The structure of TOK

The structure of TOK

Theory of knowledge has no set curriculum with an end of course exam, but that’s not to say that you’re expected to sit in a darkened room and think your own thoughts for two years. There is a great deal of content to TOK, just not an obligatory list of topics you have to learn.
The starting point is to think about what we mean by the term ‘theory of knowledge’. Studying ‘theory of knowledge’ is not a new idea: almost all philosophy courses at universities devote some time to it, although 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.

1. How we gain knowledge: the ways of knowing (WOKs)

Then we’ll move on to think about the ways we gather knowledge, and process it. In TOK, we divide these ways of knowing into eight: sense perception (sight, hearing, etc.), emotion, language, reason, imagination, faith, intuition, and memory. We will examine each one individually, and try to work out how they are all interlinked. In some ways, they are linked in a positive way, working complimentarily; in others, their relationship is more negative, and one way of knowing may hinder another.

2. What the knowledge is: areas of knowledge (AOKs)

The knowledge itself is divided into eight areas of knowledge: mathematics, natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), human sciences (sociology, anthropology, and most other things with an ‘ology’ in them), history, ethics, the arts, religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems. Like the WOKs, we’ll look at them on their own, and then figure out how they overlap with each other.
We’ll also investigate how the AOKs relate to the WOKs, and whether any of them fit naturally together. To give and example of this, we might think about how emotion is used by artists to convey their messages. We might consider how the way we use language affects our understanding of history. We might pose the question ‘Is reason the only way of knowing used in science?’ Do we need anything other than faith when it comes to religion? And so on…

3. Knowledge questions (or ‘knowledge issues’)

This structure provides us with a framework through which we can explore knowledge questions (or for those who began TOK before September 2013, ‘knowledge issues’). Knowledge questions are explained in our section on knowledge.


The TOK diagram

The TOK diagram is a very good way of gaining a quick but complete understanding of the structure of the TOK course. What does it show us? You need to go from the inside out.
First, in the centre: the knower/s. You, in other words. Your opinion is very important in TOK, and your interaction with the topic of the final essay is something that is specifically assessed. But notice the ‘s’ at the end of the word, turning ‘knower’ into ‘knowers’. It is very important to understand that there are many different perspectives from which we can look on the world. Not all are wrong, not all are right; sometimes the very term ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is inappropriate.
Next, are the ways of knowing – the ‘way’ we acquire knowledge via our senses, reason, emotion, language, memory, imagination, intuition, and faith. Finally, the areas of knowledge, or how we categorize the knowledge provided by the ways of knowing.
(Image used by kind permission of Click to enlarge)

Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. The structure of TOK (6th May 2013). Last accessed: 20th March 2018


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