Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science
A New Look at an Old Debate
by Carolyn Csongradi
How do we acquire knowledge about principles and
values and make reasoned choices?
How do we develop the skills to make hard choices, to appreciate
how others feel, to shape the kind of world we want to live in,
to be moral and live with integrity? The fundamental question
of whether virtues are taught, inherited, or passed on by some
other mechanism has been attributed to Plato more than 2,000 years
ago. One current theory proposes that values and moral knowledge
are acquired much in the same manner as other forms of content
knowledge, through real world experience.
There are at least four plausible, overlapping hypotheses addressing
the question of how the human mind gains knowledge about the world.
Each hypothesis, supported by different lines of evidence, states
one possible relationship between nature, which is inherited information,
and nurture, which represents environmental influences. Spanning
several centuries, the pros and cons of these hypotheses have
been debated by philosophers, scientists, psychologists and others.
An important point of contention woven throughout this long standing
debate is whether object reality differs from what our mental
image is of those same objects. In otherwords, the map is not
all there is to describing the territory! These hypotheses focus
on distinctions and relationships between "content"
which is sensory information arising from real objects, such as
shape or color; and "form" which are thoughts, inferences,
about these objects. Cause and effect is an example of a property
which cannot be directly observed, but develops from mental constructs
based on experience and/or genetic information. Our knowledge
of things is intimately tied to what we believe to be an objectively
or even subjectively defined reality. Object knowledge is thought
to be influenced by experience and moral knowledge, by social
practices. And as the last hypothesis will propose, what we know
about matter and values is likely relative and contingent on our
place in history.