What is TOK?
The next few weeks will be spent establishing how the Core and TOK in particular function as part of the IB, and what the course hopes to do for you as independent and reflective learners. One thing we need to establish is the need for questions...whether they be questioning others, ourselves, perceived norms and assumptions, what is deemed necessary in our society at this stage in our development. Questions and questioning lie at the heart of any real understanding and as such are at the core of this TOK course. With this skill in place, we can then proceed onto our next topic which hopes to outline exactly what we mean by Knowledge, and what we are as learners....
Seaching For Sugarman & TOK
The first resource we will use is a documentary from 2012 about a musician called Rodriguez. Whilst watching the documentary, you should use the attached summary sheet to note down what people knew about Rodriguez in:
- Detroit, Michigan, USA
- Capetown and Pretoria, South Africa
Please however, focus mainly on the story that unfolds, and use the summary sheet as an occasional aid to jot down examples that jump out at you whilst watching.....
So, now we've established the possibility of knowledge meaning different things to different people dependent on on factors such as politics and technology, we now need to return back to this concept of questioning....the following exchange is taken from one of Plato’s famous dialogues 'Meno' in which he is trying to guide a rich young aristocrat who has sought him out for assistance...
After having grown exasperated with Socrates telling him his arguments are circular and so meaningless, Meno accuses Socrates of deliberately confusing everyone he meets...
‘...you are exactly like the flat torpedo fish (stingray) that one meets in the sea. Whenever anyone comes into contact with it, it numbs him… If you behaved like this as a foreigner in another country, you would most likely be arrested as a wizard.’
‘If the sting ray paralyzes others only through being paralyzed itself, then the comparison is just, but not otherwise. It is not that, knowing the answer myself, I perplex other people. The truth is rather that I infect them also with the perplexity I feel myself.......’'
Welcome to TOK!
What are the aims of TOK?
Theory of Knowledge helps form the Core section of your IB Diploma along with CAS and your Extended Essay research paper. It's role is to help establish and hone the reflective skills and ability to self critique that are going to be required once you head into your undergraduate studies in Higher Education. It requires you to examine our assumptions about what we know, leading you away from passive acceptance of what knowledge is, and towards a more active and critical examination of what knowledge means to you and why.
There are a number of key TOK terms that will turn up time and time again as we head through the course, with these always useful to come back to to help focus thinking, and when summing up our thoughts:
.....evidence, certainty, truth, interpretation, power,
.....justification, explanation, objectivity, perspective,
.....culture, values and responsibility.
What do these terms mean and how do you think they link to knowledge?
What is the structure of TOK?
TOK doesn’t have a curriculum quite as tight as other subjects. The reason for that is simple: there is no checklist of things you have to know for the end of course exam, because there is no end of course exam. Instead, you are expected to be able to construct a wide-ranging essay and deliver a thematic exhibition that draw on your own ideas and opinions, formed during the two years of the course. Having said that, you will focus on several distinct things..
Having said all this, even though that curriculum is more flexible, there is still an underlying structure which will form the basis for what we will explore - the knowledge structure:
- methods and tools
What do these terms mean and how do you think they link to knowledge?
Which key knowledge terms can you attach to each area?
Core theme - Knowledge & the knower
We will begin by looking at what we mean by the term ‘knowledge’, and the way people have tried to divide it up. It’s probably worth pointing out that looking at a ‘theory of knowledge’ is by no means a new idea: almost all philosophy courses at university level devote some time to its consideration, though they use the slightly less manageable term ‘epistemology’. And almost all philosophers of worth (and a great many thinkers in other fields) have devoted some of their time to thinking about it.
In this first section, we will also think about truth, about various ways of testing whether something is true, and we’ll come across a few philosophers whose ideas you probably already know.
Optional Theme I - Knowledge and Technology
How does technology shape how we know?
Does technology aid or hinder cognition?
You only need to be browsing the Internet for a few minutes before you come across a wealth of knowledge claims. On the one hand, it fantastic that we have so much information at our disposal. When I was your age and I needed some information for a history project, it took me a lot of time to get what I wanted. I had to physically cycle to the town library, research the index box, find the historical journal I needed, copy the details I needed by hand, and then cycle back home.
Now, it takes a few seconds to "Google" the same information. On the other hand, the very same wealth of information and knowledge that we have at our disposal, can be overwhelming. After all, how do we select the best and most reliable sources? How do we know what we should believe? It can indeed be difficult to distinguish between genuine, well founded knowledge and well presented but unfounded claims.
Optional Theme II - Knowledge and Politics
What issues does politics raise about the difference between knowledge and opinion?
It may come as no surprise that knowledge and politics are closely connected. Indeed, with knowledge comes power; and power may in its turn shape what is considered to be knowledge. It is important to remember that when we talk about politics, we should also consider "politics" in a broader sense. Politics in TOK is about more than just party politics. Politics can encompass how we consider important current issues and view concepts such as race and gender. Politics can comprise ways of thinking and the textual politics of language and discourse.
Dominant groups and those in power may shape and define what we accept and reject as knowledge within a particular community of knowers. Unfortunately, group think and authority worship can be dangerous, as the documentary "Five Steps to Tyranny" highlights. A good understanding of the political nature of knowledge may have positive ethical outcomes. For example, if we understand the implications of things such as group think by analysing real life (historical) examples, we may less easily be swayed to accept unethical and biased knowledge claims we encounter in our own lives. In this sense, there is a close connection between ethics, knowledge and politics.
Areas of knowledge (AOKs)
Then we’ll go on to the knowledge itself. This we divide into five areas: mathematics, natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), human sciences (sociology, anthropology, and most other things with an ‘ology’ in them), history, and the arts. These will form the basis of the essay you will write in Year 14 using two of these areas - the areas you choose should reflect who you are as a knower and an IB student, something which you will develop a clearer understanding of as you proceed through the course!
You’ll see the phrase ‘knowledge question' a lot in TOK. Your essay and exhibition are based around the idea of knowledge questions:
- what do they ask of knowledge?
- how we can they help us dissect the knowledge we examine,
- how we can then use them to analyse that knowledge
- how we can .then link that analysis to other examples of knowledge and reach conclusions as a result
So, what are knowledge questions?
Knowledge questions are, simply, issues about knowledge, usually framed as questions. You have to be able to answer them first by explaining what they are, then presenting an argument (backed up by evidence), next, a counterclaim (more evidence), and finally a conclusion. They can’t be too easily answerable or closed, but then again, they can’t be too vague and all-encompassing.
Ideally, they should be closely related to one or more of the AOKs or WOKs. At this stage, they’re not worth worrying about too much: you will come to understand what is, and what is not, a knowledge question as you follow the course and your Diploma.
Examples of the type of questions that we we will encounter in TOK via course content
Studying the views of two different historians in a DP history lesson
→ How can we decide between the judgments of experts if they disagree with each other?
A newspaper article on predicting future population growth in Africa
→ How can a model be useful even if it is obviously false?
A journal article detailing the outcomes of a medical trial of an experimental new drug
→ What ethical constraints should there be on the pursuit of knowledge?
A discussion of “Pascal’s triangle” in a mathematics lesson
→ How significant have notable individuals been in shaping the development of mathematics as an area of knowledge?
Watching a video of a talk on compassion, happiness and inner peace by the Dalai Lama
→ Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?
Should driverless cars be programmed to protect the passenger in the car or a pedestrian in the case of an accident?
→ In what ways do ethical judgments differ from other kinds of judgments?
How can studying TOK help me achieve my potential as a student?
- Examining what sort of learner you are and where your strengths
- Looking at what knowledge you possess and how to assess that knowledge
- Exploring how you learn and how to maximise that learning potential
…so to conclude here`s Socrates again – 'the unexamined life is not worth living' (Apology)
(adapted from theoryofknowledge.net & tok2022.weebly.com)