What is the role of the artist in society?




Art & Ethics in TOK

Week 2 (Canada) - Lesson Three and Lesson Four

It is an unusual exhibition, the Artist Marco Evaristti's piece “Helena & El Pescador” made waves because offered viewers the choice to kill a goldfish in a blender, or let it live. The artist placed 10 blenders on a long table. In each of the blenders the artist place a live gold fish swimming in some water. The visitors to the art exhibition now has the choice of turning on the blender – or not. The visitor, essentially became the “the rulers on the decision on life and death”, in the words of the artist. According to news reports, some visitors did actually turn on the blenders, killing the fish. Animal rights activists complained and the police became involved. A final decision as to whether this work was unethical was decided in the courts. Read the BBC article here and the Telegraph article here

Points to consider:

  • Must art provoke? Is it necessary for good art to provoke emotions and a discussion?
  • Can art be unethical?
  • Does calling something “art” automatically justify a certain action or painting or work?
  • Does calling something “artistic” make it more moral or ethical?

What if we said "killing a fish in a blender in bad. Killing a fish in a blender and calling it artistic is acceptable"


Do you agree or disagree? What Ways of Knowing (WOK's) have you used?

  • should certain types of art be censored? Where does the freedom of expression end?
  • could it be that some people oppose the exhibition not because of legitimate animal rights reasons, but because the exhibition makes them feel uncomfortable?
  • What if the animal was not a goldfish… a cat / dog?




Should we judge artists by their work or their ethical position?




READ THIS ARTICLE ON: Jill Greenberg: It’s Not Like Taking Candy From a Baby



Many artists have unattractive ethical outlooks. The composer Wagner was anti-Semitic, and supported Hitler’s hatred of the Jews.  Do we still appreciate his music?

The film producer Woody Allen married his step-daughter. Soon-Yi Previn. He was 58, she was 27. They have been married for 20 years and have two children

Can we appreciate the artistic achievements of such figures despite knowing their characters? Yet again, the answer depends on a combination of your own ethical outlook, and your opinion of art.

Watch the following clip on METAETHICS to help with your answer :-) 


Levels of generality

In dealing with living a good life and making the right choices, ethics deals with knowledge questions and different levels - and can be conventionally divided into 3 broad fields. When we talk about the 'big picture' of Ethics, within its scope is:

1) Meta ethics - What is the nature of ethical knowledge?

2) Normative ethics- How to we know we are doing the right thing?

3) Applied ethics - How does ethical thinking apply to situations in society?



In groups of three, research one of the above fields of ethics and write a definition in your own words. Find a RLS that this can be applied to. Consider a claim and counter claim. You will be presenting this to the group (please also add relevant notes below to share with the group).


Points to consider:

  1. Should art should stand on its own, and we should not be judgemental about the ethical standpoint of its creator?
  2. Or as others would say that art – especially if it has some kind of ethical message – cannot be seen as separate from the person who created it, that art is an expression of someone’s emotions and character.





    Amy Elsherbiny 1182 days ago

    RLS: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39584495

    Normative Ethics: a general idea of how individuals should act (in relation to morality)

    -Virtue Theory (the theory we ought to possess certain character traits–courage, generosity, compassion, etc.–and these ought to be manifest in our actions.)

    -Consequentialist theory: (holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct.)

    Question: To what extent do certain ethical values influence behavior more than other ethical values? / To what extent does the concept of virtue theory govern human behavior? 

    Claim: Individuals are willing to violate the principles of virtue theory (despite believing in this theory), in order to appear to possess traits they do not and become part of an 'in-group'

    Counterclaim: Individuals who are dishonest or violate virtue theory are acting on the principles of consequentialist theory (which states that they are aiming to create the best outcome for themselves).

    Elliot Weir 1180 days ago


    Looks at the very nature of ethics and morality and what makes a judgement a moral judgement. Meta-ethics discusses relations and issues within and between different moral theories. In meta-ethics we categorise moral standpoints (moral realism and antirealism) and also the nature of moral theories. These moral theories can be divided into Deontological and Teleological (with caveats for Virtue Ethics, which focuses on the person acting, and metaethical theories, which focus on the validity of morality). Deontological moral theories are ones that focus on the action and the intention.


    RLS: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/04/13/letters-right-and-wrong-in-syria/

    Is there right and wrong?

    A question in meta-ethics we should strive to answer in order to even consider answers questions in normative ethics is the question of whether or not morality exists; “Is there right and wrong?”.

    Claim: Moral universalists believe that the same moral principles and rules apply to everyone in every situation, for example a moral universalist may believe that murder is unethical, regardless of the situation or outcome. Deontological theories & religious ethical codes are generally universal.

    Counterclaim: Moral relativism proclaims that there are not universal ethics and that different situations call for different ethical standards. Right and wrong exist, but one strict standard can’t be used in every single situation. Moral nihilists believe that there is no right and wrong and everything is entirely subjective. Whether or not there is right and wrong depends on what theory you subscribe to.

    Pauli Cendoya 1180 days ago


    ‘Normative ethics just seeks to tell us how we can find out what things have what moral properties, to provide a framework for ethics.’

    Does perception justifies unethical behavior?

    Real Life Situation

    A woman killed her 2 years old baby to save her from slavery.  She was about to go for her other children, ‘Trying to put my babies where they will be safe’,  but the police stopped her just in time. The slave catchers did not take her nor her remaining children, however the little girl was dead. Margaret Garner. A book was made after it, Beloved by Toni Morrison.



    • The Justification Hypothesisis conceptualized as the ongoing attempt to convince self and/or others that one's beliefs and values, which is to say one's "version of reality", is correct, defensible, and good.

    • Moral subjectivism


    • No Nonsense- Self defense: blaming others to excuse your unethical behavior is not correct defensible or good. Although they harm you before, you do not have the right to harm them after.

    • Divine Command theory

      • Deontological theory

      • God’s will and word is righteous



        • Bible says killing is wrong thus this is wrong


    Chido Nyakuengama 1180 days ago

    Definition #1:

    Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.


    To put it another way, descriptive ethics would be concerned with determining what proportion of people believe that killing is always wrong, while normative ethics is concerned with whether it is correct to hold such a belief.




    Impeachment of Bill Clinton

    • 1998 the house of representatives  accused  Clinton of perjury after it became apparent that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. This is perjury because in a prior lawsuit against Clinton for sexual assault on another woman he said that he never had an affair with Lewinsky.

    • Here with the use of normative ethics he was accused of lying. So to determine whether or not he was right or wrong in his actions it came down to whether or not he lied.


    Claim: Normative ethics involves arriving at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. In a sense, it is a search for an ideal litmus test of proper behavior. The Golden Rule is a classic example of a normative principle: We should do to others what we would want others to do to us. Normative ethics seeks to tell us how we can find out what things have what moral properties, to provide a framework for ethics.

    • For any act, there are three things that might be thought to be morally interesting: first, there is the agent, the person performing the act; second, there is the act itself; third, there are the consequences of the act. There are three types of normative ethical theory–virtue, deontological, and consequentialist–each emphasizing one of these elements.


    In relation to RLS, the claim demonstrates how moral standards are decided upon based on moral ethics. For clinton the actually perjury claim was due to his lie. However this show that in the case of moral standards Clinton was immoral using normative ethics. If Clinton is immoral based upon Normative ethics and it is also know that he was committing adultery and other immoral act then we can assume that when people do wrong based on normative ethics.

    Counterclaim: The difficulty of discovering the meaning of ethics, that western philosophy has suffered with for over three-thousand years, is in part due to Normative Ethics attempting to define laws and standards not by looking for the Natural laws and standards, but by looking at end-products while believing that the created things had no origin in Nature. Fails to look at the inherent character of the person and focuses on the action on hand. Additionally, how do we define what’s moral or not?


    In relation to the RLS, the counterclaim states that it’s very difficult to define a universal declaration of what’s right and wrong so for some people Bill Clinton didn’t do anything wrong but for others he actually did. That’s when we see a difference in mortality by human beings. Additionally, Bill Clinton’s inherent character had been ignored and the perjury solely focused on the action at hand, which disregards all his other moral principles, and on the basis of one “immoral” action, he was perjured.


    Chloë Fraser 1180 days ago

    In dealing with living a good life and making the right choices, ethics deals with knowledge questions and different levels - and can be conventionally divided into 3 broad fields. When we talk about the 'big picture' of Ethics, within its scope is:

    3) Applied ethics 

    Applied ethics is the branch of ethics that we use in order to justify and explain the decisions we make in daily life, whether it is practices and policies in personal life, or in professions (e.g. medicine), technology, justice systems, and government.


    Question: Are we obligated to help people poorer than we are on an individual basis?

    Millions of people suffer from poor living conditions, lack of capital, resources, and health care. 

    Should we help them if we have the means to?

    ARGUMENT 1 : Peter Singer dude and Humanitarian Principle


    (Weak Humanitarian Principle) (WHP)

    If it is possible to prevent something very bad from happening without sacrificing anything morally significant, then we ought to do it.

    (P1) The average American has the opportunity to prevent suffering and death caused by illness and malnutrition by donating a percentage of his/her income to relief agencies.

    (P2) If (P1), then the average American is morally obligated to donate a percentage of his/her income to relief agencies.

    (C) The average American is morally obligated to donate a percentage of his/her income to relief agencies.

    the conclusion is not (just) that donating money is morally right, but that it is obligatory: I.e., it would be morally wrong not donate the money.

    Support to the argument by ANALOGY:

    ‘’Imagine you come across a small child who has fallen into a pond and is in danger of drowning. You know that you can easily and safely rescue him, but you are wearing an expensive pair of shoes that will be ruined if you do. We all think it would be seriously wrong to walk on past the pond, leaving the child to drown, because you don’t want to have to buy a new pair of shoes – in fact, most people think that would be monstrous. You can’t compare a child’s life with a pair of shoes!’’

    Singer then uses this to argue that well-off people have a moral obligation to donate money to save the lives of some of the world’s poorest people, as long as they can do this without sacrificing anything very significant.

    But really?

    - Relief money often mishandled, or used for wrong purposes, or just goes to overhead

    - Many only delay the suffering and death, not preventing it (either for the same person later on, or a descendant

    P2 presupposes the truth of the humanitarian principles



    Ethical egoism claims that it is necessary and sufficient for an action to be morally right that it maximize one's self-interest.

    It’s your money, so you are not obligated to give it to anyone else.

    (P1) No one is obligated to give his/her own property to another unless it is owed to the other for a specific reason.

    (P2) If (P1) then the average American is not morally obligated to donate a percentage of his/her income to relief agencies.


    *some of my notes are direct text pulled from the sources*