This blog post shares a TOK essay example about the topic of knowledge and ethical responsibility. This TOK essay can be used by students as a TOK essay example in order to figure out how they should continue with their own TOK essay.
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TOK Essay Topic
“The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility”. Evaluate this claim.
TOK Essay Introduction
The possession of knowledge has many impacts on human beings. After gathering knowledge, one can affect other people’s lives, by using this knowledge. This effect can either be beneficial or harmful for humanity, so possession of knowledge has something to do with ethics and ethical responsibility.
To understand how the possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility, first of all, the TOK meanings of ethics and responsibility should be understood clearly. One important thought in Ethics is the thought of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism suggests that one should work for the good of the majority of people. In some cases a group of people can benefit and one other group can suffer. In a case of that kind, most of the people should be satisfied by a given action. Heading away from utilitarianism, Ethics can simply be defined as the philosophy of differentiating between what is right or wrong and what is good or what is bad for the majority of people. Responsibility is what a person ought to do both for himself and for the people around him. Combining the two definitions, the definition of ethical responsibility can be stated as the actions that a person is ought to take while bearing in mind the repercussions of the actions in terms of ethics.
There, a question must be raised as follows; how can we know that the possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility? To answer this questions, ethics, history, natural sciences, as areas of knowledge, and emotions, as a way of knowing, will be used. The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility in many situations. For instance, experimentations done on animals and World War 2 are the situations where knowledge carries an ethical responsibility. As a result of these issues so many people are affected both physically and mentally. Since human beings are affected from these issues, these issues carry an ethical responsibility.
TOK Essay Body
The question can be explained in terms of ethics. Science is an area of knowledge where ethical duty is the capital of importance, since scientific studies are mostly on human beings’ life, which is accepted by the most of the religions as secret and apart from this, living freely is accepted as the main right of a person in all over the world. Also, what Thomas Jefferson says about human life is; “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object”. In this case instead of humans animals are used for the experiments in science. For instance, Mice are widely used in experiments by scientists. This usage of mice has three main reasons. Firstly, since mice are small and weak, it is very easy to control a mouse so it becomes very easy for scientists to use mice in the experiments. Secondly, mice represent most of the properties of mammals. Since human beings are mammals, it is likely for the reactions of mice towards an experiment to be very similar to reactions of human beings. Lastly, mice reproduce very quickly so that they can be used in further experiments.
One branch of experiments done on animals, especially on mice is testing new medicines. By using animals, new medicines are tested to see whether it may give harm people or not. By using mice to test medicines, human beings lives are guaranteed, it is made sure that no human being gets harmed while trying to be cured but while testing the medicines by using mice, the animals may get harmed, suffer and even die. As well as human beings, every living thing has the right to life. So, doing these experiments seems like taking away the rights of living organisms. Looking from an ethical aspect, it is not ethical to take away the main right of a living organism. Scientists say that if animals are not used to test medicines, no medicines can be introduced into the market for the safe use of human beings because it is impossible to be sure that the medicine is harmful or not. What scientists add is that, if animals are not used to test the new medicines, to produce a new medicine, scientists will be obliged to use human beings for the tests. In this case, if animals are not used to test medicines, human life will be in danger and patients will not be able to find new medicines to get cured and it will not be possible to produce and launch new medicines. For instance, scientists from all over the world are working on finding a medicine to cure AIDS. While trying to find a medicine to cure AIDS, scientists use animals and they inject HIV virus to animals to test the results. In this case, if scientists do not use animals, human beings will be used to find a cure to AIDS and the HIV virus will be injected to human beings. The person who is injected the virus will start carrying the virus and he or she will be able to live at most for a couple of years. As a result, it will not be possible for the scientists to produce medicines to cure the newly present illnesses and human beings will suffer from these illnesses forever or human beings will be used for the tests, even their life gets in danger. On the other hand, while human beings’ lives are guaranteed by the tests done on animals, animals suffer from the tests and these tests have no benefits for the animals. In this case, what scientists do is harming the animals and animals can show no reaction to this, they are just forced to be used in the tests and this is out of ethics. As a result, the scientist, who has the knowledge of creating a new medicine and testing it has ethical responsibilities both towards human beings and animals. If he uses his knowledge, human beings will have great benefits and he will take science a step further but while doing these, he will harm the animals.
In another aspect, the reliability of the experiments done on mice is important. In this perspective the experiments on mice can be analyzed in natural sciences. While doing the experiments, if a scientist follows a wrong scientific method without knowing that it is wrong, the scientist may give harm to people, while trying to find a cure. As the scientist, shares the results of the experiments done on mice, if the results are biased or wrong, it would probably make people suffer and this is not ethical since it gives harm to people. So, the scientists’ knowledge of doing experiments brings an ethical responsibility to the scientist.
World War 2 is one of the most important events in the late history. During World War 2, in a time period called Holocaust, when thousands of Jewish people were murdered, a series of experimentations called ‘Nazi Human Experimentations’ were done. The experimentations included bone, muscle and nerve transplantations. The experiments were done on human beings. Jewish people and prisoners were used mostly in the experiments. While using the people, no one was informed about the experiments and the people were forced to be included in the experiments. At the end of the experiments, the people who were used for the experiments died. But, while doing the experiments, the scientists took science one step further. They found how to transplant bones, nerves and muscle, which are still used in today’s science and which saves many people’s lives. According to the thought of utilitarianism, since most people benefited from these researches, what the scientists did can be considered as ethical. On the other hand, while doing the experiments, the scientists took the people’s right to life. So, the knowledge about transplantation brought these scientists an ethical responsibility towards the progress of science, the people who benefited from the experiments and the people who lost their life in the experimentations.
TOK Essay Conclusion
Looking from the sight of emotions, the experiments may be considered as unethical. While doing the experiments, the relatives of the people who died because of the experiments were affected badly by the experiments, since they lost their relatives. To understand how the experiments affected people, especially Jews, emotionally, the interviews with holocaust survivors can be watched and read. In the interviews, it can be seen that the events, especially the experiments, resulted in emotional wounds that never heal. Affecting a person’s emotions badly can be considered as unethical so the scientists who possessed the knowledge of doing experiments have a responsibility towards the people who were affected badly.
In most cases, especially in science, possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility. People, who have the knowledge about an invention, or a technique such as transplantation must be aware of the repercussions of that knowledge when it is shared and something new is done by using that knowledge. Ethically, the person who has the knowledge should be aware of the fact that living beings should not be affected by the results of that knowledge. While considering human beings, the person who owns the knowledge should take the animals and other living beings into consideration, since every living being has the right to life. The person who possesses the knowledge should consider the ethical responsibilities that come with the knowledge and he should use the knowledge within the boundaries of his ethical responsibilities.
- Lagemaat, R. (2011). Theory of Knowledge For The IB Diploma. Cambridge University Press.
- Nazi Human Experimentation. March 11, 2013, retrieved from
- Animal Testing. March 11, 2013, retrieved from
- Why do medical researchers use mice? March 11, 2013, retrieved from
- Interviews with holocaust survivors, March, 11, 2013 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJdqDuA9Vp8