The controversial question

Cambridge A-Level 2019

Q6: Examine the view that the scientist is concerned only with knowledge, not morality.

First interpretation: “ought”

  • The question uses the phrase “the scientist” rather than “scientists”.
  • Thus, this is an “ought” question and not an “is” question.
  • The issue is whether the scientist, as in the true scientist, should only be concerned with knowledge, or whether he should also pay careful attention to moral issues.
  • For example, an argument might take this form:
    • One is not a true scientist if he does not do true science.
    • Since true science is only about expanding our knowledge and has nothing to do with morality, the true scientist is one who is only concerned with knowledge, not morality.
  • This argument has the following implications:
    • If true science is only about expanding the frontiers of knowledge, a true scientist ought to ignore moral considerations.
    • A true scientist may nonetheless adhere to legal requirements in order to avoid legal penalties. He does so as an act of self-interest, not as a means of fulfilling his moral obligations.

But you added the word “true”!

  • Yes I did, but I did it for emphasis.
  • To understand this, consider what people say when a biochemist fakes his results.
    • This has happened before and apart from calling him a fraud, people typically say that he is not really a scientist.
    • They could also say, “he does not deserve to be called a scientist.”
    • They do not say, “he does not deserve to be called a true scientist.”
    • Instead, they insist, “he’s not a scientist; don’t call him that; don’t lump us together with him.”
  • Likewise, we can say that the scientist, as the term “scientist” is properly understood, must really do science. Since “science”, as that term too is properly understood, is simply a quest for knowledge, an exploration of physical phenomena, or what have you, then the scientist must be one that only focuses on knowledge, not morality.
  • Thus, the word “true” is redundant because one is either a scientist or not a scientist. An untrue scientist is not a scientist in the first place. He may do something that he calls science, and he may also call himself a scientist, but he is actually a charlatan and a fraud and he is not a scientist. 
  • We can liken the discussion here to teachers. There are many who claim to be able to teach. There are many who go through the motions of teaching. There are many who offer you such a lovely experience that the undiscerning individual might be fooled into thinking that what they are getting is true teaching. But many of these do not really teach. They are not really teachers; they are not teachers at all. As a teacher, I would insist that you do not denigrate this noble profession by calling these people teachers (thinking of some influencers right now… 😉).

Alternative interpretation: “is”

  • The question is an “is” question that requires us to consider what scientists in today’s world are like.
    • Do they pursue scientific knowledge at the expense of morality?
    • Do they adhere to ethical requirements when conducting research?
    • Do they pursue areas of research which might pose ethical problems?
  • This interpretation requires us to ignore the way the question is worded.
    • In particular, it cannot explain why the question uses the word “the scientist” rather than “scientists”.
    • In contrast, the first interpretation is consistent with the way writers sometimes drop the word “true” when it is considered redundant.

What happens if I adopt the wrong interpretation?

  • Students who adopt the wrong interpretation do not automatically fail.
  • They may still score decently well if they succeed in producing a thorough discussion of related concepts, contentions, and case studies.
  • However, they will suffer from an inherent disadvantage because they have failed to understand why the question is being asked in the first place.
  • Students who do not understand why a question is being asked tend to miss the crux of the issue. They fail to discuss key concepts, contentions, and case studies. 
  • Finally, it should be noted that if your interpretation is too far-fetched, the examiner will deem your essay to have failed to meet the question’s requirements. Needless to say, you would obtain a rather dismal grade in a situation like this.

A Special Invitation

General Paper may seem daunting, but we employ a unique approach that has helped students gain greater confidence as they learn in an engaging and interactive manner.

We offer:

  • engaging classes that cover key concepts, essential case studies, exam techniques and everything you need to ace GP;
  • a unique approach that minimises rote learning and maximises understanding;
  • extensive notes on every topic area and component;
  • ample practices with timely marking and feedback; and
  • unlimited online consultations.

All classes are personally taught by Mr Liau, ex-journalist and author of the A-Level GP Answer Key.

97% of our students score ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades every year. We hope to help you too.

If you have questions about this article or about our classes, please feel to contact us.

If you would like to find out more about our lessons and how we can help you gain that much needed edge for the A-Level examination, head over to for more information.

Contact Us (Enquiries and Registration)


Call / SMS / WhatsApp


Enquiry / Registration Form

Drop us a message or leave us your number and we will be in touch within 12 hours.

To register, simply get in touch with us and we will guide you through the registration process.