Key thinkers on emotion
Adding authority to your TOK essay and presentation
The knowledge questions in your TOK essay and TOK presentation should be supported not only by your own ideas and evidence, but also by those of other people. We have therefore put together a list of key thinkers for each way of knowing and area of knowledge who will add extra authority to your TOK essay and presentation, and help you to explore the KQs connected to your title. You can see the complete list of key thinkers here.
But we’re thinking of more than just the TOK assessment: these minds are the source of some of the most incredible ideas ever put forward, and have shaped the way we view the world and our place in it. So we think they are worth getting to know in their own right, because they will genuinely help you to figure out this mysterious thing called existence.
Making use of these thinkers
We have indicated which elements of the course they are particularly useful for (remember you should be trying to link the different parts of TOK, so don’t just focus on one WOK or AOK in isolation), and we have provided a Wikipedia link for each person. However, you should see this as the point where you begin, rather than end, your exploration of these paradigm-defining figures. We’ve also identified one person for each way of knowing and area of knowledge whom we consider an ESSENTIAL THINKER, due to way they challenge assumptions or provide a particularly important idea. Each of these thinkers are accompanied by a video in which they outline their theories, and which you can quote as a source for your essay or presentation.
TNK = the nature of knowledge
SP = sense perception
HS = the human sciences
IKS = indigenous knowledge systems
NS = the natural sciences
RKS = religious knowledge systems
Bernini, Gian Lorenzo (1598 – 1680)
Bernini is regarded as one of the most talented sculptors who ever lived, surpassing even Michelangelo in his ability to make marble and stone come alive. His Ecstasy of St Agnes, is of particular interest, in the way it makes an impact on its viewers.
Also helps us to explore Arts
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da (1571 – 1610)
Caravaggio was an Italian painter with a taste for the underbelly of Rome’s society, unlike many other painters of the time. His David with the head of Goliath must rank as the most shocking and original self-portraits in history (his is the head).
Also helps us to explore Imagination, reason, arts
ESSENTIAL THINKER Damasio, Antonio (1944 – )
Damasio is a Portuguese neuroscientist who works at the University of Southern California. His book Descartes’ Error posited the idea that our emotions are vital for our ability to reason properly, which he illustrated by drawing on the strange case of Phineas Gage.
Also helps us to explore Reason, HS
Dutton, Denis (1944 – 2010)
Dutton worked as a philosopher at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, and was the editor of Arts and Letters Daily. He believed that far from it being dictated by culture, our aesthetic sense is innate, and has evolved over the course of time as a result of Darwinian adaptation.
Also helps us to explore Intuition, arts, HS
Gilbert, Dan (1957 – )
Gilbert studied social psychology at Princeton, and has taught at Harvard. He is a widely published author, who writes on the subject of happiness, and how to acquire it, focusing on the way in which our intuition often leads us into making the wrong decisions.
Also helps us to explore Intuition, reason, HS
Glennie, Evelyn (1965 – )
At the age of 12, Glennie lost nearly all her hearing, but her passion and talent for music (as well as her determination) meant she was still able to enter the Royal College of Music in London, changing the way admissions were handled for people with disabilities.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, SP, arts
Greene, Graham (1904 – 1991)
Apart from being one of the most interesting writers of the 20th century on the psychological motivations of human behaviour, Greene is interesting to us for what he says on the therapeutic value of writing. For this reason, he is an excellent thinker to consider when it comes to the TOK journal. He was also a noted Catholic, though had a difficult relationship with his faith.
Also helps us to explore Faith, intuition, arts, HS, RKS
Hesse, Hermann (1877 – 1962)
Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter, and spiritual thinker. His quest for enlightenment via self-knowledge characterised his writing, and helped to inspire the counter-counter thinkers of the 1960s and ’70s.
Also helps us to explore Faith, imagination, intuition, arts, HS
Hume, David (1711 – 1776)
Hume was an Edinburgh philosopher and historian, and is regarded as the most important of the British empiricists (along with Locke and Berkeley). Unlike Descartes, he thought that the only knowledge that we should trust is that which we experience directly through our senses. He also emphasised the importance of emotions in allowing us access to truth, by saying ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.’
Also helps us to explore TNK, reason, SP, ethics, HS
Kahlo de Rivera, Frida (1907 – 1954)
Kahneman, Daniel (1934 – )
Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winning economist, who is also one of the most influential thinkers of psychology in the world. He has examined many aspects of human behaviour, such as decision-making, happiness, and the way we perceive our own well-being.
Also helps us to explore Intuition, reason, HS
Kierkegaard, Søren (1813 – 1855)
Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, poet, theologian, and social thinker. He is interesting to us as one of the first Existentialist thinkers, and for the way in which he combined philosophy with religious faith. He once said: “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”
Also helps us to explore TNK, faith, reason, ethics, RKS
Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 – AD 180)
Roman emperor from 161 to 180, Marcus Aurelius presided over the empire whilst it was still in its heyday – after him, it went into a steady decline. He was one of the most famous Stoic philosophers, which held that the negative effects of your emotions can be overcome simply by perceiving of them in a different way.
Also helps us to explore TNK, HS
Matisse, Henri (1869 – 1954)
Matisse was a French painter, sculptor, and printmaker. His new way of conceiving of reality helped to define the way the whole of the arts developed in the C20th, and he is regarded as one of the most important figures in the arts in the last 100 years.
Also helps us to explore TNK, imagination, SP, arts
Mill, John Stuart (1806 – 1873)
Mill was a philosopher and liberal thinker, and one of the most important figures in the campaign against slavery. He developed the utilitarian principles of Jeremy Bentham, attaching to it the term ‘greatest-happiness principle’ in order to test if utilitarianism was being employed successfully.
Also helps us to explore ethics
Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de (1533 – 1592)
One of the greatest ever essayists and writers, Montaigne’s ideas foreshadowed many of the ones found in Shakespeare’s plays. He believed we are trapped in our own natures, and are unable to escape our instincts and personalities.
Also helps us to explore TNK, intuition, reason, HS
Plutchik, Robert (1928 – 2006)
Plutchik, an American psychologist, tried to categorize emotions by referring to them as ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’. Whether or not we can divide up such a nebulous phenomenon as our emotional state in such a way is one question that is worth considering.
Richards, Sam (1960 – )
Richards is a sociologist, and teacher of race relations. He specializes in addressing and exploring difficult, controversial subjects; a process that he believes involves viewing the world through multiple perspectives, and drawing on kills of empathy.
Also helps us to explore intuition, ethics, HS
Weber, Max (1864 – 1920)
Along with Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology. But unlike Durkheim, Weber believed that to understand society, one had to study its individual members and develop an empathy with the people you were studying, and understand the meaning that they themselves placed on their actions.
Also helps us to explore HS
Weil, Simone (1909 – 1943)
Weil was a French philosopher, political and religious thinker. She was noted for her compassion towards others, and is also remarkable for her thoughts and opinions on Christianity and other religions.
Also helps us to explore faith, imagination, intuition, ethics, RKS
Zimbardo, Philip (1933 – )
Zimbardo is a psychologist best known for his Stanford Prison experiment of 1971, in which graduate students given power over their peers quickly began to abuse it in unexpected and brutal ways. For Zimbardo, it is generally the system that causes ‘evil’ to happen, rather than individuals.
Also helps us to explore reason, ethics, HS