mind over matter?

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Objectives:

Analyze a current debate case.

Explain an argument that supports a position for or against the case.

Apply an ethical theory to your argument.

Instructions:

1. Read Case 11: Mind Over Matter? from 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.

FORMAT:

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/.

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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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