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May 2014 TOK essay titles

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May 2014 TOK essay titles

 
Here are the theory of knowledge prescribed essay titles for May 2014. We’ve provided guidance on what each title means, related knowledge questions, and the kind of real life examples that would work well. Suitable real life examples can be found within the theoryofknowledge.net Facebook page, and in our monthly newsletter.
 

1. Ethical judgements limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences. Discuss.

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
The arts, the natural sciences, ethics
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question is asking about the way in which ethical judgements can impinge on the way we both create (rather than interpret) the arts and the natural sciences. Basically, it’s leading students on to an exploration of controversies within the arts and the natural sciences in terms of the subject matter they deal with.
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
To what extent do ethical considerations constrain the way the arts are created? To what extent do ethical considerations limit natural science experimentation and research?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
We’re interested in examples of where artists and scientists have been hampered (or encouraged) by ethical judgements. There are many ready-made examples for the natural sciences. For the arts, it is perhaps not so straightforward, but there are still lots of examples of ethically questionable works of art. In terms of counterclaims, it is the arts that are better served by real life situations, with plenty of pieces produced in order to tackle (and produce) ethical judgements. But here, too, you should be able to find scientific knowledge that has been discovered in order to solve ethical problems.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
The question is perhaps a little confusingly worded, but it is clear in terms of the areas of knowledge to be tackled. Including personal examples will be trickier in this question than finding outside examples.
 

2. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails” (Abraham Maslow). How might this apply to ways of knowing, as tools, in the pursuit of knowledge?

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
The question is a broad one, and allows students to focus on their own choice of WOKs. It also potentially allows students to bring in the AOKs as well – particularly natural/human sciences (the scientific method), history (the historical method), and the arts (creation of art).
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question asks students to consider the way in which WOKs are used to provide us with knowledge. The quote suggests that if we view WOKs in too narrow and homogenous a way, it could limit the amount and type of knowledge we are able to acquire. The question requires students to consider the nature of each way of knowing, and try to think a little more creatively about each one; in addition, students could also consider how the areas of knowledge can themselves act as ways of knowing – ie, in terms of the scientific or historical method, and in terms of art as a way of knowing rather than an area of knowledge. Given that this is a question for the 2008 curriculum, its focus are the four ways of knowing (emotion, language, reason, sense perception). A quick look at the new curriculum will provide new possibilities for this, and perhaps provide a key to approaching the question (considering the validity of faith, imagination, intuition, memory).
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
Are the four ways of knowing the only means of acquiring knowledge? Do we acquire knowledge only through the ways of knowing, or can it be acquired via the areas of knowledge?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
Given how broad the question potentially is, there is a large range of real life situations that can be drawn on.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
The quote is a lovely one, and it could lead on to some interesting knowledge issue discussion. However, the non-specific nature of the question (not only does it not stipulate which WOKs/AOKs, it also does not mention how many should be considered) means that it will be very easy to go astray with this question. Responses have to narrow down specific examples of how the ways of knowing can sometimes impeded our pursuit of knowledge if we do not apply them in an imaginative way.
 

3. “Knowledge is nothing more than the systematic organisation of facts.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
This is another broad question, although unlike title no.2, it does state how many WOKs/AOKs should be tackled (two AOKs). Given this, it would make sense to focus on two distinct AOKs, such as ethics and natural sciences, or the arts and history.
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question asks students to consider the nature of knowledge within their two chosen AOKs. ‘Systematic organization of facts’ suggests quantitative knowledge; students must consider to what extent this is true, and then offer a counter-claim in which they discuss how much qualitative knowledge, and other forms of knowledge the particular AOKs consist of. Students should bear in mind that the title implies a process – ie, ‘organizing facts’, rather than a static type of knowledge – ie, ‘organized facts’; the two possible meanings could lead to different types of essays. A clear definition of ‘facts’ needs to be provided in the introduction, to give responses a firm footing.
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
To what extent can we build up a thorough understanding of the human/natural sciences by processing purely quantitative knowledge? To what extent does ethical knowledge involve the consideration of factual information?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
Real life situations can be taken easily from personal experiences related to the AOKs chosen, so students can think about the level of the understanding they have built up by dealing with systemized facts.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
Given that the essay is clear about its scope, this question is probably easier to approach than question 2. Having said that, it depends on how students tackle this notion of ‘systemized facts’. If they do so in terms of ‘natural science consists of systemized facts’, they may have problems; if they do so in terms of ‘natural science consists of building up systemized facts’, they will be able to tackle the question more easily.
 

4. “That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
Similar to question 3, this title asks students to consider two AOKs. The question lends itself to AOKs that offer more objective, yet regularly updated, knowledge, such as history, the human sciences, and the natural sciences. Ethics also ties in very well, and could link up very nicely with history.
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question is referring to the extent to which knowledge is subject to review and revisionism over time. Thus, although we may believe we possess objective facts, from a different perspective gained by progress, such facts become re-interpreted in the light of new evidence, discoveries, technology, or societal trends. In short, the question is asking students the extent to which knowledge is provisional. Note the use of the word ‘sometimes’, though, meaning that you shouldn’t make generalizations about the whole of knowledge.
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
To what extent does historical knowledge need revision? Are there any theories or laws in the human sciences that have withstood the test of time?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
In terms of the AOKs mentioned above, appropriate real life situations may involve a way of interpreting a past event, a method of studying human behaviour, knowledge about the natural world, or an accepted way of behaving. In terms of personal examples, students can easily apply their own learning of a particular subject (related to one of the AOKs they have selected), and how their understanding of it has been subject to change over time.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
This is a more straightforward question to get to grips with, as it focuses on a concept that should be familiar to most students.
 

5. “The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.” To what extent is this true in these areas of knowledge?

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
This question is clearly focused on history and the human sciences. It could require some consideration of the method used by both historians and human scientists, in an attempt to gauge the purpose of each one.
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question asks students to consider the purpose of both AOKs, and decide to what extent one merely looks back, and one looks forward. Obviously, the title is a rather arbitrary one: there can’t be only one purpose to an AOK, and AOKs overlap hugely anyway (particularly history and the human sciences). So students should use the question for a launching pad into a more wide-ranging discussion of the aim of both AOKs, not, perhaps, sticking quite so rigidly to the assertion implicit in the title.
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
To what extent is history only focused on past events? To what extent do the human sciences aim to change the way societies behave?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
The arguments for this essay need to be based on history studies that have been done only in the context of the past, and human science cases that have not drawn on past events. Counterclaims need to contrast those RLSs – which will be much easier to do.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
The two AOKs are very similar ones – indeed, outside the world of TOK, history is a human science, so students may find it hard to contrast the respective methods used, and knowledge that is acquired. Historians often work alongside human scientists, and vice versa, in order to understand past, present, and future societies, so using such an arbitrary and contrived statement will present problems for students. Finally, talking of an overriding ‘purpose’ for AOKs is fraught with difficulties: can we say there is one reason why historians/human scientists do their respective jobs? Having said all that, there’s plenty of scope to attack the question!
 

6. “A skeptic is one who is willing to question any knowledge claim, asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic and adequacy of evidence” (adapted from Paul Kurtz, 1994). Evaluate this approach in two areas of knowledge.

 
a. What areas of knowledge & ways of knowing should be investigated?
This is the third title that asks students to consider two non-specific areas of knowledge, and the fifth one that focuses on AOKs rather than WOKs. For this title, appropriate AOKs are ones that make knowledge claims of which people can ‘question…asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic and adequacy of evidence’. In other words, AOKs that require clear evidence to support the knowledge they deal with. Although this could conceivably work with any AOK, the arts are trickier to use within this title, as is mathematics.
 
b. What’s the question getting at?
The question provides a framework (ie the way a skeptic approaches knowledge) that can be applied to the two AOKs. As outlined in ‘e’, what this framework leads us onto is not immediately apparent. Presumably, the essay is supposed to assess how well this approach can be applied to the chosen AOKs, in order to provide us with certain knowledge.
 
c. What are the potential knowledge issues?
To what extent does the natural sciences/human sciences/history/ethics require logic and evidence in order to acquire knowledge?
 
d. What sort of real life situations can be drawn on?
Appropriate RLSs depend on the AOKs chosen, but what is needed here are RLSs that illustrate how the approach can work, and RLSs indicating that such an approach is not always effective.
 
e. What are the difficulties and challenges of this question?
The difficulties are in working out what the question wants students to do with the skeptics’ approach to knowledge. Does it want students to assess how well this approach works in the two AOKs (ie whether it leads us to certain knowledge)? Does it want students to assess whether such an approach can be used at all? Does it want us to focus on the skeptic, or on the AOK?
 

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