is also part of a much larger picture being that in some cases it can affect a large part of our society. For instance, the acquired knowledge that individuals have today provides them with the means of power to change the structure of the world we live in today in the way they feel is appropriate. These types of people include scientists, researchers, and doctors. A good example to depict how the possession If a scientist were to find a solution to one of these diseases, they would be faced with the decision of either sharing his research or withholding the discovery until an offer of a substantial sum of money is offered.

As the French philosopher Voltaire once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Hence, the ethically responsible choice would be to reveal his research as he has the power to save or improve the lives of countless individuals. However, could one’s reasons for attainting knowledge be justifiable and therefore ethical? Such would be the case in the “notion that scientists have already cured cancer but the cure is being suppressed by the powers that be, to protect cancer as a source of income. It would take about 100 millions dollars of research to prove that a drug was actually a cure for one type of cancer.” Hence, it imposes an inconvenience to research companies to spend that kind of money on a drug that may potentially be suppressed.2The correct choice would be to immediately show this breakthrough discovery to the public, in order to provide the necessary cure to those suffering from these diseases. Therefore, in this scenario, the possession of knowledge also insinuates the possession of power.

The scientist would then theoretically hold the power to fix something that has become one of the main problems in our world today, hence they would presumably be aware of the moral implications of demanding a large sum of money for the cure. Furthermore, we must consider that the scientist may feel there are errors in his research and so not want to share his discovery. Therefore, would it be unethical to not share the possession of knowledge if one is not confident with it?

In order to attain knowledge, information must primarily go through the process of thinking. After making the initial discovery, one then takes the knowledge perceived and incorporates their own opinion, which generally results in making that discovery biased. Then one must make the decision of either retaining the newly modified knowledge or giving up their possession of their knowledge because once they share it with another person, it becomes shared knowledge and is no longer under their tenure. It can be argued that if one were to make a discovery that could theoretically improve our society, the ethically correct thing to do is share that piece of knowledge and ultimately give up their ownership.

Hence, when is it appropriate to give out information on a piece of knowledge discovered and when is it appropriate to abstain from distributing it? An example of the negative consequences that can come from sharing knowledge is the Copernican heliocentrism, a model developed by Nicolas Copernicus that shows the sun at the center of the universe while earth and the rest of the planets orbit around it. The great astronomer, Galileo Galilei, famously supported his model and theories that went against the beliefs of the Catholic Church and led him to be charged with heresy by the Roman Inquisition.

He spent the rest of his life under house arrest due to the fact that Copernicus shared his findings leading Galileo to incorporate it into his own knowledge and go against the traditional beliefs of people living in that era . Although Copernicus never intended anything bad to result from his theories, he was in fact the cause of all the speculation over the matter in the 1600s. In general, his knowledge along with his attributions to society resulted in groundbreaking positive consequences and became an important historical factor.

Knowing that an event will change ones life prior to it’s occurrence can dramatically change the choices one makes that lead up to that event, which can therefore alter the ethical result of their choice. I believe that a clear example to illustrate this point would be a pregnant woman knowing that their child will be born with a disability during the first stages of their pregnancy. On a personal note, my mother was notified that she would be giving birth to a daughter with Down’s syndrome after one month of being pregnant.

She then was presented with the burden of deciding whether she was going to go through with the pregnancy or not. There were, of course, external factors that had the power to influence her decision such as financial resources, religious beliefs, and the opinions of her family members. However, once she knew that her baby was not going to be born a normal child the thought of abortion, which had never previously crossed her mind, suddenly became an evident option to consider. Eventually, she decided that it would be unethical to take away a child’s chance of living just because she was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. Her disability has resulted in her being treated with more patience and understanding because people know that her mind doesn’t work the same way our minds work; hence in this case, knowing that a child was born with a special genetic condition does carry an ethical responsibility since society realizes that they must be taken care of in a particular way.

Knowing that her baby was going to be born with Down’s syndrome could have resulted in a completely different scenario that would have resulted in, what is considered to be, an unethical consequence. If my mother had chosen to abort her child knowing she was going to be born like that the end result would’ve been different, and her decision would most likely be classified as morally wrong. Surprisingly, studies have shown that abortion of the disabled is justifiable regardless of how minor the disability is.

Doctors advise expectant parents of a child facing a diagnosis that it is more compassionate to abort the child than allow her to live. This contradicts what my mother initially thought was ethically correct and it implies that the possession of knowledge in such a case does not carry a major ethical responsibility in a doctor’s perspective. The doctor’s perception of what is morally correct has possibly been altered as his scientific knowledge has increased and thus suggests that each individual has a different point of view on what is considered to be ethically correct and what is not.

In conclusion, based off the knowledge issues that these examples bring about one can say derive that the possession of knowledge carries a significant amount of ethical responsibility. By gaining knowledge, one also obtains power and with power, one must proceed to decide what they would like to do with that power. One then holds the ethical responsibility to make a decision on whether or not it is appropriate to surrender their possession of knowledge for better or for worse. However, it is valid to say that although it holds an ethical responsibility on the whole, it is questionable as to what is ethical for each individual as certain people have morphed views on what is morally correct and what is not due to the path that they have embarked upon throughout their lives.


Galilei, Galileo, and Maurice A. Finocchiaro. “Philosophical Prelude.” Galileo on the World Systems: A New Abridged Translation and Guide. Berkeley: University of California, 1997. 47. Print.

Voltaire. Jean, Adrien. Beuchot, Quentin and Miger, Pierre, Auguste. “Œuvres de Voltaire, Volume 48”. Lefèvre, 1832


Flanders, Nancy. “Sex Selection Abortions Shock Us, but Abortion of the Disabled Still Justified.” Live Action News Opinion RSS. Live Action, 9th Feb. 2012. Web. 09 Mar. 2013.

Novella, Steven. “Science-Based Medicine.” » The Hidden Cancer Cure. David
Gorski, 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 09 Mar. 2013.

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