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IB Theory of Knowledge

Breaking Down the 2019 TOK Titles: Part 1

The titles are out and essays need to be written. Yes, it is TOK essay writing time but those essays titles can be notoriously tricky to decipher. Over the next two weeks, therefore, I'm going to be breaking down the titles to give you some ideas for your essay!

“The quality of knowledge is best measured by how many people accept it.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

In essence, this question is asking you to think about how you measure the quality of knowledge. An obvious example of measuring the quality of knowledge would be in the natural sciences, for example, where being able to replicate an experiment indicates that the knowledge produced by that experiment is valid.

Critically, however, the question indicates that you need to talk about the role people accepting knowledge plays in making it valid. If we take our earlier example of the natural sciences, therefore, the question posed is: 'is knowledge valuable if not accepted'? You could repeat an experiment and prove a theory multiple times, but does it require social acceptance to be true? If you look at vaccinations, for example, may don’t believe in them even though there is evidence to suggest they are safe.

A potential structure for this essay could be:

  • Examining how the quality of knowledge is examined in your first area of knowledge
  • Then explore how important the role of people accepting knowledge plays in validating it.
  • And repeat for your second AoK.

“The production of knowledge  is always a collaborative task and never solely a product of the individual.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

This is a classic TOK title which asks you to consider the relationship between personal and shared knowledge. You need to think about 3 things:

  • What is personal knowledge (ie the product of the individual)
  • What is shared knowledge (ie the collaborative task)
  • How these interlink to create knowledge

An example of how you structure this essay would be:

  • How is knowledge produced in your first area of knowledge? Does it come from a team of people researching together? Does an individual come up with an idea on their own?
  • Which of these methods of knowledge production could be called "collaborative", and which could be said to be produced by the individual?
  • Give your arguments for why the production of knowledge needs to be a collaborative task.
  • Then give you counter arguments for how an individual can create knowledge.
  • Then give an evidenced conclusion.
  • Repeat for your second area of knowledge.

When writing this essay, you critically need to bear in mind the words ‘never’ and ‘always’. TOK is all about nuance, so it is unlikely that you will be able to say definitively if the statement is true or not. Therefore you need to explore both sides of the argument and made a reasoned conclusion.

Do good explanations have to be true?

I personally think this is a very fruitful title, if not a little tricky. It is asking you to consider what makes for a “good explanation” and whether or not “truth” is necessary when giving an account of something.

The first thing to do, therefore, if to think about defining an explanation. Is an explanation about simply recounting something, or is it about passing on knowledge?

Then you need to explore whether an explanation needs to be true.

Part of your answer will depend on whether you think an explanation needs to pass on knowledge. If it does, then you may well argue that it needs to be true. This is complicated by the fact that sometimes we cannot fully explain things. How often have you tried to explain your feelings, but endedup not quite saying what you meant to?

If an explanation is more about describing a phenomenon than convey knowledge, then it may not need to be true. Think about the reason as a way of knowing. Something you may have studied in class is deductive reasoning. This is the idea that you have 2 general premises which lead you to a particular conclusion. A famous example would be:

  1. All men are mortal
  2. Socrates if a man
  3. Therefore Socrates if therefore mortal

However, this particular type of ‘explanation’ does not always provide us with the truth. If your premises are incorrect, then your argument will be sound, but your conclusion factually incorrect. For example:

  1. It is snowing today
  2. It only snows in December
  3. Therefore it is December

Clearly, this is wrong! It can snow at many different times in the winter. The explanation is solid, but the conclusion is not true because one of your central premises is false.

(You don't need to have Socrates' level of concentration to ace TOK)

Want some more help?

Hopefully, this blog gave you some ideas about where to start with your essays. Come back next week for our rundown on essay titles 4-6!

You can also check out all Lanterna's free TOK resources HERE! We also have some of the best TOK tutors around, so click HERE to find out about our online TOK tuition.

Read part 2 on TOK titles!

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