Counterclaims, perspectives, and implications
Presenting an objective argument
One of the key aims you should have as you write the essay is to ensure that you present an objective argument. This means considering the counterclaims to your arguments, other perspectives, and the implications of what you are saying.
What are counterclaims, and why do we need to include them in the essay?
Whilst it’s important to have a position on a knowledge issue, and try not to sit on the fence, TOK is about exploring ideas as much as it is about forming opinions of your own. For this reason, it’s important in your essay to consider the other side of the argument – the ‘counterclaim’ – to the knowledge claim you are making.
Open-mindedness is a key trait that the IB encourages (indeed, it is included in the ‘Learner Profile’), and by considering alternative views to the one you are presenting you are demonstrating that you possess this trait. We can’t be 100% sure of anything, so allowing for this shows that you are willing to admit that there may be a different way of approaching the issue.
This also makes plenty of sense if you are trying to build a solid argument. Debates, discussion, and arguments are about presenting different opinions, and supporting them with evidence. You give your case, your opponent gives theirs, and then, depending on the scenario, perhaps a third and a fourth point of view is then offered. Once these have been presented, the next step is trying to prove why the other points of view are inaccurate, and yours is more complete. By anticipating counterclaims to your own claims, you will be prepared for other people’s criticisms of your own ideas. And by doing this, you will consider the issue in more details and depth, and formulate a more sophisticated opinion. You may even change your ideas – being willing to do this proves that you are open-minded rather than dogmatic.
How should they be included in the essay?
Presenting counterclaims in the essay is fairly straightforward. After you have discussed the knowledge issue, and supported your points with evidence (referring to real life situations and other evidence), your next paragraph should begin with a connecting sentence along the lines of: ‘The counterclaim to this is…’, or ‘An alternative view to this may be…’ You can then go on to present the counterclaim to what you have just discussed, again, supporting it with evidence.
If you want to be particularly sophisticated, you could refer to the opinions of someone who holds the position of the counterclaim: in other words, if you have just been arguing in your claim that ethical actions should always be based on the idea of making the most number of people happy, you could then present a counterclaim that the results of the action are immaterial, and what counts – as Kant believed – are the action itself, and its inherent ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’.
Which should be more developed: my knowledge claim, or my counterclaim?
Your knowledge claim should be more extensive than your counterclaim, and you should try to make it clear in your essay (within the mini-conclusion to that section, and within the main conclusion) which is your point of view (ie the claim, rather than the counterclaim). In other words, you should go into more depth for your claim, and support it with a little more evidence. As always, read it back to yourself, or get someone else to read it, to make sure that your position is clear on an issue
Including different perspectives
As well as considering the other side of the argument – the counterclaim – you should also consider how your knowledge claims might be approached from alternative perspectives. For the sort of perspectives you can consider, look at section 8 of the Essay Guide.
Considering the implications of your knowledge issues
All of the knowledge issues you include in your essay should be meaningful and important, and your real life situations, even if they are taken from your own personal experiences, should be significant. In other words, they should be issues and examples we can all identify with and understand, and perhaps even have experienced for ourselves. This will allow you to stress their implications more effectively. For more on this, check out section 9 of the guide.
Ask a question about the TOK essay
If you have a question about the TOK essay writing process, you can send it to us using this form. We’ll respond to the best of these, and feature them on our TOK forum.