It has been claimed that decisions concerning scientific research topics and the publication of research results are purely methodological, and that any moral considerations refer only to research methods and uses of acquired knowledge. The arguments advanced in favor of this view appeal to the moral neutrality of scientific knowledge and the intrinsic value of truth. I argue that neither is valid. Moreover, I show three cases where a scientist’s decision to begin research clearly bears moral relevance: (1) when starting an inquiry would create circumstances threatening some non-cognitive values; (2) when achieving a certain piece of knowledge would threaten the existence of the individual’s private sphere; and (3) when there are reasons to think that humankind is not prepared to accumulate some knowledge. These cases do not prove the existence of some intrinsically ‘morally forbidden topics,’ but show that the moral permissibility of any given inquiry is not a priori guaranteed but needs to be judged in the same way that its methodological soundness is judged. Judgments concerning research topics have both methodological and moral aspects and these two cannot be separated under the threat of distorting science. Making such judgments requires knowledge not only of scientific methodology, but also of its social and philosophical implications. Philosophy is necessary in order to do good science.
My search for an answer to the title question is restricted to science which is the main source of our knowledge about the world and to its moral dimension. In order to know anything in a scientific way one needs to investigate relevant themes with scientific means. Are there then topics whic...
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Dahlstrom. Nature and Scientific Method. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press 1991. 95-105.
Gaerdenfors P. ‘Is There Anything We Should not Want to Know?’ in: J.E.
Fensted (ed.), Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, New York:
Elsevier 1990. 63-78.
Glass, B. ‘The ethical basis of science’ in: Bulger, R.E. et al. (eds). The Ethical Dimension of the Biological Sciences. Cambridge University Press 1993. 43-55.
Herrnstein R. J. and Wilson J. Q, Crime and Human Nature, New York: Simon and Schuster 1985.
Rescher, N. ‘Forbidden Knowledge’ in: Forbidden Knowledge and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Cognition, Dordrecht: Reidel 1987. 1-16.
Verhoog, H. Genetic Modification of Animals. Should Science and Ethics Be Integrated? in: A. Lekka-Kowalik and D. Schulthess (Eds). Forbidden Knowledge. The Monist 79 (2) 1996.
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