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Would You Be a Good Theory of Knowledge Student?
Our DP Coordinator, Mr. Daniel, also teaches Theory of Knowledge at KIS. Below he explains a bit about the course, using examples from ToK Questions:
Theory of Knowledge (ToK) students are assessed by a Presentation and an Essay. Students choose 1 essay question from 6 prescribed titles released by the IB in September each year.
So, how would you do if you had to write a ToK Essay ? I have paraphrased this year’s questions below, read each question and ask yourself whether you could formulate arguments for and against the title, what examples would you use ?, and what conclusion would you reach ? After trying to work out an answer for yourself you can read my take on the question, and some of the examples that I would choose.
Of course there is no single correct way to answer the questions, the students just have to formulate well structured responses, which draw upon real world examples, in 1600 words.
ToK Essay Questions 2018*
1. Does combining knowledge production methods from different subjects lead to confusion?
Explanation: At school we are taught that each subject has a particular method of producing knowledge. However, in reality people often use a combination of these methods for producing knowledge. This question leads to the sub-question: if the subject uses methods from another subject is it still the original subject ? Students are expected to argue both (all) sides of the question and formulate a conclusion. Strong students writing answers here may draw upon empiricism, rationalism, ethnomethodologies, historicism, epiphenomenalism, epistemology etc.
Examples: In argument for the claim we could look at the development of Preformationism in the 17th Century, a biological theory which mixed the knowledge production methods of Biology and Religious Knowledge Systems.
In argument against the claim the development of Germ Theory would be useful here as it draws upon the knowledge production methods of Biology, Chemistry, History and Visual Art (see Louis Pasteur’s Research).
2. ‘The less we know the more confident we are, the more we know the more we doubt’ Discuss.
Explanation: This essay requires students to consider the idea that when we learn more about something we become more aware of what we don’t know. Like all of these questions students would have to argue both for and against the question.
For: The development of Astronomic Knowledge, before the development of Astronomic Methods of Knowledge we were more secure/confident about our place in space (Geocentrism), as we have developed deep space measuring techniques our knowledge of the vastness of the universe we have started to realise the possible incompleteness of our understanding of the universe.
Against: Medical Science - before the development of scientific testing illness was thought to be caused by a range of factors, many of which are metaphysical, and supernatural. As we have developed the hypothetical deductive method in physical sciences we have become more confident in disease causality.
3. Do we need uniform patterns to develop knowledge?
Explanation: This essay really draws upon the fundamentals of the subject that students will have been learning across their DP. The essay asks students to look at subjects (or instances) where commonalities lead to knowledge vs subjects where exceptions leads to knowledge.
Examples: All correlational research (Natural & Human Sciences) depends upon patterns / trends for knowledge production. On the other hand, it could be argued that knowledge in The Arts is produced when there are exceptions. Student writing this essay will be much helped by reading Nassim Taleb’s book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
4. Is suspension of disbelief essential to knowing?
Explanation: Have you ever met one of those people who question absolutely everything ? I often wonder what it is that they actually accept as a personal truth (sometimes I ask them this, it usually upsets them). This question asks us to consider the point at which we accept without corroboration, ie at what point are we just willing to believe ?
Examples: We could contrast the suspension of disbelief in the Arts (e.g. going to see a film) in comparison to the Natural Sciences (e.g. if a doctor proposes a treatment I may look for many sources of corroboration such as previous patients, research studies on the treatment etc).
5. Is older knowledge better than newer knowledge?
Explanation: Does knowledge improve over time, or is it replaced with better knowledge ? This is about the basis of knowledge change - is it evolutionary or revolutionary ?
Examples - there are a myriad of examples that students can draw upon. The Arts - is Classical Music better than Drum & Bass ? Are ancient fairy tales better than modern manga comics ? Sciences - is knowledge of Alchemy better than knowledge of molecular rheotaxis ? etc etc
6. Do we need to both agree & disagree to develop strong knowledge?
Explanation: This question is asking students about the role of dissent in good knowledge production. It is asking about the process of testing ideas in order to ensure that only the stronger ones survive.
Examples: From History and The Human Sciences students could draw upon examples of conformist thinking, or “Yes men” (such as inside the US Cabinet during The Cuban Missile Crisis). From Religious Knowledge Systems students can draw upon examples in which people are not allowed to question the dominant belief system etc.
These are just starting points of how these questions could be answered, there are many other ways to look at the questions, and a much wider scope of knowledge which could be drawn upon than could be mentioned here. I just wanted to give you a flavour of the questions, and ideas, that out G12 students will be grappling with whilst writing their ToK Essays over the next few weeks.
If you are interested in the content of ToK or seeing what is being taught on the course please check out my ToK Website, ToK Trump, at www.toktrump.wordpress.com
*These are slightly rewritten versions of the actual questions, due to copyright we are only allowed to give the actual questions to students who are sitting their DP Exams in May 2018.
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