Analyze a current debate case.
Explain an argument that supports a position for or against the case.
Apply an ethical theory to your argument.
1. Readfrom the 2017 Texas Regional Ethics Bowl Competition.
QUESTION: Should the Museum include the biography of the artist with the art work?
Write three- five paragraphs evaluating the ethical issues of the case and arguing FOR or AGAINST a position from the question. Make sure to pick ONE position (for or against), identify the stakeholders, address various ethical issues (e.g., freedom of speech, violation of rights, happiness of society, autonomy, etc.), give at least 1 argument that supports your position, and explain and reply to a possible objection.
Paragraph 1: Summarize the scenario briefly, focusing on the elements that you will address in your argument and state your thesis (pick a position either FOR or AGAINST)
Paragraph 2: Give one argument that supports the thesis. Remember to explain your argument fully, using examples or scenarios.
Paragraph 3: Give another argument that supports the thesis.
Paragraph 4: Explain a possible objection to the thesis. Reply to that objection.
–Your goal is to give objective arguments to support a thesis.Use the theories that we have studied to support your arguments. One of your arguments must explicitly address one of the ethical theories we covered (Utilitarianism, Deontology, Cultural Relativism, Social contract theory, Egoism, Divine command theory). Think about what Mill or Kant would say.
–Make sure your arguments do not commit any obvious fallacy such as anecdotal evidence, emotional appeal, fallacy of assertion (stating beliefs or opinions), straw man, etc.
–Make sure you give REASONS for the position.
— Explain your arguments fully, using examples or scenarios. Pretend that your reader doesn’t know the case, and does not agree with you. Explain your argument fairly and sufficiently.
–Your last paragraph (or two) should explain a possible objection against your argument, and then explain your reply. Thus, if your thesis is FOR a position, explain an argument AGAINST the position, and reply to that argument.
Case 11: Mind over Matter?
On April 29, 2017, the Ditchling Museum of ART + CRAFT opened a new exhibit: Eric Gill: The Body. Gill was one of the finest British artists of the 20th century; his sculptures stand in buildings across the world, including Westminster Cathedral (London) and the United Nations Building (NYC). His sculptures, engravings, and drawings permanently reside in prestigious museums. According to Ditchling’s web page, “[w]ithin Gill’s work, the human body is of central importance; this major exhibition asks whether knowledge of Gill’s disturbing biography affects our enjoyment and appreciation of his depiction of the human figure.”109 The “disturbing biography” referred to is Gill’s sexual abuse of his two oldest daughters during their teens.
Prior to mounting the exhibition, Ditchling’s director, Nathaniel Hepburn, convened a workshop that included academics, museum professionals and curators, critics, and journalists to consider not whether, but how, the exhibition might usefully examine this sexual abuse. Journalist Rachel Cooke, a workshop participant, queries: “For me, though, the biggest question remains unanswered: why do this show at all? The darknesses in Gill’s life have been public knowledge… [since] 1989. It is not as though this information is secret. Why force it on visitors?”110
Certainly some viewers will be distressed—perhaps mightily distressed—to see sculptures and engravings of the abused daughters, executed during the periods of their abuse. For example, abuse survivors may experience flashbacks of their abuse. Members of the more general public are likely to experience feelings of disgust and repugnance in learning how Gill came to acquire such intimate knowledge of his subjects’ bodies. Abusers themselves may view their own behavior as validated upon learning that a great artist produced brilliant work as a result of his sexual abuse of minors. Indeed, one post on the museum’s Facebook page notes: “Voyeurism is not art – your exhibition feeds the poisoned minds of child molesters – for the safety of all young bodies and souls at risk – I insist you remove these images.”111 109 “Eric Gill: The Body,” Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, June 6, 2017, http://www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/event/eric-gill-body/.
110 Rachel Cooke, “Eric Gill: Can We Separate the Artist from the Abuser?,” The Guardian, June 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/apr/09/eric-gill-the-body-ditchling-exhibition-rachelcooke?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other.
111 Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft Facebook Page, June 9, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/pg/museumartcraft/reviews/.
Why, then, bring up the abuse at all? Why not just show Gill’s work without mentioning this aspect of his personal history? The relationship of artists’ personal lives to their works has long been a vexed question that remains unsettled. Director Hepburn responds: “Museums have a duty to talk about difficult issues. They are a place where society can think. There is some public benefit in organisations like ours not turning a blind eye to abuse.”112
Moreover, the American Association of Museum Curators’ Code of Ethics lists as curators’ first value “[t]o serve the public good by contributing to and promoting learning, inquiry, and dialogue, and by making the depth and breadth of human knowledge available to the public.”113 The Code adds that curators’ interpretive responsibilities include: “When possible and appropriate, [curators] accurately and respectfully represent the creator’s perspective.”114 The Code does not address who is/might be the arbiter(s) of “the public good”, or the exact nature of this good.
Finally, the issue of self-censorship arises: If museums themselves censor exhibitions’ content by choosing to omit objects viewers might find offensive, the public will be deprived of art that, at least according to some art experts, has aesthetic value— Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos come to mind here.
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