Deconstructing the November 2019 Titles


A 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.

The notes here 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 provide you with another perspective to the ones given to you in the titles and from your own TOK class discussions. 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 and to understand the concepts 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. Personal and shared knowledge, the knowledge framework, the ways of knowing and the areas of knowledge are terms that you need to reference in your discussions.

On a personal note, though I have included many references to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in my responses here this in no way implies that I agree with the views that he expressed in his philosophy. He is mentioned because he has thought most clearly and most comprehensively about the modern project and its consequences.

Here is a link to a PowerPoint that contains recommendations and a flow chart outlining the steps to writing a TOK essay. Some of you may need to get your network administrator to make a few tweaks in order for you to access it. Comments, observations and discussions are most welcome.

The November 2019 Prescribed Titles

1. “In the acquisition of knowledge, the responsibility for accuracy lies with the user not the producer.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

In title #1, a number of key concepts or assumed concepts are being used and these must be examined and questioned and brought to light. First, what is it that is being said about what “knowledge” is in the title? Well, it appears that “knowledge” is something that can be “acquired”. “To acquire” means to take possession of something from outside of us; to be in possession of that something that is initially outside of oneself, to make that something “one’s own”, to have some possession and some control over its disposition or disposal. We have the lovely saying in English “I get it” when we are speaking of that moment when we believe that “knowledge” is “acquired”. What has been shared knowledge becomes personal knowledge.

The “knowledge” that is being spoken of in the title is also associated with “truth”. The “truth” that the knowledge itself possesses, as used in the title, is “accuracy” or a “correspondence” with some thing or some standard that is present somewhere and against which what is being called “knowledge” can be measured. The knowledge and its “truth” are calculable and the “value” of that knowledge and “truth” is determined by how “useful” it is to someone. “Truth” is what brings some thing to light, what reveals the thing to be what it is and so makes it a “fact”. The greater the “accuracy” the greater the light that is shed on what the thing under consideration is and the greater surety or certainty of the knowledge is felt by those with whom the knowledge is shared. So, for example, the statement “science is the theory of the real” indicates something that has “reality” gets its “reality” from the presence of “truth” residing in it, the “truth” that illuminates the vision or perception held in the “theory”. That which we call “knowledge” is judged by how much light it sheds on the reality of the thing in question. In the quotation regarding science, “science” is just another word for “knowledge” and that is indeed what science originally meant. Our interpretations of the “real” are our “values”, and they possess some “value” because we value truth and accuracy because they give us surety and certainty.

From this very brief description we may distinguish between “knowledge” and “information”. Information is not knowledge until the data of which it is composed is placed in a “form” or framework so that it can “inform” ( in + form + ation the suffix from the Greek aitia or “that which is responsible for” the “form” in which something can “inform” ). So the “responsibility” for the “accuracy” or “correctness” of what is called “knowledge” in the title initially rests in the “producer” of “knowledge” and the “form” which he/she chooses so that his/her “production” can “inform”. Unless such “responsibility” is present, there is “no thing”, nothing to inform about. There is no “knowledge”, only lies. There is nothing “real”; it is “fake”. This is what is known as nihilism, “the nothing”. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the great example of this in the English language where darkness is preferred over light; and when one chooses darkness over light, life comes to signify “nothing”, a “tale told by an idiot”. One can find plenty of current examples in many areas of knowledge that speak to this nihilism being present in many areas of knowledge. Just as the tragic hero Macbeth loses his humanity in his loss for his concern for the truth and becomes despotic and tyrannical, his loss of the sense of the “otherness” of human beings, so we, too, lose our contact with our essence, what makes us human beings, when we lose our regard for truth’s relation to us as “light”, as revealedness and disclosedness.

“Responsibility” deals with Ethics as an Area of Knowledge. Ethics has to do with human actions and behaviours and the motivations or motives behind those actions and behaviours. Ethics relate to what has historically been called “the good”. The German philosopher Kant wrote: “The only good without exception is the good will”; other “goods” are “subjective”. Kant’s statement implies that we have to have “trust” that the “producers” of “knowledge” are acting out of “good will”. If they are not, if their intent is one of mere mendacity or maliciousness then their “production” will not be knowledge, and societies impose various laws and penalties on those who act from these motives. What is “produced” will violate the principle of reason (logic, the principle of contradiction) in that what is asserted or the judgements made about some thing are in violation of the principle of contradiction in that they claim that some thing is what it is not. They will not be “accurate”. The principle of reason, or reason as a way of knowing, deals with what is “true”, with “reality”. “Reason” the “true”; Ethics the “good”.

“To produce” means to “bring forth”. Something which was once hidden is brought into  the open, into the light and revealed. Nature brings forth produce and we consider this good. If we are starving, coming upon a bunch of bananas is “good”. Human beings bring forth works of art and tools such as hand phones. These “products” are considered “good” and we have the general term “goods” to relate to them when we are speaking of our dispositions towards them, how we “dispose” of them. What is brought forth can be “good” or “bad”. Some works of art are “bad” in that they fail to carry out what they intended to do for whatever reason; some hand phones are “good” and some hand phones are “bad” and this relates to their “usefulness” and “functionality” and the claims made about these uses and functions by those who “produce” them. You will notice here that works of art and hand phones are considered “knowledge” according to our definition. They are “works” and the final flowering of that knowing and making that went into their “production”. In the arts, “aesthetics” deals with the “beautiful”, and it is a word that comes from the Greek word aisthesis which means “sense perception”. So we have the true in logic or reason, the good in behaviours or ethics, and the beautiful when it comes to the production of knowledge by human beings. It is the accuracy of that which is produced that is “beautiful”.

The title seems to imply a caveat emptor, “let the user beware”, in that the “user” has the responsibility to be “sceptical” regarding the shared knowledge that has been handed over. This, of course, goes without saying: one needs to be sceptical of the assertions made by various sources of “knowledge” just as we exercise caution before buying a hand phone. But we cannot assume that all producers of knowledge are nothing more than mere used car salespersons. For comments on scepticism and doubt see titles #3 and #5. But there must also be “trust” present, otherwise the work in the sciences and mathematics could not begin. In the arts, we must “trust” in the artist or the poet if we are to make any headway in understanding the work that is before us. It is from this initial “trust” in the shared knowledge that has been handed over to us and in the producers of that knowledge that the journey towards our personal knowledge acquisition can begin. In order to gain this “trust”, the “producers of knowledge” have a “responsibility” to ensure that what is put forward is “knowledge” which does not violate the principle of reason, is done in a spirit of “good will”, and is “accurate” in achieving its ends to the best of their abilities. “Accuracy” is the “beautiful”. There are inherent connections between the true, the good, and the beautiful.

WOKs: reason, language, faith, emotion AOKs: natural sciences, human sciences, ethics, history, the arts


Personal Knowledge and Reason

Personal Knowledge: Language as a WOK

Personal Knowledge: Individuals and Societies Part 2

Personal Knowledge: Individuals and Societies or the Human Sciences: Part One

2. “Each human being is unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable” (René Dubos). Assuming this statement to be correct, what challenges does it create for knowledge production in two areas of knowledge?

Title #2 is likely to be considered the most challenging and the most controversial of all the titles in this November’s prescribed essay list. The reasons for these challenges and controversies lie in the fact that the title invites us to question what human beings are , what their essence is. If one takes to the challenge of “assuming” the statement that each individual being is “unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable” to be correct, then there is a need to reflect upon and question what the implications are when acknowledging such an assertion, particularly in relation to the Natural Sciences and Human Sciences.

The first question might be “So what? What importance or significance lies in the uniqueness of each individual member of a species?” if all species and all members of species are products of chance, accident, and/or contingency. What does the uniqueness of each member of our species entitle them to (in relation to the Human Sciences)? What is “due” to any human being given their “uniqueness”? This involves the AOK Ethics and questions of justice for it speaks of actions both individually and as societies. The first challenge or recognition is that, if there is any importance to the consequences implicit and explicit in the “truth” of the statement, the importance of these consequences, the ethics of these consequences or the actions that we undertake, are constantly denied or overlooked by the concrete relations and realities of the experiences we have of our world particularly through what is taught to us in the Human Sciences. That is, we turn away from the “facts” as expressed in the statement so that we can confirm what is contradicted by our experience of living.

First of all, the use of the word “assume” in the title presents a difficulty. Anyone who is a scientist agrees with the statement as it is made: each individual human being is unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable and these qualities are present at the moment of conception. But the same holds true for any living being: at the moment of germination for plants and at the moment of conception for animals. Does the title present us with a false issue which can be illustrated by the following statement i.e. “Assuming 1 + 1 = 2 is correct, what challenges are present for the production of knowledge in two AOKs…” It becomes a question regarding the theory and its viewing and the methodology and its making as procedures and actions. This will be the bulk of the response here regarding this title.

Part of the issue present is the distinction between universals and particulars. In order for the Natural Sciences and Human Sciences to begin their work, the “individual” in its uniqueness whether in nature or societies must be “leaped over” so that assertions and judgements can be made about the universal, for it is in the universals that the “essence” of something (the what) is arrived at and a definition formed i.e. knowledge. This process or methodology involves both inductive reasoning (particular to universal) and deductive reasoning (universal to particular) which must adhere to the principle of reason (logic) in the “production” of knowledge about the individual being or thing under observation whether it be plant or animal.

In arriving at universals, science begins with the Natural Sciences: physics, chemistry, biology. The quest for knowledge begins with those beings that are not living (physics), the greatest being the cosmos or macrocosm down to the microcosm or atomic physics, and the other sciences proceed to define that which is living from the findings discovered in the physics: from something simple which does not have life to those beings which are of greater complexity because they have “life”. In the Human Sciences, the concern is with those things/beings that have been created or made by human beings: civilizations, societies, states, the arts, and so on. For the individual, psychology is the primary study that attempts to arrive at some universal statements or assertions that can be made about individual human beings with a precluded definition of “human being” as universal already in mind. Nowadays, what is called “psychology” is primarily based on the findings of physiology (brain studies) or biology and chemistry. These approaches are “theoretical” i.e. one possible interpretation of the thing being observed and one possible manner of observing. The thing being observed is, of course, another human being. The calculable results are accepted as “true” regarding that which is under observation.

For societies politics, economics, sociology, anthropology and so on attempt to understand and bring to light knowledge of the behaviours of individuals within communities. When we speak of human behaviour, we are speaking of “ethics”, and this area of knowledge is inseparable from what we call the Human Sciences. The Human Sciences attempt to bring to knowledge what is primarily the “pre-scientific” knowledge of human behaviours or the “ethics” of human behaviours, how human beings make judgements about what is good or bad and how these judgements might lead to individual “happiness”. The Natural Sciences are concerned with what is “true” and they use the logic of the principle of reason to make judgements about what is true or false. The Human Sciences are concerned with what is “good and bad” and they use the principle of reason and other ways of knowing and methodologies to arrive at some assertions in these areas of knowledge that compose the Human Sciences. This leads to the greatest challenge for the methodology of the Human Sciences: the need to make judgements regarding human behaviour as to whether it is good or bad. The Human Sciences begin with the premise of the “fact/value” distinction, but the interpretation of the “real” in the theories of the Human Sciences are, a priori, the “values” that we have placed in these sciences and how they view the world and the things/beings in it in which we live.

In the knowledge framework of the Human Sciences, the “system” in which it is embedded, one of the chief concepts used is the “fact/value distinction”. Historically, the “fact/value” distinction finds its roots in the thinking of the English philosopher David Hume but it did not come to the fore until the Human Sciences found their flourishing in the 19th and 20th centuries primarily among the German thinkers. Hume’s idea was that there is an ontological distinction between what is (facts) and what ought to be (values) and that it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is.” Groups or communities (the scientific community as an example) make statements and judgements of “facts” through the evidence given to them, while individuals make statements and judgements of “value”, or so it is believed. “Facts” are believed to be “objective”, while “values” are “subjective”.

In the Human Sciences, since human beings are the objects of study, “statistics” are used to justify the “truth” behind what statements of “fact” are made. Statistics are used because, with human beings, there are always individual “outliers” present that need to be accounted for and so the results are conveyed as percentages. Even though the Human Sciences claim to study the behaviours of individuals and societies “scientifically”, they reject “value judgements” regarding these behaviours because they believe that the conflicts between different values and different value-systems are essentially insoluble for human reason. The belief in operation here is that “scientific knowledge” (the knowledge of universals), the kind of knowledge aspired to by the Human Sciences, is the highest form of human knowledge. This belief depreciates the “value” of pre-scientific knowledge or what the Greeks called “phronetic” knowledge, knowledge based on “experience”, or what we sometimes call “common sense”, or the kind of knowledge upon which ethical judgements are based, the “real” experience of the world. We might say in passing that it is impossible to study individuals and societies, to have knowledge of them or of  any and all important social phenomenon, without making value judgements. And this is one of the “challenges” facing knowledge production in this area of knowledge.

If we ignore the theory and methodology “challenges” that are present in studying human beings both as individuals and as societies, we can look at the more banal examples of how these “challenges” might be manifest in the “production of knowledge”. How, for example, do I create a product that will allow individuals to express their “individuality” in its use; how do I “individualize” my product; how do I construct an interface that will allow the particularity of the user to come to the fore? Manufacturing and marketing strategies come to mind here. Or “because human beings behave individually, how can we predict with accuracy outcomes of their behaviour in different situations or contexts?” The failure of the prediction models in determining the outcome of the past US presidential election might be an example to note in the political science field or, as another example, the use of the quantum indeterminacy principle in mathematics to predict risk management in economics (which was one of the factors leading to the economic catastrophe of 2008). In the Arts, how does an artist overcome the fragmentation of the audience when attempting to produce a work of art? Art relies in many ways on the commonality of all human beings and in the sharing of this commonality. With regard to individual members of our species, we could reflect on the desires of scientists engaged in cloning. Nature does not clone; only human beings do. Why? Why is the need for “permanence” so important to human beings?

“Knowledge production” requires some clarification. The word “production” comes from the Latin producere “to bring forth”, to bring about a result or effect, to cause something to happen. Human beings, whether as individuals or as a species, try to establish a foothold or ground among the beings/things to which they are exposed (physis or Nature and artifacts/tools). This mastery of the beings about them is guided in advance by what we as human beings think those beings to be. The Greeks called such knowledge techne. This word did not originally (in the Greek) designate a “making” or a “doing” i.e. a “producing”, but designated the knowledge which supports and leads every way of knowing and our relations to the things that are so that a “producing” is possible. “Techne” is “know how”. It is the kind of knowledge that grounds and guides the human confrontation with and mastery over beings/things in which new and other beings/things are “produced” and generated in addition to and on the basis of the beings/things that already have come to be. It is the kind of knowledge that produces tools such as computers, and works of art. Both the shoemaker and the poet were, for the Greeks, technites. 

The Greek techne was not simply making and manufacturing as such but the knowledge that disclosed things that are in such a way as to make “production” of some thing/being possible. The word “technology” itself is not to be found in the Greek but was a word derived in the 16th century when the ways of knowing became an attack upon Nature (such as that described by Francis Bacon in his essay “On Science”). The Greeks allowed that which presences to arrive first in its particularity, in its individuality. We do not allow things to arrive as what they are in their particularity but rather define what they are or what they will become according to our reason in advance. Computers are able to compose haikus without having any “experience” of the things that they are discoursing about. You are able to discuss atoms in your physics classes without having any experience of what they are. That is because these things have already been defined in advance for you.

Our need for universals in the sciences requires that what comes to presence before us be turned into an “object”. This includes other human beings in their particularity and individuality.

WOKs: reason, language, sense perception, intuition, imagination, emotion AOKs: Natural Science, Human Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, History


Intuition as a Way of Knowing

Personal Knowledge: Language as a WOK

Personal Knowledge and Reason

Technology as a Way of Knowing:

3. Shared knowledge often changes over time. Does this fact undermine our confidence in current shared knowledge?

Title #3 asks us to engage in reflection on the changing nature of what is called “knowledge” and our need for certitude and certainty in its “correctness” in order for us to feel “confidence” in its use. We desire “permanence” in our discoveries through our ways of knowing and the areas of knowledge which they disclose. This “permanence” manifests itself in the desire for “frameworks”, “systems” which brings the being of the things in the world to a “stand” so that we may speak about them. This “permanence” and our need for it rests in our understanding and association of knowledge with truth since truth, which has been associated with reason as a way of knowing and its logic, sees the principles behind it and grounding it as something “permanent”. One of the questions posed is, therefore, if “knowledge” changes over time, is it “knowledge”?  The German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: “Only that which has no history can be defined” where the definition of some thing allows us to speak of its essence or “what” the thing is. Is the “knowledge” being spoken of here in this title merely an “interpretation” and therefore subject to change? Presumably, what doesn’t change is the “facts” as they are understood. We could formulate the issue by asking the greater question: “Is historicism, as it is encapsulated in the quote from Nietzsche, the true account of the nature of things”? If it is, where are we to find “confidence” in what has come to be called knowledge?

With the beginning of the modern age, that is to say in the thinking of the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, human beings with their knowledge of themselves and their central position amid beings — the things that are — become the centre where things will be experienced, defined, and shaped. Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore, I am”) grounds all truth in the self-consciousness of the individual ego so that human beings’ “truths” become the court of judgement over all things and their “goodness” or “usefulness”. This “subjectivity” of truth must then become “shared” with its “evidence” as to why it is true through language as a way of knowing so that it can become “objective truth” through the acceptance of its judgements or results by the community and become “shared knowledge”. “Evidence” is provided or communicated to the community in the form of the mathematical, the language of the steps of “logic” or “reasoning”. One consequence of this “calculative thinking” is that “great art” becomes much less important in the lives of human beings; and so too ethics, understood as virtuous actions, as the “value” or the “goodness” of an action, so it is assumed, is not susceptible to judgement by human reason or to “mathematical calculative judgement” unless it can be cloaked in a kind of “utilitarian ethics” where “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” can be determined.

We require “reasons” for the assertions that are given to us in knowledge claims: they provide the answers to our questions “how do I/we know x”; and the answers begin with “be-cause” or “the cause is….” We insist upon a foundation or a ground/cause for every attitude and disposition when we explore emotion as a way of knowing and how these emotions shape and determine our human cognition, our processing of the contents of our experiences, what we call our “personal knowledge”. It is from within this principle of reason that we determine who among us is sane and who among us is not. In our search for reasons we begin with the immediate reasons for the things in front of us and then proceed to attempt to get to the bottom of, or ground of, the more remote reasons and, finally, ask about the ultimate reason, the “why” of Being, why is there something rather than nothing. We gain confidence in the certainty and correctness of our “seeing” (our “theory”) when we can make the statement “The cause is…”

The German physicist Werner Heisenberg says the following about where, in fact, our confidence lies in modern science: “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”)

While the predictions of modern physics are precise and calculable, those of the Human Sciences are not so. The mathematical formulas of quantum physics “work” in the sub-atomic world, but do not seem to be applicable to the world that we experience as human beings. What has been lost along the way is what has been traditionally called “knowledge”, and a great paradigm shift has taken place so that what can be called “knowledge” in the present is knowledge as some thing that can be “produced”, results or outcomes. This assured “predictability” of outcomes and results overcomes the scepticism and doubt which would attack our confidence, our wills and decisiveness, in their use since our ability to predict allows us to commandeer and control the nature that we view. See also comments on Title #5.

In the Arts, the issue of “confidence” in our shared knowledge of them has always been dogged by the belief that our judgements about them are merely “subjective”. Discussions about art are dominated by “aesthetics” or the “what”, the “why” and the “how” of the “beautiful”, and this has been so since the 17th century, coincidentally with the rise in the domination of the principle of reason understood as algebraic calculation. Works of art are turned into “objects” and are approached “scientifically” using the methodologies of the sciences.  Such an approach to art results in the fact that we may learn “about” them as objects but we cannot learn anything “from” them because we are incapable of loving the beauty that they express. Can one love an object? Is our confidence in our shared knowledge of the Arts shaken when computers are now capable of writing haikus? From where does the “command prompt” come for an artist to make a work of art? We know where the “command prompt” rests when a computer is given the command to write a haiku. When computers on their own begin writing haikus or elephants on their own make works of art in their jungle territories then I think we  have something to make our confidence tremble. The same may be said of language.

“The fact” that knowledge changes may cause a crisis of will among those who have a misplaced “faith” in what knowledge is may not be such a bad thing and may be a further prod to continue on the journey of the search for knowledge and what it rests in.

WOKs: reason, language, emotion, sense perception, intuition AOKs: Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, History


The Natural Sciences: Historical Background

Reason as a Way of Knowing

Personal Knowledge: Individuals and Societies or the Human Sciences: Part One

Personal Knowledge: Individuals and Societies Part 2

The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:


TOKQuestion4. To produce knowledge just observe and then write down what you observe. Discuss the effectiveness of this strategy in two areas of knowledge.

Title #4 invites us to reflect on how we “observe” the world and give an account of it in order to “produce knowledge”. This observing and accounting for is done through a “strategy”. A strategy is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim”. It involves a “mastery” or control of some thing, a “know how” or what the Greeks called techne. Strategies are used in many things, in business and in warfare, in our relationships with each other, and in the kitchen when we attempt to conjure up a meal. They involve “logistics”. From these strategies or plans or frameworks, a step by step procedure is developed based on the principle of reason (“nothing is without reason”) which we call nowadays an “algorithm”. Algorithms may be as simple as a recipe for baking cookies or as complex as the Microsoft Excel computer program. An “aim” is an end or goal and it involves a “goodness” of some kind for somebody which will lead to their “happiness”. This specific end is already conceived before the strategy is put in place. The achieving of the end or goal involves using a “method” or methodology, a plan, techniques, in order that the actions carried out begin with, continue on with, and end with the specific end in view until that end or result is “produced” or achieved.

Our discussion here will say a very few words on how “theory” is the “observing” and how “writing down” is the “giving an account”. “Writing” will be understood as any communication of what has been observed whether it be in the form of mathematical or statistical results or the productions that are products of the arts. Writing, as opposed to speech, is “permanent”. The “giving of an account” of some thing was what the Greeks called logos and its primary manner or mode of accounting historically was in the form of “logic”. In business we have “accountants” whose responsibility (on most occasions) is to use the language of numbers to bring to light the activities of the human beings who are involved in the conducting of the business. All “giving of accounts” of some thing is “shared knowledge”, and because “shared” is “political” since it deals with human beings living in communities.

The title is primarily concerned with our ways of knowing and their resultant methodologies which aid us in our “production of knowledge”. It is about that overlapping area of our Venn diagram which illustrates our TOK program. In the simplicity of its statement it hides a most complex process and the questions and problems inherent in this complex process. “Just observe” indicates implicitly that a “judgement” has already been made about what is to be observed and how it is to be observed. Our ways of knowing are the means by which we “view” and “apprehend” or “grasp” as well as “experience” our shared knowledge and the beings/things in the world about us. They are our ways of “be-holding” the beings/things. We say with great assurance that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But what then is this “beholding” of which we are speaking and what are its grounds? Any beholding begins with sense perception as a way of knowing. But what is it that is perceived and “known” through this sense perception and how are the means and ways of our perceptions formed?

“Beholding” is the subject’s representing and grasping of what is given and how this representing gives being to the giveness of the things. The subject is the “be-holder”. He or she “holds” the things in their “be”-ing; he or she brings them to presence and “represents” them and gives them “permanence”. To “behold” is to look at something face-to-face brought to presence whether it be a stone or a work of art.  The beholding is our “representedness” itself. Beings are given being by this representedness. How this giving of being to things occurs is what we mean by “beholding”: the self-representing of the things that are that gives being to them. That there is a beauty in and of itself outside the subjectivity of the subject is not allowed. Since beauty cannot be understood through calculation and brought to surety and certainty, then it lacks its own being. Its “being”, its “reality” is “subjective” i.e. constructed by the be-holder. There is no room for “beauty” in the world of mathematical physics for there is nothing to love since the beautiful is what we love. If there is a “beauty” present in mathematical physics, it is in our accounts of what we are trying to represent not in the thing that we are representing.

To “represent” is ‘to place [something], make it stand’ ‘before, in front of, etc’, ‘to bring, move forward; to put something in front of something else’, hence ‘to represent, mean, signify’ and ‘to introduce, present a person’, etc. Other meanings are ‘to represent to oneself, imagine, conceive’ – in a ‘performance, presentation, introduction’ and ‘idea, conception, imagination, etc’. “To observe” is to “re-present”.

Representation occurs, but it is ‘letting something be seen’, not something that is itself seen. This type of representation occurs all the time in the Natural Sciences and allows the woman in Moscow, Russia to communicate with the man in Moscow, Idaho regarding things about which they themselves have never had any direct experience. There is a close affinity between the representational theory of perception and the correspondence theory of truth: both involve ‘representations in the soul copying beings outside’.

In “representation”, the representing and the representer are always co-represented. There is no “just observing” of things; how the thing will be observed already precedes the viewer.

In our ‘visible thinking’ that is representation, our efforts are ‘to make something stand (fast) in advance/ before us’ and to ‘produce’ the results of our efforts. Thus, it expresses Nietzsche’s view that, in what we call ‘truth’, we bring chaotic becoming to a standstill, converting it into ‘static constancy’. The being of things has already been pre-defined before we enter our classrooms and engage in our studies of the areas of knowledge.

Representation also means ‘to bring before’ a court. Then it suggests that Human Being is a judge who decides what beingness is and what qualify as beings, who lays down the law and applies it to beings. “To be” is then to-be-represented. This is Descartes’ main achievement: that he equated being with being-represented by a subject. It does not matter whether the subject is a pure ego or, as Nietzsche believes, embodied. What matters is that everything comes to human beings for judgement. The two central features of modernity are that human beings are the centre of beings as a whole, the subject to which they are all referred, and that ‘the beingness of beings as a whole is conceived as the being-represented of the producible and explainable, the giving of the account of the thing. ‘To produce’, to bring forth, indicates the relationship of Cartesianism and technology, and this thinking dominates our view of the world and, thus, the TOK program that we are studying.

Representation gives a new sense to the understanding of being as presence. For the Greeks being was ‘presence’. Greek presence concerns the ‘presencing’ of beings into the realm of the unhidden. The closest Greek counterpart to representation, noein, ‘to think, etc.’, was ‘dwelling in the unhidden’, receptive, contemplative rather than intrusive, and concerned the whole, unhiddenness as such, and not only individual entities/things. Representation as it is understood in the modern is the autocratic interrogation of and jurisdiction over entities/things whose presence is now correctness and correspondence rather than ‘presence’ as the Greeks understood it.

“Viewing” in Greek is theoria from which we get our word “theory” and the word “theatre”, “the viewing place”, among others. What we call mathematics is a theoretical viewing of the world which establishes the surety and certainty of that world through calculation. What the Greeks meant by mathematics is “what can be learned and what can be taught”. One of the first things that can be learned and taught is arithmos or counting by numbers, arithmetic, and this is why the mathematical was initially understood as numeracy. Our mathematics, too, is crucial in determining our understanding of what we think can be learned and can be taught. The abstractions that we make with our own thinking in mathematics are not those that a Greek would have made. This is because the Greeks did not have algebra and calculus, nor did they think in the manner of the symbolic logic and its logistics that resulted from this abstract way of viewing the world.

Mathematics today deals with all beings and it is an “account” of those beings in that it deals with the “categories” or attributes of the thing. Mathematics is language as a way of knowing. The calculative thinking that is done through the mathematical determines that all the things of the world are disposables and are to be used by human beings in their various dispositions and comportments to the things that are. This comportment and disposition is a commandeering challenging of the world and the beings in it, and it is what we have come to call “knowledge”. It demands that the things of the world give us their reasons for being what they are and how they are. This under-standing, or ground (subjectum), is that upon which all of our actions are based. The surety or certainty that beings are as we say they are through calculation arises through the viewing and use of algebraic calculation in the modern world. It was achieved in the thinking of the French philosopher Rene Descartes where human beings were conceived as subjectum and the world about them was conceived as objectum. The incredible results of what has been achieved through this calculative thinking have come to astonish us and to determine what knowledge will be significant in our day and what is best to be known and how it is to be known.

WOKs: reason, language, intuition, emotion, sense perception AOKs: Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, the Arts, History, Ethics, Mathematics


Intuition as a Way of Knowing

Personal Knowledge: Language as a WOK

Personal Knowledge: What is Called Thinking

Imagination as a Way of Knowing

5. Is there a trade-off between scepticism and successful production of knowledge?

Title #5 contains many of the same knowledge questions and knowledge problems that could be discussed in title #3. “Scepticism” is another word for “doubt” and doubt inhibits “confidence” in what one thinks one knows. The overcoming of “doubt” and “scepticism” is the “making of a decision”. At some point the thinking must stop and a “decision” needs to be made.

The challenges present for the production of knowledge in that human activity known as the sciences is that the sciences must make use of particular interpretations of such things as force, motion, space and time but they cannot ask what such things are as long as they remain sciences and avoid what has come to be called “philosophy”. The fact that every science as such, being the specific science that it is as an area of knowledge, gains no access to its fundamental concepts and what these concepts grasp, goes hand in hand with the fact that no science can assert something about itself with the help of its own scientific resources or methodologies. What mathematics is, for example, cannot be determined mathematically; what biology is can never be said biologically. What has traditionally been called “knowledge” is now no longer accessible to the sciences and this has created a “crisis for science” which is ignored because the findings of science and the predictions that it makes still are useful in the production of knowledge. This is why we speak of the “production of knowledge” as “results” or “works” and not “knowledge” itself.

Here is what Werner Heisenberg, one of the discoverers of quantum physics and the creator of the “indeterminacy principle”, says regarding the crisis of modern science. It reveals many of the knowledge questions and knowledge problems that are contained in the title (See the discussion on “representation” in title #4 as well as the discussion in Title #3): “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”) What Heisenberg is saying is that in modern physics, application not knowledge is now the goal because what is known can be applied and “produce knowledge”. Human being has made a decision regarding what can be called “knowledge” and this definition is not what has traditionally been called “knowledge”.

To ask what a science is, is to ask a question that is no longer a scientific question. Therefore, such questions (and the scepticism associated with them) must be ignored or forgotten or “leaped over” so that any science can set itself in motion within the fundamental positions that it takes towards beings/things and allow these positions to have an impact on the scientific work. It must ignore any scepticism in the truth of its beginnings and the results discovered. The “facts” of the natural sciences and of all sciences are the particular appearances interpreted according to explicit, implicit, or totally unknown metaphysical principles which reflect a doctrine concerning our view towards beings/things as a whole. What is this doctrine? The doctrine is the priority of the principle of reason (principle of contradiction) as a way of knowing, as a way of “viewing” our world. Thus we can say: “Science is the theory of the real.” It is but one possible way of viewing the world, one we have chosen, but there could be others. This could be said to be the greatest “trade off” with regard to scepticism in the modern sciences: that it ignores the crisis of modern science with regard to knowledge and emphasizes belief as a way of knowing.

Some historical background is necessary to understand why “doubt” and scepticism have come to the fore of modern thinking. During the Middle Ages philosophy stood under the exclusive domination of theology and gradually degenerated into a mere analysis of concepts and elucidations of traditional propositions and opinions. Descartes appeared and began by doubting everything, but this doubt ran into something which could no longer be doubted, for inasmuch as the sceptic doubts, he cannot doubt that he, the sceptic, is present and must be present in order to doubt at all. As I doubt I must admit that “I am”. The “I” is indubitable. As the doubter, the “sceptic”, Descartes forced human beings to doubt in this way; he led them to think of themselves, of their “I”. Human subjectivity came to be declared the centre of thought. From here originated the “I”-viewpoint of modern times and its subjectivism. “Humanism” is a term used to describe this paradigmatic shift in the place of human being in the world during that period which is known as the Renaissance.

Philosophy was brought to the insight that doubting must stand at the beginning of philosophy: reflection upon knowledge itself and its possibility. This is in contrast with the Greeks where “trust” stands at the beginning of philosophy and “doubting” led one to see why that “trust” was an appropriate response to the things that are. With Descartes, a theory of knowledge had to be erected before a theory of the world. Descartes’ stand required ‘certainty’ and ‘correctness’ regarding the world and its being and these were to be derived through theory. (Our course is called Theory of Knowledge. Its description in the TOK and its contents illustrate that it is conceived as a “modern” product. The Greeks, for example, did not have “theories of knowledge”). From Descartes on, epistemology is the foundation of philosophy (TOK is really a course in epistemology), and this is what distinguishes modern from medieval philosophy. Much of the modern interpretations of Plato and Aristotle have been attempts to make them epistemologists.

The main work of Descartes is called Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). This is the first philosophy of Aristotle, prima philosophia, the question concerning the being of what is in the form of the question concerning the thingness of things. Meditations on First Philosophy—nothing about theory of knowledge. The sentence (subject + predicate) or proposition constitutes the guide for the question of/about the being of what is (for the categories or predicates).  The connection between Christianity and Greek metaphysics, understood as “Platonism”, that prioritized certainty and which made the development and the acceptance of the mathematical interpretation of the being of things possible (the certainty of Christian salvation), the security of the individual as such—will not be considered here.

Our confidence in our knowledge and the scepticism regarding it may be overcome when we think of the results that we can and have achieved through the applications of the interpretations of the world that are given to us in the sciences through their ability to predict outcomes that are successful or that work, as is noted by Heisenberg in the quote above. But as the German philosopher Heidegger noted, science itself cannot think and does not think and this is its blessing! If it did think, it would not be able to go about its business of being a science and be successful in the production of knowledge. It would not be capable of setting itself in motion. Any scepticism regarding the science must be discarded in order for it to move forward and this is the greatest trade-off. It must resign itself to the fact that it cannot and will not be able to know the truth about the “facts” of nature given its current representations of nature from the questions which it poses to nature. Given this situation, one corollary question that could be raised is whether computers or machines “can think” or what is the manner or nature of a computer’s thinking? What do we call thinking when we apply this to a definition of what a computer does?

Scepticism among scientists usually occurs when their theory does not account for what they encounter in their experimental results, what they encounter in the world through their observations (see, for example, the background to Einstein’s work). The physicist Heisenberg summed up the dilemma facing modern scientists in this way: “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.” Heisenberg and Einstein are both responsible for the great paradigm shift that occurs with the discoveries of modern physics. The application of those discoveries are all about us and have brought about what we call the Information Age as one of their results.

Western metaphysics determines things/beings in advance as what is conceivable and definable i.e. what is not “imaginary” or “fantastical”. “Common sense” and metaphysical thinking rest on the “trust” that beings/things show themselves in the thinking of reason and its categories: that what is true and truth are grasped and secured in reason. This has been called the principle of reason. The German philosopher Nietzsche states: “Trust in reason and its categories, in dialectic (Hegel), thus the value estimation of logic, proves only their usefulness for life, proved by experience—not their ‘truth’”. Is Nietzsche writing about “scepticism” here?

We cannot view the “trust in reason” and the dominance of logos as ratio as one-sidedly rationalism or rationalistic. Irrationalism belongs within the “trust” in reason where irrationalism determines the “world view”: the triumphs of rationalism, the principle of reason, are celebrated within the technological and the adherence to fundamental irrational world views. Modern Western societies exist within these conditions and contradictions and can do so because of the “decisions” that have been made.

“Trust in reason” is a basic constitution of human beings—the animale rationale. The power and the capacity that brings human beings before beings/things and that represents beings/things for human beings is delivered over to reason. Only what represents and secures rational thinking has claim to the assertion of a being that is in being. Reason determines what is in being and what is not. Reason is the most extreme pre-decision as to what Being (Life) means.

“Logic” and the “logical” are calculated on the basis of trust in “reasons”. When physics thinks beings/things in certain categories (matter, cause, energy, potential) and in its thinking trusts these categories from the start, and in its research continually attains new results, such trust in reason in the form of science does not prove that “nature” reveals its essence in anything that is objectively shaped and represented by the categories of physics. Such scientific knowledge only demonstrates that our thinking about nature is “useful” for “life”. (See the blog entry on The Natural Sciences). What generates practical use is “true” and the truth of what is true is to be estimated only according to its degree of usefulness, or so it is believed. Here in TOK we refer to this as “robust knowledge” or “significant” knowledge if that usefulness is great. That something is “useful” pertains to the conditions of “life”. What we think these conditions are, the essential determination of these conditions, the ways of their conditioning, and the character of their conditioning depends upon the way in which life itself is defined in its essence.

That something is useful for life means that scientific knowledge through the principle of reason posits and has posited “nature” as being in a sense that secures modern technological success in advance through the calculations of the schemata adopted. This is the framing that is the technological and why “technology” is referred to as a fate in these writings and why “choice” is placed in quotations marks.

How are we to understand “truth as correctness” or what is called “the correspondence theory of truth”? How is “correctness” to be understood? How does truth as correctness overcome scepticism?

Truth as a characteristic of reason (and thus knowledge) and that this characteristic is used to assemble and represent beings/things and why it must be used as such must be clarified.

In Will to Power #507 Nietzsche says: “that a great deal of belief must be present; that judgements may be ventured, that doubt concerning all essential values is lacking that is the pre-condition for every living thing and its life”. What Nietzsche is saying is that truth and what is true are not determined subsequently in terms of practical use merely accruing to life i.e. from experience, but rather that truth must already prevail in order for what is alive to live so life as such can remain alive. Accordingly, what is believed and held to be true can (“in itself”) be a deception and untrue; it suffices for it merely to be believed and, best of all, for it to believed fundamentally, unconditionally and blindly.

Would Nietzsche somehow support or believe the current “alternate facts” and machinations that are so much a part of modern politics and propaganda? Is Nietzsche’s conception of truth quite mad? There is the statement that the truth must exist but that it does not necessarily need to be “true”.  For Nietzsche, “truth” is a necessary “value” but it is not the highest value. Our current actual historical conditions and situations are the consequences of the hidden essence of truth, and as consequences they have no control over their ground or origin. Irrationalism and rationalism are bound together. That scepticism is required goes without saying when inquiring about the grounds of the assertions made by many and their theoretical grasp of things.

What is essential is conceived as essential in relation to “value” and to its character as a value. “Survival of the fittest” is a value and as a value is a “condition of life”. The conditions of our preservation are predicates of Being (Life). The necessity of being stable in our beliefs if we are to prosper requires that we hold a “true” world that is in opposition to a world of change and becoming, that we rise above scepticism. The “modification” apparent in Being which is a product of necessity and chance is countered by the “true”, stable world of the principle of reason grounded in Being. Being (nature, Life) chooses which modifications will survive and which will not, and these “surviving” modifications are evidence of “progress” conceived as “fitter” or “fitted” to Life.  To commandeer and control these “modifications” is the drive behind many scientists in the world today who are investigating cloning and artificial intelligence. These apparent oppositions of the worlds of Being (nature, Life) and becoming (modification) are things which have been present in the thinking of the West since its beginnings and are now finding their flowering and ripening in the choices and outcomes of modern thinking. This is the destiny of the modern.

We say that something is which we always in advance encounter as always at hand: what is always present and has constant stability in this presence. We call this the true world, reality. The “apparent world” is what is not in being, what is inconstant and without stability, what constantly changes and in appearing disappears again. The Christian faith’s distinction between the earthly and the eternal, shaped by faith in redemption and salvation, is an example of the distinction between the “true” and “apparent” worlds. Nietzsche states: “Christianity is Platonism for the masses”. Nietzsche’s thought searches for the origin of this distinction between the worlds and he finds this origin in “value relations”. What is constant and stable is of higher value to what is changing and flowing. Why?

Nietzsche understands “value” as a “condition of life”. To “condition”, being a “condition” signifies essence, what something is, what state it is in. Life, both of human beings and of “nature”, stands under certain conditions and it posits and preserves these as its own and in so doing preserves itself. Value-positing does not mean a valuation that someone gives to life from the outside; valuation is the fundamental occurrence of life itself; it is the way life brings its essence to fulfillment. Essence precedes existence. Human life will in advance direct the positing of the conditions securing it preservation (survival) according to how life itself determines its essence to itself for itself. If life is only constantly concerned with maintaining itself and being secured in its constancy, if life means securing the constancy that has come down to it and been taken over by it, then life will make whatever is enough for securing its constancy (survival, preservation) its most proper conditions and these will have the highest value. Only what has the character of maintaining and securing preservation in general can be taken as a condition of life i.e. has a value. Only this is real. Nietzsche says: “We have projected the conditions of our preservation as predicates of Being in general”. Human beings are driven to securing their own permanence (currently manifested in the drive for AI and cloning). The only condition is that life instill of itself and in itself a belief in something it can constantly hold in all matters (the reasoning behind the statement made elsewhere that religion is what we bow down to or what we look up to—what we hold to be of  the “highest value”.)

The taking of something to be true as the alternative to scepticism is not some arbitrary activity; it is not like the machinations of the “alternative facts” charlatans who float on a sea of nihilism. It is rather the behaviour necessary for securing the permanence of life itself.

WOKs: reason, language, sense perception, emotion, faith AOKs: Natural Sciences, the Arts, History, Ethics


The Natural Sciences: Historical Background

The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:

Reason as a Way of Knowing

Technology as a Way of Knowing:

6. “The pursuit of knowledge is not merely about finding truths; it is about finding significant truths” (adapted from PD Magnus). Discuss this statement.

In the comments here on the prescribed essay titles, truth is understood in the ancient Greek manner as aletheia or “unhiddenness”, a “revealing” that brings some thing into the light. The other theories of truth that predominate are the correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth, and the pragmatic theory of truth, but all these theories of truth are called such because “they bring something into the light”. The title wishes us to reflect on the “significance” of various truths not theories of truth, though these may be included because what we call knowledge and truth are inseparable. If I should say “My dog has fleas”, it might be a truth but it would not be a “significant” truth. So we need to reflect on the “value” of what the term “significance” means. Significant for whom? for what? How does the significance of a truth relate to our personal and shared knowledge?

We find the importance of “significant truths” in the AOK History where the viewing of historical events is seen from a “monumental” perspective. The “monumental” view of history looks at the perceived “significant truths” of human events and actions by bringing the past into “presence”, or thinking back into what was once present and looking at the summits of human life and its achievements. We have museums, for instance, to preserve our greatest works of art; the skyscrapers of the world’s cities proclaim a view of what is considered to be “significant”. The monumental view’s purpose is to remind human beings that life once harboured greatness and can harbour greatness again. It has a faith in humanity in its ability to strive and struggle to achieve the heights. In this view, “monument” is associated with memory as a way of knowing through its connection with “commemoration”. The monumental is associated with “giganticism”, the “colossal”, the “significant” as propaganda for what, one day, will have taken place. As a proponent of “significant truths”, the monumental view’s purpose is to place humanity into the greatness of what has been and that still is present.

Because the monumental view is aimed at “effects” (such as motivating human beings), it can only do so by retouching, leaving out, making up, rewriting the contents of history. The oft quoted phrase “Only the winners get to write the history” is a statement from the monumental perspective. This revisionism of history is an indicator of why the monumental view is and has been a favourite of demagogues from Pericles’ Funeral Oration to Trump’s “Make America Great Again”.  The study of “monumental” history cannot make any use of the sum total of all relations of causes and effects such as ‘For want of a nail the battle was lost’. The purpose is provide motivation for heightened actions in the present. This is its “significance”.

As was said previously with regard to the other titles for November, truth is what is essential about knowledge. The German philosopher Nietzsche says: “Truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live” (WP #473). Truth is error? What does this mean? Is not that statement a violation of the principle of contradiction and, therefore, contradictory to reason? Of what “significance” is such a statement?

To provide some historical background we must say something about what truth and knowledge, knowing and science are in Nietzsche. Nietzsche speaks of the “estimation of value” (Will to Power #507), “I believe that such and such is so”, as the essence of truth. This is close to Plato’s definition of truth as “justified true belief” from his Theatetus. In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival of the “fittest”) and growth (empowerment) as life-enhancement (quality of life)According to Nietzsche, all of our Areas of Knowledge and our senses (sense perception as a way of knowing, empiricism) develop only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth. “Trust in reason and its categories, in dialectic, the value-estimation of logic, proves only their usefulness for living, proved by experience—not their “truth”, according to Nietzsche. (WP #507) The full section of this passage from Nietzsche (WP #507) should be read. From it, one can understand the grounds for what is called “the pragmatic theory of truth” that is found in the writings of the Americans James, Pierce and John Dewey.

In the history of the West, “truth” is understood as the correctness of representation, and representation means having and bringing before oneself or the bringing to presence of beings/things, a having that perceives and opines, remembers and plans, hopes and rejects. Truth means the assimilation or correspondence of representing to what things are and how they are. The many positions and definitions of truth that have come to us in our shared knowledge are all based on this one definition that truth is the correctness and correspondence of our representing. “Correctness” is a being directed toward something, making statements or giving accounts that are ‘fitted’ or ‘suitable’ for the things that are spoken about. In logic the word correctness is “lack of contradiction”, “consistency”. Correctness as consistency means that a statement is deduced from another statement in accordance with the rules of reasoning. Correctness as “free from contradiction” and being “consistent” (“coherence”) is called formal “truth”, not related to the content of beings/things in distinction from the material truth of content. “Correctness” historically is understood as the translation of the Latin adaequatio and the Greek homoiösis. 

Nietzsche’s saying that “truth is an illusion” is truth regarding the correctness of representing. But for Nietzsche truth is an “estimation of value”. The phrase means to appraise something as a value and to posit it as such. “Value” is a perspectival condition for life-enhancement, the “growth” that enables “quality of life”, what gives “truth” its “significance”. This is the true meaning behind our use of the word “values” in our AOK Ethics. Value-estimation is accomplished by life itself, by nature, and by human beings in particular. Truth as value-estimation is something that “life” or human being brings about and, thus, belongs to human being. Value-estimation is in the words “I believe that such and such is so”. Values are in the belief. What is the purpose behind these “values” when we our speaking about values in our Areas of Knowledge? Certainly the use of the word “significant” in title #6 implies a “value”.

Knowledge as “justified true belief” means to hold such and such as being this and this. “Belief” does not mean assenting to or accepting something that one oneself has not seen explicitly as a being or can never grasp as in being with one’s own eyes. “To believe” means to hold something that representation encounters as being in such and such a way. Believing is a holding for something, holding it as in being, be-holding. Believing does not mean assent to an incomprehensible doctrine inaccessible to reason but proclaimed as true by an authority, particularly a religious authority, nor does it mean trust in a covenant or prophecy. Truth as value-estimation, as a holding for something as being in this or that way, stands in an essential connection with things as such. It is that overlapping region of the Venn diagram which illustrates our TOK course as Personal and Shared Knowledge. What is true is what is held in being as what is taken to be in being. What is true is being, what we call “reality” and “facts”.

Truth is synonymous with “holding to be true”: it is synonymous with judgement. The judgement, an assertion about something, is the essence of knowledge; to it belongs the being-true in the history of Western metaphysics. To hold something for what it is, to represent it as thus and thus in being, to assimilate oneself in representing whatever emerges and is encountered as presence, is the essence of truth as correctness. Kant, who instigated a Copernican revolution in his doctrine of the essence of knowledge, demonstrated that we call knowledge is not supposed to conform to objects but the other way around—objects are supposed to conform to what we call knowledge, or the principle of reason.

The “significance” of Nietzsche’s insight is that truth as correspondence and correctness is really a “value estimation”. This means that the essence of correctness will not be able to finds its explanation and basis by saying how human being, with representations occurring in his subjective consciousness, can conform to objects that are at hand outside his soul, how the gap between the subject and object can be bridged so that something like a “conforming to” becomes possible.

In title #6, truth is defined as “estimations of value”. There are “significant truths” which are of “higher value” and other truths which, presumably, are not significant and are of “lesser value”. The statement follows along with that occurrence where the essential definition of truth is turned in a completely different direction: “In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival) and growth.” (Nietzsche, WP #507) Here, value is defined 1) as a “condition” for life; 2) that in “life” not only is “preservation” but also and above all “growth” (quality of life) is essential. “Growth” (empowerment)  is another name for “enhancement” or “quality of life”. “Growth” is understood as the autonomous development and unfolding of a living being through “empowerment”. “All our organs of knowledge and our senses are developed only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth.” (WP #507) Truth and the grasping of truth are not merely in the service of “life” according to their use and application (their significance); their essence, the way in which they are organized and their activity are driven and directed by “life”. Nietzsche is very closely related to Darwin in this thinking. How is this life to be understood?

We can see with our discussion of knowledge and truth that is inherent in title #6 that our journey has found its way back to Darwin, the scientist. In our classrooms, Darwinism is not taught as “theory” but as “fact”. Nietzsche, like Darwin, equates the basic words “world” and “life” both of which name beings as a whole. Life, the process of life and its course, is called bios in Greek: “Bios” as in the word “biography” corresponds to the Greek meaning. “Biology”, on the other hand, means the study of life in the sense of plants and animals. The understanding of “significant truths” may be seen in Nietzsche’s section of The Will to Power entitled “Discipline and Breeding” where the conscious regulation of life, its direction and “quality of life” are a strictly arranged life-plan as a goal and a requirement. The “discipline and breeding” of Nietzsche is similar to Darwin’s analogy of artificial selection in the way farmers choose livestock to the way that nature selects wildlife, including human beings. “Mutation” is seen as “modification”, the random choices of nature. The essential difference between animals and human beings is that human beings have a concept of “world” which they attempt to commandeer and control in order to secure the “self-preservation” and life-enhancement striving to eliminate the element of chance that rules in “natural selection” or “modification”. Now, most “modifications” in nature are done by human beings. We look to cloning to make desirable living things permanent.

“Survival of the fittest” is not a reference to physical strength which is but one possible element, but refers to what a species is “fitted for” given its modifications and the environment in which it finds itself. This “fittedness” defines what a species is at any given time.

Nietzsche said: “Only that which has no history can be defined”. By this he means that beings/things undergoing “modifications” through the process of Being (life) cannot be considered to “live’ within “horizons” which would delimit or define their being and make them definable. The essential realm in which biology moves as an Area of Knowledge can never itself be posited and grounded by biology as a science but can only be presupposed, adopted and confirmed through research and experimentation. This is true of every science. Every science rests upon propositions about the area of beings/things with which, in the “know how” of its techne, it operates in order to produce its knowledge of those beings. These pro-positions about what things are define the things beforehand. This is what is being called “metaphysics” here. The metaphysics of the sciences are already assumed beforehand and put that science into motion in its search for knowledge. Darwin’s propositions of evolution, modification and natural selection are metaphysical propositions: they are ontological propositions and statements about the “what” and the “how” of beings. Nietzsche’s notorious definition of human being as a “blond beast of prey” which through discipline and breeding comes to secure and dominate its “world” is a next step in the ideas first put forward by Darwin. The “truths” of Darwin are, presumably, “significant truths”.

The point being made here is that science and reflection in those Areas of Knowledge which the science investigates are historically grounded on the dominance of a particular interpretation of Being (life) and they move within a particular conception of the essence of truth within that interpretation (“science is the theory of the real”). Nietzsche’s “blond beast of prey” is a metaphysical not a biological conception of human being. From where does this conception of human being arise and what is its “significance”? When the future is to be determined by the “technology of the helmsman”, can it be presumed that the “prey” of this “blond beast” will be the “human resources” that make up the majority of humanity?

WOKs: reason, language, emotion, memory, faith AOKs: Natural Sciences, history, Human Sciences, Ethics, the Arts


Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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Theory of Knowledge: An Alternative Approach

Why is an alternative approach necessary?

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