When black and white turns grey

Knowledge can be an amazing tool to possess, opening gateways to new realms of possibilities and giving us the ability to open our eyes wider.  Knowledge has the capabilities of changing the world for the better good when placed in the minds of the right people.  Knowledge arms us with passion and the foresight of outcomes of the decisions we make.  Knowledge is supposed to make us wiser, for from it, we learn how to make ethical decisions based on moral principles.  Sometimes, however, knowledge can become a burden, making what use to be easy choices more difficult.  Many times these choices become more difficult because once we gain a certain amount of knowledge, the lines of ethics become blurred, compromising our morals; after all, with great knowledge comes great responsibility.

By definition, ethics are the moral principles which govern peoples’ behavior based on values, ideals, standards, conscious, and rights and wrongs.  The principles serve the purpose of guiding us in a direction that will not harm others around us.  It would appear clear and that choosing an ethical route would be simple.  This is true when ethics are presented with a very black and white situation, where our moral compasses easily point in the right direction.  Say we gained knowledge of a local company producing harmful bi-products that have began polluting natural resources in the area.  Ethically, it is easy to determine how to use this knowledge for the greater good, because polluting the natural resources will negatively affect the community in the short and long term, so the company should find new measures of producing their products.  Simple.

But ethics are not always black and white.  In fact, there are many instances in which we gain knowledge that smudges all of our moral principles grey, making an ethical decision difficult to make.  This is the sort of knowledge that becomes dangerous, because it would appear that gaining it gives you no moral grounds, yet you need to make a decision of how to more closely ethically deal with the knowledge.  What I mean by that is in these instances, there is no way to make a decision ethically, but you need to decide which decision will cause the least amount of harm.  Those with the strongest guiding moral principles find these the most difficult decisions to execute because there simply is no obvious right answer and no way to tell what answer is best.

With the knowledge gained, each outcome and their consequences need to be weighed out using our personal judgement.  There is no way of knowing for certain what each of the consequences entail, although we can try to imagine what they would be, which is why these sorts of decisions become difficult and the moral question becomes which consequence will have the least affect on those around me.  And there is also the question of whether or not it is ethical to withhold knowledge of something from others.  I have been in situations that I swore up and down that I wanted access to knowledge of something because I would rather know the truth than not.  My heart could never settle for this because it wasn’t truthful, and even though others told me it was best to not have access to certain knowledge, I couldn’t accept this because I felt I should be the one responsible for the knowledge that I knew would affect me.  I would go to great lengths to access this knowledge, and once I had, I wished I hadn’t learned what I previously didn’t know because it caused more damage knowing it than not.  Some very wise friends of mine have sympathized with this, explaining that sometimes it is what we don’t know that makes life easier to effectively move forward, for you can never un-know what has been learned.  So from an ethical stand point in these instances, it was better for me to simply know that something had happened and be sheltered from harm than to know the details that shattered me.

Unfortunately everybody is different and will react to knowledge in different ways, which is why it will always be difficult to take a moral stand point in a situation where it would appear every answer is ethically wrong.  Just because I may find it a more ethical route at times for someone to withhold damaging knowledge from me does not necessarily mean that others will feel the same way.  That is also to say that every difficult situation will not necessarily produce the same results, because one thing to remember is that ethics won’t automatically produce the right answer, but rather guide us into making the most beneficial decision.  This is the sort of knowledge that puts our moral principles to the true test.

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