Deconstructing the November 2018 Prescribed Titles for TOK Essays

 

Deconstructing the November 2018 TOK Essay Titles

TOKQuestionA few notes of warning and guidance before we begin:

The TOK essay provides you with an opportunity to become engaged in thinking and reflection. What are outlined below are strategies for deconstructing the TOK titles as they have been given.

My notes are intended to guide you towards a thoughtful, personal response to the prescribed titles posed.  They are not to be considered as the answer and they should only be used to help you provide another perspective to the ones given to you in the titles. You need to remember that most of your examiners have been educated in the logical positivist schools of Anglo-America and this education pre-determines their predilection to view the world as they do. The TOK course itself is a product of this logical positivism.

There is no substitute for your own personal thought and reflection, and these notes are not intended as a cut and paste substitute to the hard work that thinking requires. Some of the comments on one title may be useful to you in the approach you are taking in the title that you have personally chosen, so it may be useful to read all the comments and give them some reflection.

My experience has been that candidates whose examples match those to be found on TOK “help” sites (and this is another of those TOK help sites) struggle to demonstrate a mastery of the knowledge claims and knowledge questions contained in the examples.  The best essays carry a trace of a struggle that is the journey on the path to thinking.

Many examiners state that in the very best essays they read, they can visualize the individual who has thought through them sitting opposite to them. To reflect this struggle in your essay is your goal.

Remember to include sufficient TOK content in your essay. When you have completed your essay, ask yourself if it could have been written by someone who had not participated in the TOK course. If the answer to that question is “yes”, then you do not have sufficient TOK content in your essay.

Here is a link to a PowerPoint that contains recommendations and a flow chart outlining the steps to writing a TOK essay. Comments, observations and discussions are welcome.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-8nWwYRUyV6bDdXZ01POFFqVlU

  1. Existing classification systems steer the acquisition of new knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The key concepts that need to be examined in and deconstructed from this title are “existing classification systems”, “steering”, “acquisition” and “new knowledge”. You should explore some “knowledge questions” or “problems” that arise from the use of this language in the title: what do these key concepts mean?

When we speak of “existing classification systems”, we are speaking of our “shared knowledge” and how it has been articulated to us in the Areas of Knowledge or in the various domains of knowledge. “Classification” as a means of organizing knowledge has been bequeathed to us in the West from Aristotle. Its grounding or its first principles are in the way the whole of things is viewed, the “theoretical”. The word “theory” comes from the Ancient Greek theōría, “contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at”;  from theōréō, “I look at, view, consider, examine”, from theōrós, “spectator”, from théa, “a view” + horáō, “I see, look”. The Greeks saw this “viewing” as a two way viewing–the world looks at us and we look back at the world for the word “theory” also derives from théo, “the god”, or the first things. We move from this “theoretical viewing” of the whole, the theory, to the individual things themselves, how the things are brought to light so that they may be defined, placed within a “framework”, from “genus” to “species” or from genre to text for example. So Aristotle’s works are entitled “On Physics”, “On the Ethics” and so on. What the physics and the ethics are is already pre-determined.

The grounding of this “classification system” is in the principle of reason (“nothing is without reason”, “nothing is without a reason” or a “cause”) whose first principle is the principle of non-contradiction: something cannot both be something and be something other than itself at one and the same time. While this principle of reason rules, some thing may be “defined”. To define something is to render it in language, to give an account of it so that it may be shared with others, be discussed, and become “knowledge”. Whether the language of the account of the thing is words or mathematical symbols does not matter: to become knowledge, some thing needs language in order for it to be shared and in order for it to be called “knowledge”. Our word “reason” comes from the Latin ratio which means “to render an account” i.e. to provide the “reasons” for some thing being as it is.  You are doing this in the writing of your essay.

The world of “alternative facts”, for example, is a denial of the principle of reason and of language and its account of things; it is a denial of humanity since human beings are the animal rationale (the “rational” animal) and of the Greek’s definition of human being as the zoon logon echon, the animal who possesses language (or is possessed by language). The possible implications and consequences of this are, obviously, extremely great and are extremely serious.

Reason and language are the two ways of knowing operational in “classification systems”. A good question for exploration is “what role does sense perception play in the creation of a classification system” and how our sense perception determines and is determined by the manner in which we define and classify some thing as what it is and the things about us as what they are. The classification of the thing brings the thing “to light”, to presence as what it is. When I find “Gone With the Wind” in the science section of the library, I know that an error has been made and that the book, the “thing”, has been misplaced. If one is uncertain about the nature of a book, for example, and that it might be possible to include it under two different classifications or sections of the library, then two books are required because “some thing cannot both be and not be itself at the same time”. The same might be said of the example of “parallel universes” from “string theory” in modern physics where the universe that is “parallel” must be different from the universe experienced by the observer because if they are not then they are one and the same universe, though one would have to examine how the principle of reason is operating there in this example from this AOK.

How has what we have come to call “knowledge” come about? From the title, the “definitions” of the “what” and the “how” of things, what they are and how they are (their limits, their horizons: de-fin-ition “that which is responsible for ascribing the limits of things to the things” so that they can come to be known by being represented through language) has been pre-determined ahead of time before the search for knowledge can begin or was begun i.e. what is a stone, what is a plant, what is a human being are questions that have already been answered in some way. These answers have come about through the “theoretical” viewing that has already provided the definitions of the things that are to be researched in the AOK. Darwin’s theory of evolution, for instance, determines how human and other living beings are to be defined beforehand before the research is even begun and this defining determines the methodology that will be used in the approach to the “things” under study. It is the “theoretical” viewing that “steers” i.e. provides the direction, the guidance and the goal to the “acquisition”, the “possession” of knowledge, the “grasping” of the “new knowledge” which we have come to call “results” or “information”. Whether results and information are “new knowledge” are questions that could also be reflected upon. The use and abuse of statistics in the Human Sciences could be an example to be explored when examining the acquisition of “new knowledge” in those subject areas.

The “knowledge framework” of TOK is one such example of a classification system and you may wish to discuss the “why is classification necessary” as a possible approach to the title. The “what” and the “how” of the things within any classification system have been defined and these definitions are based on a pre-determined viewing of the things themselves. These pre-determined approaches to the viewing of things provide us with our “shared knowledge” and they are based on reason and language as WOKs. From the “viewing” comes the methodology of the approach to the thing or the comportment to the thing which is different in each AOK: you do not enter a Group One class with the same view of things that you use to enter a Group Four class because in each case a different view of “truth” is in operation. That Group One and Group Three subjects as AOKs aspire to finding and using a theory and a methodology that will give them the same “certainty” and surety of the things they “research” as in the Group 4 subjects is another area that might be reflected upon and from which many knowledge questions might arise.

Whether we are talking about the Dewey Classification System that rules in many of our libraries as a way of containing and organizing the knowledge therein or the knowledge contained in the classic Newtonian interpretation of Nature and its physics, any “new knowledge” of the new thing (whether the thing has been made, imagined, or simply proposed) will have to be “defined” first and then the thing is given its place, its “stand”, within the pre-existing definitions that have determined what things are beforehand. This determination of place is what is known as “judgement” and it is in the judgement that we have determined the “truth” of what the thing is and how the thing is to be “brought to light”. When we cannot define the thing that is before our viewing, when we cannot make a judgement regarding the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the thing, then we do not have knowledge of the thing, we cannot “be-hold”, grasp the thing. The thing remains obscure, ambiguous. In the Arts, for example, “classifying” the poet and artist William Blake remains a difficulty because his work and thought resist “classification”.

You may wish to explore how we have come to view all things as “objects” which are only given their “thingness” through human beings because we have determined that they are useful to us in some way; if something is of no “use” to us in some way, then it is discarded. “Things” are “disposables”. This view of the world was not present in other civilizations at other times and in other places and one may wish to explore examples from Indigenous Knowledge Systems for counter arguments. But in all and any “system”, classification rules.

It is the viewing (the already pre-determined “theoretical”, theory) which “steers” or guides/directs our comportment to the thing and determines the method or approach to how the thing is to be understood by us through our giving it its meaning through a definition i.e. through language. The thing has to be defined first before it can be “classified” as some thing. The “things” of modern physics are not things at all in our traditional understanding of a thing: they are mathematical definitions which attempt to give a representation of what is experienced in the experiment conducted. An atom, for instance, is not a “thing” as we understand a thing; it is a mathematical description or representation. If we represent atoms to ourselves as some thing along the lines of the Rutherford model, we are simply living in fantasy: atoms do not behave in the way that model tries to represent them. The same can be said about many other quantum entities and definitions such as “wave-particles”, etc. The “results” or “information”, which in many cases is simply the representation of the thing explored, must be reported mathematically in physics in order for others to be able to pursue any “acquisition” or “take possession of” any “new knowledge” in this AOK.

2. “Technology provides ever-expanding access to shared knowledge. Therefore, the need to assimilate such knowledge personally is relentlessly diminishing.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Title #2 is one of the more challenging titles provided in this year’s list since it contains one of the more or less controversial statements, but this should not deter you from taking a shot at it. The key concepts involved in it are “technology”, “ever-expanding access”, “shared knowledge”, “assimilate such knowledge personally” and “diminishing”. One might also include “to what extent” and “agreement” in your exploration of this title.

First of all, “technology” is viewed as an instrument or tool (our phones, tablets, PCs and the Web) in the title (or is it?), but it should be viewed as a way of knowing in itself. If we remember our Venn diagram describing the TOK course, the overlapping portions of the two circles describing our personal and shared knowledge can be considered our WOKs (ways of knowing) or the manner in which we access and “assimilate” or take possession of the knowledge that is available to us through our shared knowledge. “Shared knowledge” is what  we may generally consider to be the AOKs or anything else which might fall on the outside of ourselves as “object”. You will notice that in order for technology to work as a means of gaining access to knowledge requires that a “classification system” of some kind with regard to this knowledge must already be in existence and operational (back to title #1). The machine or tool being used “works” because it is based on the principle of reason, and its coming to presence required the principle of reason. The essence of technology, what technology is, is nothing “technological” just as the essence of “house” is not to be found in the particular houses that we see about us in the world about us.

But the title suggests that “Technology makes stupid”, or at least encourages “intentional ignorance” in that it suggests that if the knowledge available to us is not really important to us personally then that knowledge is “useless”, has no “use” for us. But what makes “knowledge” important to us? What is it about the essence of knowledge that should make it important to us? In our “judgements” about what knowledge is and what makes that knowledge important to us personally, it is a very limited “knowledge” for us  because the only knowledge of concern to us is knowledge that we can use personally to achieve “results”, our own ends. “Importance” implies “values”, how something is valued and why it is valued, a “judgement” regarding the thing in question. Many examples from today’s news can be used to discuss the consequences of this approach to knowledge or you may simply reflect on why you are looking at this website to begin with…Is your concern for “knowledge” in and of itself or for some “knowledge” that will help you to achieve the best results, knowledge that is personally valuable to you?

This view of “knowledge” as results (information) arises from the belief that knowledge is merely “information”. In+form+ation: “-ation” is from the Greek aitia and means “that which is responsible for” when referring to a type of causation, what I have called the principle of reason in the discussion on title #1 above; “form” is the shape, the limits or the horizons of the thing (so that it moves from being merely “data”), the definition of the thing, that will determine where-“in” the “classification system” the thing shall be placed so that it may “inform”. So “information” means that which is responsible for the “form” (the representation) of the thing so that it may “inform”. One can see how title #1 impacts an understanding of title #2: in the view of knowledge as information, classification rules and technology as a tool for accessing knowledge can only be used where classification rules (think about your search engines). 

Access to shared knowledge is not knowledge itself; all of you have access to the library or to the vast wealth of information and knowledge that is available on the Internet. The knowledge must be “assimilated” or taken possession of, grasped, be-held, for it to become knowledge; it must change the human being taking possession of it in some way. It must “empower” the person in some way.

“Specialization” becomes a pre-requisite for such a view of knowledge as “information” since it is not possible for a human being to have knowledge of the all of the specifics that are within the whole. Garry Kasparov will always be defeated by Big Blue in a game of chess because he cannot possibly contain in his mind all of the potential moves that are available on a chess board at one and the same time, something which the computer is able to do. That’s because the moves on a chess board are finite and the moves of the individual pieces (their classifications and their results when carried out) ultimately limit the number of possibilities of their outcomes even though these may be in the hundreds of millions. The computer is simply a much better, quicker, more efficient calculator than Mr. Kasparov could ever hope to be. But Mr. Kasparov’s life shows that he is much more than merely being a great “calculator” himself.

One could say parenthetically that the coming to be of the instruments of technology out of the essence of technology itself is the greatest revolution to have occurred with regard to the accessibility to knowledge since the invention of the Gutenberg press. It may, in fact, be much greater. The accessibility to knowledge and the assimilation of such knowledge must be through the ways of knowing in some fashion.

But what happens to human beings within such a view of knowledge? Technology is a way of knowing in itself and a way of being in the world for human beings; and human beings themselves are this technology for this is how they access their knowledge and what they believe their truth to be; for knowledge is intimately connected with truth and it is this belief in the truth of the judgements that are made that determines how things will be viewed since it is “truth” which brings things “to light” to a greater or lesser extent as ‘what’ and ‘how’ they are.

“To what extent” indicates that there is a pre-determined standard (truth), a viewing, against which your response can be measured. It indicates that a hierarchy is already assumed and is being applied and this hierarchy rests in what is called “the  correspondence theory of truth” which is a necessary off-shoot of the principle of reason. One possible question: Is the knowledge that is to be obtained contained in the things that are viewed or in the viewing itself? And is not the technological viewing suggested by the title a “diminishing” or dimming of the light or is it an offer of even greater light than what was present before?

3. Are disputes over knowledge claims within a discipline always resolvable? Answer this question by comparing and contrasting disciplines taken from two areas of knowledge.

With title #3 it is important for you to recognize the instructions that are given to you in advance. You are being told to “compare and contrast” two disciplines from two AOKs i.e. you are to look at how the theoretical viewing in two different disciplines (subject areas) produces what is called knowledge in those disciplines ( or whether what is called knowledge in those disciplines is really knowledge at all) and discuss whether or not these disputes can be resolved.

If you reflect for a moment on all the ‘disputes’ that you have had in your class discussions in TOK, these disputes arose over either the efficacy and correctness of the viewing (the theory—was the seeing correct and were the initial explicit and implicit assumptions made in the viewing correct; did the viewing and the thing being viewed “correspond”) or whether or not the questions of the ‘what’, the ‘how’, and the ‘why’ of the things were correctly and sufficiently arrived at and defined i.e. were sufficient reasons given in the responses.  All disputes, including disputes over methodology, arise over the theoretical viewing itself, that is the theory or the propositions being made from within the theory, or over the definitions of the things that have appeared or come to presence through the viewing that is the theory.

Perhaps the greatest dispute currently is in the AOK Natural Sciences in the area of physics between the followers of Einstein’s theory of special relativity and those of the quantum mechanics’ viewing of the nature of things. This dispute involves fundamental differences in how things come to appearance in the theoretical viewing and how the things are to be defined, interpreted and are to be understood i.e. how the thing is to become a ‘fact’ through its account in mathematical language. Exploring this dispute will provide you with a great deal of material that involves the WOKs and the AOKs, principally reason, sense perception and language as WOKs and plenty of examples of past and current experimental attempts to resolve disputes about time, space, matter, velocity, etc. in the fields of astrophysics, molecular biology, and sub-atomic physics are available. In exploring this example, the use of the “knowledge framework”, particularly the areas of historical background and the language used, would be a fruitful approach to arriving at some interesting content and examples for the body of your essays.

Another AOK which would provide fruitful explorations would be History and views of contrary ‘theories’ on the judgements made (the definitions, the “values”) of the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the interpretations of the things (data) so that what are determined to be called ‘historical facts’ can be known. Examinations of the grounds of ‘revisionist history’ and other so-called ‘modern’ views of history can be applied (theory) to explore how different conclusions have been arrived at from the assumptions that have been used in the theoretical seeing of the things that are even if these things are the same. Using the “knowledge framework” to approach how the definitions of historical ‘things’ has been arrived at might be a useful approach. Such a discussion would have plenty of concrete examples to explore given our time and social contexts.

Remember to avoid the clichéd examples that have been used in the past.

In the Arts, one can look at how the questions “what is a work of art?” or “what is Art?” have been answered in this AOK, that is, how they have become “knowledge claims”. The primary view (theory) of art today is that of “aesthetics”, the human making of beauty and the work of art as “object”. Other cultures prior to our own did not view art as “aesthetics” so an exploration of how this view arose and what its implicit and explicit assumptions are could be fruitful.

How different schools of thought have answered the questions of what art is, what beauty is and what are the best methodologies to use to “analyze” the work of art can be explored, but remember that these viewings of art are all done within the predominating “aesthetic” view. I have always enjoyed discussing the question “If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what then is beholding?” You will notice that “beholding” is the looking or viewing that gives presence to something (“be”) so that it may be grasped or taken possession of (“be+hold”) and so in that way it can become “knowledge”. But what kind of knowledge is it? what knowledge do we get from a work of art?

The whole issue of “subjectivity” in the arts can be explored, but this is rather a slippery question and requires some knowledge of what is meant by both “subjectivity” and “objectivity” and their historical development. The viewing of art as “aesthetics” is historically concurrent with the arrival of what we call “modern science”. What might be their connection and how is it related to the “viewing” in both AOKs?

4. “Those who have knowledge don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge” (Lao Tzu). Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

What “knowledge” and “prediction” are will be the two key concepts that need to be discussed in any paper that chooses this title. Also, the AOKs chosen to be discussed will need to be carefully considered. It appears to me that the Natural Sciences, History and the Arts might be best considered as AOKs for a discussion of this prescribed title, but Religious Knowledge Systems and Indigenous Knowledge Systems could also provide some interesting examples.

Clearly, the understanding of what knowledge is that is attributed to Lao Tzu here is quite distinct from what we understand and call knowledge today, what you are studying in the IB program for instance. What we call “robust knowledge” today is that knowledge which is able to make “predictions”, the predictions which help us to master, control and commandeer nature for our own ends. Is Lao Tzu speaking of general or specific predictions in this quotation? What type of predicting and predictions does he mean?

Avoid providing a source for the statement and a long introduction into who Lao Tzu was.

Lao Tzu did not have knowledge of what we understand as modern science or of technology. In the West, the Greeks distinguished between five types of knowledge which have been passed down to us as part of our “shared knowledge”: 1) sophia or knowledge of the divine or the first things; 2) episteme or knowledge of what we call axioms, first principles, laws, rules etc. which bring about and determine our theoretical viewing; 3) techne or “know how” or “knowing one’s way about or within something” or “being at home in something”; 4) phronesis or knowledge of deliberation about the things that are relevant and pertinent to ourselves in our day-to-day living, what we call ‘practical reason’; and 5) nous  or noetic knowledge or what we have come to call “intelligence”. It is not clear from the statement in the quote what type of knowledge Lao Tzu is referring to. What type of knowledge is unable to make predictions? or What type of knowledge has no wish to make predictions?

To provide an example from the Natural Sciences (should you choose this AOK), two quotes from Werner Heisenberg, one of the co-founders of quantum mechanics, are appropriate here: 1) “What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.  Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.“–Werner Heisenberg. The second quote runs: 2) “We [physicists] have resigned ourselves to the situation just described, since it turned out that we could represent mathematically and say in every case, dependably and without fear of logical contradiction, what the result of an experiment would be. Thus we resigned ourselves to the new situation the moment we could make dependable predictions. Admittedly, our mathematical formulas no longer picture nature but merely represent our own grasp of nature. To that extent, we have renounced the type of description of nature that was customary for centuries and that had been valid as the self-evident goal of all exact natural science. Even provisionally, we cannot say more than that in the field of modern atomic physics we have resigned ourselves, and we have done so because our representations are dependable.” (Werner Heisenberg, “The Picture of Nature in Contemporary Physics”)

From the two quotes from Heisenberg there seems to be some agreement between Lao Tzu and today’s scientists, but this agreement rests on the fact that Heisenberg is saying that today’s scientists do not have knowledge. But whereas we most emphatically believe in our ability to make predictions as most important for what we have come to call knowledge, this is not what knowledge is for Lao Tzu. What Heisenberg indicates is that what we have traditionally referred to as Nature and what is studied in modern physics are not the same thing. We do not have knowledge and cannot have knowledge of what has traditionally been understood as Nature according to Heisenberg but this is not important so long as we have the ability to make predictions with great precision and can rely on this knowledge as “useful” for us.

In the AOK History, we study history not for knowledge of the past but to make predictions about the future. The Greeks had a wonderful statement: “The future comes to meet us from behind” and this statement sums up what the purpose of studying history is: to know the future from the study of what has occurred in the past. Clearly, a history that goes beyond simply making theoretical statements of past events does so in order to make predictions about future events. But how does this relate to Lao Tzu’s statement? Is the ability to make predictions part of what we consider what is most important to be known?

In the Arts, the literary genre of science fiction is rife with making predictions of the future. The dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood, for instance, do not make specific predictions but rather consider “what if” scenarios as possibilities for a possible future. Many more examples can be found and I’m sure that you know of some from your own studies and personal experience. Be sure to make use of your own studies and personal examples if that is possible and they are relevant to this title.

For another example from the AOKs of Group 3, let us return to Plato’s cave for a moment in order to try to get a better grasp of what Lao Tzu might mean by “knowledge”. We can see from the above descriptions given by Heisenberg that today’s scientists exemplify the prisoners of the cave when it comes to providing a “likeness of our nature, with regard to that which is behind the shadows. They are ignorant of the nature of that which they see”. They have been in this condition since childhood; it is their shared knowledge from their historical and cultural contexts. Many are unaware that the shadows are shadows. They are, nevertheless, learned. They record very well the order of succession and simultaneity in what they see which enables them to make predictions; and those who are capable of making predictions are honoured in their Cave. The cave-dwellers honour the prisoner “who best remembers which of the shadows customarily pass by prior to others, which succeed others, and which appear simultaneously, and who thereby has the greatest power of prophesying which shadows will come next” (Republic 516c-d). The mastery of the shadows, despite the ignorance of their true nature, is all that counts for the cave-dwellers. We today award them Nobel Prizes. They are content with their learning (such as it is) and would even do violence to anyone who attempted to release them from their bondage to the shadows (517a). Mastery, the power to predict, is more honoured than insight into the object of the mastery. The resignation of the scientists as pointed out by Heisenberg is the contentment of the prisoners of the cave whose knowledge of predictability and dependability makes up for the lack of knowledge of the object of their studies, but this “knowledge” nevertheless helps them alleviate the human condition: “Thus we have resigned ourselves to the new situation the moment we could make dependable predictions.” Our computers and nano-technology are products/results of Heisenberg’s physics. There is, obviously, a great deal of room for discussion here with regard to examples that could be used and definitions of knowledge that could be arrived at.

5.“Too much relevant knowledge in a field might be a hindrance to the production of knowledge in that field.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

When looking at the key concepts in this title, the choice of the AOKs that will be discussed and the WOKs used in those AOKs “to produce knowledge” are what should be given consideration. “Produce” is an interesting word in that its understanding can imply its use and meaning as either a noun, gerund or a verb. As a noun, it is the final outcome of some process, a cause and effect process, usually understood as a natural process; so for example we go to the supermarket and buy the “produce” that is on our weekly grocery list i.e. carrots, potatoes, rice, etc. We do not refer to the things made by human beings as “produce”; we refer to them as “products”: human beings are not capable of making or bringing forth “produce”. In its gerund form, we can speak of the “work” as the end “product” of the process of “producing, production”. You are writing an essay: the writing is the process of production; the essay is the product or “work”, the outcome. Through your work, you are going to “bring to presence” something that was not there before. We sometimes (often) refer to this as “creating” but it is really a “making”, what the Greeks called “techne”, the kind of “know how” that is present in the work that is “in another and for another”: we make things either for ourselves or for others; in the case of your essay it is “for another” i.e. the IB. So the “production of knowledge in that field” is the bringing about of some thing that is “for another”, of some thing that will become part of our “shared knowledge” because your essay is or will become “public”. As a verb, to produce is “to bring about an effect”, to cause something, and it operates on the principle of reason (“nothing is without a cause, nothing is without reason). Your “work”, your efforts, your expenditure of energy, will bring forth a “work” i.e. an essay. In this work, the final product, the essay, determines what the approach is going to be and what selection process will be used to determine what is “relevant knowledge” and what is not. You will be using reason and language as ways of knowing to bring forth this product called an essay. Hopefully, it will be “knowledge”.  What type of “knowledge” will it be? I’m sure many of you are finding all the information available to you regarding your selected topic is more of a “hindrance” than a help to your ultimate goal of bringing forth, producing, an essay. I hope these comments are not a “hindrance”!

The role of imagination and language in the Arts as WOKs in the “production” of a work of art be it a novel or a sculpture or the production of a drama might be something you may want to consider. If a work of art is the “product” of the artist’s “experiences”, and this “product” is “knowledge”, what aspect of these experiences would constitute “too much relevant knowledge” and what is the “selection process” that is being used to determine what is relevant knowledge? What determines the selection of the materials that are “relevant” to the “production” of the work and which are not? How is a work of art “knowledge”? These are just some of the questions that might be considered, but be sure that any responses to them are linked to the “hindrance” aspect of the title or the contrary position that they are a “help”.

When we consider knowledge as a “product” or something that can be “produced”, we are looking at some thing that we as human beings are responsible for. But if we look at our example of the farmer who brings his ‘produce’ to market, clearly he himself is not responsible for the products or outcomes. He has a nurturing role to play in the final outcome (“the produce”), but oranges grow on trees, not farmers. Applying this same metaphor to the Arts and artists, are they primarily responsible for the “work” or is something greater involved and the artist’s role is, like the farmer, that of a “nurturer”? Is this “something greater” the biggest hindrance to the production of a work of art while at the same time being the greatest help to its possibility and realization?

In the AOK History, how does the “theoretical viewing” determine what knowledge is relevant and which is not? One of the problems for the modern historian is, of course, the availability of too much information. A selection based on a prior decision must be made regarding what details, “facts”, “information” are more important, more relevant and so a hierarchy is at work; all hierarchies are based on some principle. In this selective historical viewing, a hierarchy has already been established in the theoretical viewing which determines the selection of material based on its relevance which, in turn, is based on an outcome that has, in itself, already been pre-determined. Imagination, reason and language are the principle WOKs in the making of the theoretical viewing in History which determines what is “relevant knowledge” with regard to the end that is desired, that has already been chosen i.e. what is to be “produced” or “brought forth”. Is the situation here one where the “effect”, the desired outcome, is actually the “cause” of the production and is “responsible for” the production? You may want to look at examples where a pre-determined “effect” is the cause of what are considered “hindrances” to the production of the work.

Is “information” knowledge and how does information as knowledge differ from a “work” as knowledge? What is this “information” as knowledge about? The answer to these questions are determined by the nature of the viewing or the theory behind the methodology chosen for bringing about the resulting object, whether it be an historical account, a TOK essay, a bridge linking Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland, and so on.

You might want to use inductive reasoning to move from a specific example to the general premise or viewing as you would do or will do in your Oral Presentations when reflecting on your examples here. Is the resulting “effect” really the “cause”?

6. “The importance of establishing incontrovertible facts is overestimated. Most knowledge deals in ambiguity.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The statement used for title #6 is clearly a modern statement regarding what “knowledge” is and what “facts” are. This is a challenging title and caution should be taken in the interpretation and response to this title.

From the previous suggestions to the other titles here, it should be clear that there are no “incontrovertible facts”; it is the theoretical viewing that determines and “establishes”, or grounds what are to be considered facts. Facts are what is agreed upon, what those who share in the viewing can rely upon when making their statements or judgements regarding what something is. The “law of gravity”, for instance, is not a “law” in the sense that it is universal and timeless; it is not a “fact” as that term is usually understood. Modern physics shows the law of gravity not to be the case. Yet no one who is considered sane would challenge the “law of gravity” in the “common sense” experience of the world. The world of common sense and the world of science are two very different worlds because they are based on two very different “world-pictures”, representations or interpretations of the experience of the world. We cannot ‘live’ in the world-picture that is modern science.

The “ambiguity” that is present for us comes about because of the uncertainty we have of our theoretical viewing or that the definitions of the things we experience through this viewing are not what they seem. “Ambiguity” is something aspired to in the Arts because life itself is experienced as this ambiguity. Many world-views are possible and desirable in the Arts because we can “learn” from them and gain knowledge about the nature of human being from them. When we cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge in our automobiles, we hope that the engineer who designed the bridge was not dealing with “ambiguities” but was looking at his world with the certainty and precision provided by the mathematics involved in modern physics as that is described by Werner Heisenberg above. One of the questions is whether or not the purpose or goal of both approaches is one of ‘mastery’ over the worlds that are experienced; to have knowledge of these worlds and world-views is to have mastery over the things that are seen within them. “Technology” is the co-penetration of the arts and sciences as a way of being in the world (techne+ logos) and this way of being has its end in the mastery of the things which are encountered.

In History and the Human Sciences, “research” and the “scientific method” are used because the theoretical viewing requires that the things being studied be defined as what they are and can be mastered and, thus, what they are is less ambiguous for us. We use the scientific method, the projection of the world understood as ‘object’, in order to aspire to lesser ambiguity regarding the definitions of the ‘objects’ that are present in those AOKs so that they may be mastered and used for other purposes. It should be noted that in these areas of knowledge, the mastery regards human beings as the “object” that is to be mastered. “Ambiguity” is present because a final decision or judgement has not been made regarding the object under examination. Is this present “ambiguity” merely subject to “a matter of time” before a decision will be made regarding the nature of the thing being studied and some desired clarity is to be achieved? What is the nature of the knowledge that is present where ambiguity is present? Does knowledge require certainty and surety before it can be considered knowledge?

Remember: “Ambiguity” is not a desired quality for your essay. If there is any ambiguity present, it must be in the form of a “knowledge question”! Clarity in your use of concepts and your definitions of the things you are attempting to represent is what is required.

Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach

Teacher

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