Introduction Knowledge refers to the acquisition of skills, information, consent and awareness of given happenings in the society. It entails apprehending truth, facts, being learned and familiarisation of oneself with situations through a process of logical reasoning and assessment of circumstances.
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Whether or not a single perfect process of acquisition of knowledge can be determined is a debatable issue as it remains a mystery as to how exactly people possess knowledge (Raffoul 27-34). According to Raffoul (165-167) and Rest (5-14), acquisition of knowledge involves easily and effectively embracing reality through experience or in thought as it is based on the proven scientific evidence, acquaintance, perception and experience.
Different fields of knowledge such as mathematics, science, geography, science, psychology, religion and engineering do exist. Value judgment among people depends on the knowledge they possess. On the other hand, like morality, ethical responsibility demands that a person fulfils certain obligations in the best possible way and for the common good of all concerned (Lucas 36-45).
At times, ethical dilemma can compel an individual to choose from a number of ethical principles that adhere to the moral law of doing right. Possession of knowledge and ethical responsibility Whether voluntary or unintentional, existence of praise and blame are major aspects of ethical responsibility for people with a certain level of knowledge.
As dictated by normative ethics, application of conduct and acquired knowledge demands that existence of information and its application to decision making and other human practices be effectively employed in making rational decisions. Majority of people use applied ethics and the common societal laws and principles which guide people’s lives to judge human behaviour (Lucas 41-78). Ethics and morality entail doing what is right and avoiding evil.
Knowledge of ethics and morality should be focused on enhancing maturity, benevolence, prudence and rational reasoning in undertaking critical decisions. In view of the fact that acquisition of knowledge has “nothing” to do with being certain of the prevailing or possible circumstances, moral law dictates that all human acts should be perceived in an objective, realistic, rational, and focused manner with the interest of the majority at heart (Rest 78-112).
Withholding knowledge and refusing to act is definitely not a moral act and as it contradicts the concept of undertaking ethical responsibility based on one’s acquired knowledge. For instance, scientists who have the expertise to develop nuclear bombs should often be aware of the possible dangers that could emanate from such “wonderful” initiatives (Lucas 16-21).
Arguments that are in line with social and moral relativism are likely to compel people with certain knowledge not to act in a morally upright manner. Unlike in a utilitarian ethical perspective in which the needs and good deeds of an individual are superseded by those of the majority, possession of knowledge dictates that one avoids joining the majority and remain focused on doing what is reasonable and right. According to Lucas (33-42), being in custody of knowledge demands that one acts in an ethical manner.
This fact is no longer an issue of concern to most people in the contemporary society. What individuals do with the knowledge they possess is fully dependent on their decisions and will to do exactly that. Ways of acquisition of knowledge are many and varied. Whether or not a person’s knowledge of something should make him or her answerable to certain acts is a very contentious issue. It leads to constant confrontation and demands by people to desist from taking responsibility of the different situations they face.
It can be argued that awareness, familiarity and apprehension of knowledge carry ethical significances. Human intellect should be employed in analyzing situations and critically assessing the degree to which given acts are ethically correct.
History and natural science are vital means of acquisition of knowledge. The two methods enable an individual to learn and accept certain truths that can never be concealed through false and unfounded logic (Lucas 28-46). However, it is vital to ensure that any form of reasoning is neither biased nor is it fully based on mere perception of real life situations or emotions.
Portrayal of false image or biasness is equal to being selfish, self centred, uncouth and deceptive to the common moral law. For instance, doctors who possess actual knowledge and intelligent reasoning of patients’ diseases have the ethical responsibility of ensuring that patients are given the most appropriate diagnoses and that all their medical concerns are addressed in an amicable and informative way (Lucas 79-85).
Another indicator of the fact that being knowledgeable requires that one becomes ethically responsible could be demonstrated by a case where an individual witnesses a crime being committed. A crime witness can use his or her knowledge acquisition gained through perception, language and sight in determining what actions to take which may include reporting or ignoring the situation.
Like a doctor, driver or a teaching professional, professional ethos, ethics, code of conduct and acquired knowledge demand that one fulfils an ethical act (Rest 147). To what degree would one say that indeed knowledge has an ethical responsibility? Pretence is a likely phenomenon that could dominate people’s lives once they learn that their acknowledgement of possessing knowledge could imply being fully answerable to both negative and positive occurrences that relate to the situation.
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According to Lucas (138-149), the act of acknowledging the existence of something should never make a person to be ethically responsible. Rest (5-11) argues that people should only be ethically responsible to acts which they have the will, desire and duty of doing. Undertaking an act with the aim of preventing greater harm is crucial.
Albert Einstein’s unparalleled knowledge of nuclear physics led to the invention of a nuclear bomb. Einsten’s invention was good because it involved the use of his possessed knowledge. It was not in Albert’s ability to control the degree to which the nuclear bombs would be developed. The invention of nuclear physics by Einstein culminated into massive physical destruction and loss of lives such as the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan (Rest 6-11).
Regardless of the kind of knowledge that one possesses and the process that one undergoes in possessing the knowledge, modern ethical points of view dictate that human beings have a perceived obligation of attempting to create the most possible benefit that would in turn satisfy most people with the least possible harm. A picture of man and lady holding hands could lead to the perception that they could be couples. However, that does not make one ethically responsible for the acts committed by such people.
In fact, such a witness would not be contradicting any moral laws by not involving himself or herself in the daily endeavours of the couple. This fact shows that acquisition of knowledge does not always compel one to be ethically responsible in all situations (Raffoul 59-64). It is highly likely that knowleageable people could falter in their decision making process.
Certain situations could pose a dilemma. A situation of a dilemma should never be treated as a justification for committing evil. The knowledge that a biologist and a nuclear researcher possess and the manner in which such knowledge could be utilized should never be measured or judged on equal standards but rather be analyzed based on the result of the act, the surrounding circumstances and the intention of undertaking the specific act. A biologist or a nuclear researcher should be highly disciplined.
The said professionals should never share critical secrets that pertain to how one can use certain substances for destructive purposes like uranium. Conclusion It is evident from the above analysis that knowledge has an ethical responsibility especially with regard to the manner in which professionals and people that interact with a group of other people carry out their duties and responsibilities. This fact is evident in situations where the responsibility in question is likely to cause harm or offer misleading information to people.
Though possessing knowledge would often have little or no effect on people, it is evident that acts and decisions made by people with such knowledge are the ones that need to be undertaken in a conscientious, ethical and reasonable manner. While people have the right to acquire and fully possess knowledge, it is imperative to ensure that the knowledge acquired is utilized in an ethical manner.
Lucas, Peter. Ethics and Self-Knowledge: Respect for Self-Interpreting Agents, Preston, UK: Springer, 2011.Print.
Raffoul, François. The Origins of Responsibility, Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press, 2010.Print.
Rest, James. Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics, Moral Reasoning in Medicines, New Jersey, USA: Tailor & Francis e-Library, 2009.Print.