May 2015 TOK prescribed essay titles

Thoughts on the May 2015 TOK prescribed essay titles

 
The following thoughts on the May 2015 TOK prescribed titles are provided as suggestions only of how you approach the prescribed titles. The nature of TOK means that there are many ways of interpreting a question; the important thing is that you identify and explore your own knowledge questions, and support your discussion with real life situations that you have taken from your experiences as a learner, and examples that you have read about. In the interests of academic honesty, you should not reproduce any of the text you see below.
 
The theoryofknowledge.net Facebook page provides daily links to real life situations, some of which may be relevant for your essay. Our free newsletter rounds up the best of these, which you can subscribe to by following the links on the site. We also produce a , which goes into much more depth on the implications and different perspectives of these RLSs. You can sign up for this in the resources shop of the site, or the Facebook page.
 

1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
 
The command term in the prescribed title is ‘neutral question’. A quick look in any dictionary will give you a workable definition of this word – its essential meaning is unbiased, non-partisan, or something that does not take sides.
 
In other words, the prescribed title is suggesting that questions within the different areas of knowledge lead us in a certain direction, and have some sort of agenda. These are known as ‘leading questions’, and are well known in the legal world, where witnesses are often asked questions designed to produce a particular answer that confirms what the questioner wants to prove. Gathering knowledge in this way can also be termed ‘confirmation bias’.
 
The essay is therefore suggesting, that all questions are leading questions, and that it isn’t possible to ask or investigate knowledge without having a preconceived notion of what you want to find.
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
Although it may seem at first sight that this is a prescribed title that is easy to refute, the more you explore the different areas of knowledge, the more you find that it is very difficult to escape the kind of biases that produce leading questions. So one difficulty might be that it’s hard to counter the claim within the prescribed title.
 
You could argue that the search for knowledge is in itself an agenda: as soon as you ask a question, you cease to be looking for knowledge in a ‘neutral’ way. If you subscribe to this view, then it would be virtually impossible to counter the claim in the prescribed title.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 

2. “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
 
The terms that need special attention in order to set up your essay are ‘passive observation’ and ‘active experimentation’. The first suggests that the knower makes no impact on the phenomenon he or she is studying. This might be related to knowledge that has to be accessed through discovery, but which exists in its own right. The second suggests that the knower is able to manipulate, and perhaps even help to determine, the outcome of what they are studying. This could be more related to knowledge that needs to be created in some way.
 
But the question is not dealing solely with these two forms of producing knowledge, and asking which is the more effective form of knowledge generation – an easy mistake to make. It is asking whether there are other ways in which we can produce knowledge.
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
The essay provides no indication of how many areas of knowledge or ways of knowing should be focused on, which means that it will be very easy to produce an essay that is broad and very shallow. It also requires those answering it to produce the right balance between the areas of knowledge, and ways of knowing – the focus of the title is on the first, but it will be necessary to utilize the latter to provide context.
 
It’s also potentially more difficult to anchor prescribed titles that are more based on ways of knowing to solid real life experiences, so you must make sure that your examples relate to areas of knowledge, rather than more vaguely-defined experiences and examples.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 

3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
 
It would be easy to mistake the command terms of this prescribed title, and assess how ‘facts’ and ‘theories’ can (or cannot) be linked. However, the wording of the question suggests that ‘facts and theories’ should be considered together (their combined meaning equating to ‘evidence’), with your essay focusing on ‘across disciplines’ and ‘common groundwork of explanation’. The first of these implies the different areas of knowledge, and the second means the principles and rules behind them.
 
We can therefore distil the essential meaning of this prescribed title to: ‘Can evidence from one area of knowledge be used to understand the principles of another?’, or, even more pithily, ‘Do areas of knowledge overlap?’
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
In common with others from the exam session, this prescribed title does not define any clear parameters for the essay. Examining the extent to which areas of knowledge (and ways of knowing) overlap could take a lifetime and more to assess, so you should have several focus points in mind before you start.
 
Essays answering this question may also end up example-driven (partly because of above), with knowledge question discussion fitted in around real life situations, rather than real life situations used to support the discussion. Be clear about the relationship that should exist between your ideas and the way you should justify them if you are going to take on this title.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 

4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
 
This prescribed title focuses on the two main knowledge categories of ‘shared’ and ‘personal’ knowledge, about which the IB is quite helpful in the subject guide to TOK (get your teacher to show you pages 16-19 – this should be considered essential reading for this question!).
 
The IB identifies two types of shared knowledge: first, the areas of knowledge themselves, produced by collaboration between many people, and subject to change over time; second, the different groups (national, ethnic, gender, age, etc.) to which we belong.
 
Personal knowledge, in contrast, is gained by our own experiences, education, backgrounds, and so on. The big difference between the two is that personal knowledge is harder to share, and because it is possessed by us alone, does not rely so heavily on linguistic forms of description.
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
Although this does specify two areas of knowledge, shared knowledge and personal knowledge means essentially all knowledge, so again, the boundaries of this essay are wide-ranging. In addition, what it wants you to do with that knowledge (‘shape’) can mean many different things. So whilst there is undoubted potential to run with this question and do something quite creative, there is also the danger that your essay will end up being very unfocused, and lacking in both depth and detail.
 
The wording of the title mean that you write a fairly descriptive essay, talking about how you personally have been influenced by different areas of knowledge, and you should be careful not to fall into this trap. Connected to this, it may be hard to identify and develop clear counterclaims, given that its fairly clear that shared knowledge does play a huge role in shaping our personal knowledge.
 
Lastly, TOK essays need a good balance of real life examples, so just drawing on your own experiences and personal knowledge won’t take you as far as you need to go to properly answer the question.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 

5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
 
Although none of the prescribed titles this session have an area of knowledge or way of knowledge specified for consideration, this one comes very close. Given that the Oxford Dictionary defines intuition as “The ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning“, it’s fairly clear that ‘instinctive judgements’ equates to ‘intuition’.
 
In terms of what the question wants you to do with this, the word ‘check’ is the command term, meaning ‘verify’, ‘regulate’, or ‘control’. So the question is asking you to look at the extent to which the knowledge produced by this way of knowing is affected by the others.
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
There’s a lot to do with this prescribed title. Not only do you need to assess how at least three ways of knowing interact, you also need to consider more than one area of knowledge to show that this interaction may vary according to the context of the knowledge. So although this is in some ways the most specific of all the questions, it is still potentially a wide-ranging essay.
 
Writing essay primarily on ways of knowing often leads to vague knowledge questions, and non-specific real life situations. So you need to make sure that you also provide plenty of reference to areas of knowledge in order to ensure your essay is sufficiently ‘TOK-like’.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 

6. “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

 

a. What are the key words & terms that need pinning down?
There are quite a few command terms to contend with in this prescribed title. First of all, it’s interesting that the title really emphasises ‘whole point’; this leaves you in no doubt that there is (according to the quote) no other reason for the acquisition of knowledge than the one suggested, not just ‘the most important’ point.
 
Second, you need to pin down both ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’, two words that mean different things. ‘Meaning’ suggests something worthwhile, enriching, and fulfilling; purpose suggests a path or calling that you should follow.
 
Finally, the title uses the term ‘personal lives’, which implies that you should not be investigating professional or career-related achievement.
 
b. What are the difficulties and challenges of the question?
 
The potential scope of this essay is huge. Assessing what constitutes ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ will be very challenging indeed in a 1600-word essay. There are also issues with the wording of the title. First, you can’t really agree or disagree to a certain extent about ‘the whole point’ of something – either you agree, or you disagree. This might cause a little confusion, but perhaps shouldn’t be dwelt on. Second, the use of the word ‘personal’ is interesting, and could also lead to problems. We’re used to dealing with the areas of knowledge in terms of the experts and professionals associated with them, so when we talk about knowledge in the natural sciences, we’re usually concerned with scientists; when we talk about knowledge in the arts, we’re usually concerned with artists, and so on.
 
This question prompts you to consider your personal life, and how knowledge from the different AOKs adds meaning and purpose to it. This may tempt you to approach this as a first order knowledge question – in other words, explain how historical knowledge or scientific knowledge provides you with meaning and purpose (for history, perhaps you might consider saying that learning about the past helps you avoid making mistakes in the future; and how in science, medicine has helped cure you of a particular ailment). But in TOK, we’re more interested in second order knowledge questions – in other words, how we acquire and process knowledge related to the AOKs. This is definitely harder to link to the idea of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in our personal lives.
 
c. What knowledge issues & associated WOKs/AOKs could be explored?
d. What sort of real life situations could be drawn on?
e. Which perspectives and implications could be considered?

 
For thoughts and ideas on these aspects of the essay, consult our .

 
All titles are taken from the official list published by the International Baccalaureate. © International Baccalaureate Organization 2014
 

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Cite this page as: Dunn, Michael. May 2015 TOK prescribed essay titles (22nd July 2014). theoryofknowledge.net. http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/tok-essay/may-2015-tok-essay-titles/ Last accessed: 24th August 2017

 

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