The production of forbidden knowledge

Authored by: Joanna Kempner

Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415718967
eBook ISBN: 9781315867762
Adobe ISBN: 9781317964674


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In science, the search for knowledge is often considered an unlimited good or even a “moral calling” (Weber 1946). However, the idea that some knowledge is dangerous and ought to be forbidden is deeply entrenched in Western culture. The ancients warned about such hazards in literature and myth: the Tree of Knowledge, Prometheus, and Pandora’s Box all caution about the dangers of unlimited knowledge. In the contemporary world, scientists, policymakers, advocates and the public regularly engage in debates about whether and how to place limits on potentially dangerous knowledge, from fetal tissue research to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While philosophers of science and bioethicists have long been interested in forbidden knowledge as a category, social scientists are only just starting to investigate how these limits are formulated, imposed, administrated and, at times, breached. This chapter provides a brief overview of this research.

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