Key thinkers on language
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
Achebe, Chinua (1930 – 2013)
Achebe was a Nigerian poet, novelist and academic, who was outspoken on colonialism and racism. He was a supporter of Biafran independence, but ultimately lost faith in politics due to the way in which he felt that power had corrupted those originally seeking freedom.
Also helps us to explore Imagination, arts, ethics, history, NS
Chomsky, Noam (1928 – )
Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, and, in his role as political activist, one of the most virulent critics of interventionist US foreign policy. Chomsky’s theories on the extent to which language is innate to humans, and his ‘universal grammar’ theory, are of particular interest to TOK students.
Also helps us to explore Ethics, HS
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772 – 1854)
Coleridge was a British poet, writer, and philosopher, who is noted for the way in which he used imagination in order to create literature, particularly in his poem Kubla Khan. Apparently, his great work was inspired by a dream, which he spent the rest of his life trying to recreate via the use of chemical stimuli.
Also helps us to explore Memory, arts
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, emotion, intuition, reason, HS
Orwell, George (1903 – 1950)
Orwell was the author of (among many other things) Animal Farm and 1984. In many ways, he is the ‘patron saint of TOK’, because of his huge range of ideas on so many different topics. Amongst these, were his ideas on language, and the extent to which is governs the way we think. But he also wrote on the power of the state when it comes to representing history.
Also helps us to explore Reason, ethics, history, HS
Owen, Wilfred (1893 – 1918)
Owen was a First World War poet who wrote bitterly about his experiences as a soldier, attacking the ruling classes and the generals who in his opinion had no idea of what they were doing. This amounted to a revolutionary view of the world, and helped to change society utterly after the conflict ended.
Also helps us to explore Arts, ethics
Piaget, Jean (1896 – 1980)
Piaget was a Swiss philosopher, sociologist, educational thinker, and psychologist. His belief that education was the key to building a successful society can be summed up in his words: “Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”
Also helps us to explore TNK, mathematics, HS
ESSENTIAL THINKER Pinker, Steven (1954 – )
Pinker, a Harvard professor, is one of the best known popular science writers in the world, and his books on psychology have sold millions of copies. He has much to say on the way we use language, and also history.
Also helps us to explore History, HS
Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1902 – 1991)
Singer was a Polish-American writer and Jewish thinker. He was strident in his view on language, only ever writing in Yiddish, and believed that it wasn’t possible to ‘know’ God.
Also helps us to explore Faith, arts, HS, RKS
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1889 – 1951)
Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher of mathematics, language, and the mind. He believed that philosophical problems were generally associated with language, stating that: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Also helps us to explore TNK, reason, mathematics, NS
Woolf, Virginia (1882 – 1941)
Woolf was a British writer and intellectual. She was one of the key modernist thinkers of the the 20th century, and also held strong opinions about religion.
Also helps us to explore arts, ethics, HS, RKS