OT 3: Knowledge and Politics Part 1

When we speak of “knowledge and politics”, we are speaking about “political philosophy” or “political science” because knowledge is “science” or “philosophy”. The turbulence of our times in not unique to them; the history of human beings shows that as long as we have had societies, we have had difficulties living within them. These difficulties for us today are that the problems of living in societies are exacerbated by the judgements of our social sciences which state that we cannot make judgements about what is the “best” society or what is “good or bad” when speaking about societies and the actions of the human beings who live within them because we must distinguish between “statements of fact” and “statements of value”. To judge the good or bad or what is “best” is to make a value judgement, and the modern social sciences are forbidden from making “value judgements” (or so they claim, although they do so all the time). “Political philosophy” or “political science” would claim to have knowledge of “political things”, but what are “political things”? Our modern social sciences resist making such claims to knowledge.

Our modern social sciences are a product of, and a consequence of, the great change in the viewing of Nature that occurs with the modern Natural Sciences of the 17th century. It was the Greeks who first distinguished Nature (physis) from “convention” (nomos) and thus raised the issue of whether social things, the political things, were “by nature” or “by “convention”. This distinction raised all kinds of thorny questions: is justice merely “conventional” or are there things which are by nature just? do laws have natural content or are they merely the inventions of human beings and thus conventions? These questions are still with us. When Americans say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” they are saying something which is by nature, “self-evident truths”, and not something which is mere convention. Nowadays we aren’t quite sure that there are any “self-evident truths” and this is one of the major reasons that we find ourselves in the turmoil and confusion that we are in today no matter where we dwell on the planet.

Plato in Bk. VI of his Republic states that those who follow the opinion of what we today would call the “pragmatic theory of truth” would be the followers of a Great Beast, and in their following of the Beast, their actions or ethics would be determined accordingly. The sophism of today’s Social Science is outlined clearly by Socrates in the passage which here is quoted in full because of its importance:

“…That each of the private wage earners whom these men (technites) call sophists and believe to be their rivals in art, educates in nothing other than these convictions of the many, which  they opine when they are gathered together, and he calls this wisdom. It is just like the case of a man who learns by heart the angers and desires of a great, strong beast he is rearing, how it should be approached and how taken hold of, when—and as a result of what—it becomes most difficult or most gentle, and, particularly, under what conditions it is accustomed to utter its several sounds, and, in turn, what sort of sounds uttered by another make it tame and angry. When he has learned all this from associating and spending time with the beast, he calls it wisdom and, organizing it as an art, turns to teaching. Knowing nothing in truth about which of these convictions and desires is noble, or base, or good, or evil, or just, or unjust, he applies all these names following the great animal’s opinions—calling what delights it good and what vexes it bad. He has no other argument about them but calls the necessary just and noble, neither having seen nor being able to show someone else how much the nature of the necessary and the good really differ. Now, in your opinion, wouldn’t such a man, in the name of Zeus, be out of
place as an educator?” (Republic 493b trans. Allan Bloom)

In his description of the Great Beast, Plato outlines what he will call the Cave in Bk VII of Republic and what dwells in the Cave. The Cave is the world in which we dwell everyday. Societies are the Great Beast that we dwell alongside, among and with in the Cave, and the societies are determined by the nature of their rulers and the regimes and rules (laws)  that they establish. The “regime” is what the Greeks called the polis, from which our word “politics” is derived. The word has more connotations than the translations “country” or “city” or “State” provide.

Plato lists five types of regimes, from best to worst, in his Republic: 1. monarchy; 2. aristocracy; 3. oligarchy; 4. democracy; 5. tyranny. Democracy is placed just above tyranny because, according to Plato, democracy appeals to the “lowest common denominator” in human beings, the “appetites”, and these are insatiable in nature and lack sophrosyne or “moderation” without “proper education” and guidance. Democracy neglects the education to “virtue” of its citizens within it or domestically, and appeals to an imperialism in the State without in its relations to its neighbouring states because of its avariciousness. Democracy inevitably devolves into tyranny through time because it is unable to develop a sense of “otherness” among its inhabitants i.e. it is not able to establish the virtue of “friendship” among its members. “Friendship” is established through logos or “speech”.

When things are known through “speech”, they can become what we call “opinion”. Ethics is not “opinion” because it deals with praxis, concrete actions, and these actions are taken in the direction of some perceived “good”, and the actions and their results can be seen by all. An opinion is directed to something; it is a maintaining that some thing is such and such. Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme are not “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate and those things are the things which are permanent. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what the thing is that is handed over. It is not a “truth relativism”; it may reveal or it may not. It reveals when it is true; it does not reveal when it is false.

To speak about “knowledge and politics” is to recognize that ours is an age of sophistry. Because this is so, we wish to look at the dialogue by Plato which follows Theatetus called Sophist. In this dialogue Plato provides the “lineage” of the sophist so that we are able to grasp from where and how the sophist came to be. Plato’s dialogue “uncovers” the Sophist as well as those things with which his techne deals. How the sophist speaks about and deals with things reveals that his comportment towards things is that of a technite. His is an art or a craft which involves the “speaking about everything”. We have come to call this techne “rhetoric”. Sophistry is the “know how” that deals with speaking about everything there is; his is the “know how” about speaking about things, but his “know how” is a deception of that which is spoken about: the speech of the sophist presents its object as something which it is not; what he speaks about is not as he shows it to be. In a Platonic sense, the sophist demonstrates “the Being of non-beings” and in doing so demonstrates that illusion and trickery are. But surely, illusion and trickery, deception and lies are real things, are they not? Not so for Plato, but we must remember that for Plato even those things which we consider “good” are not “real” but merely “shadows” of their true being.

By showing what the sophist is through words, the Being of the philosopher is also shown in silence. Throughout this dialogue, Socrates is silent, his is the Being of the philosopher, and the conversation is conducted by the Stranger from Elia and carried out with Theatetus. We have two opposite “triangles”: the politician – the sophist – the madman, on the one hand, and the Statesman – the philosopher – the human being/citizen on the other. Each of these triangles illustrate the Idea of the objects that they are attempting to bring to light or to “presence”.

The language used by Plato in his dialogues is an attempt to get beyond the chit-chat of everyday speech, the language we most commonly use in our everyday dealings with things. The language and engagement in the conversation that is dialectic is not the attempt to out-argue someone, but getting one’s partner in the conversation to open their eyes and see. Logos is an assertion about something and an addressing of some thing as some thing. It is concerned with the proper naming of the things. While language first has to do with hearing, its purpose is to make us see. We do not have to look far for examples of disputes with the proper naming of things. Any reading of the daily news will provide them, and as this is being written a great debate is going on in America over what is the thing that is to be called “bribery”.

Plato’s Sophist shows  the being of the sophist and the being of the philosopher and how the two “reveal” the beings with which they are concerned: the sophist in his comportment reveals the “non-being” of the things of which he speaks; the philosopher reveals the true being of the things, and as we engage in reading this dialogue we ourselves participate in philosophy. What we will attempt to show is the “non-being” of the political and ethical things of which the sophist speaks and in doing so, how Plato relates to “revealing” in our own age regarding these things. How do the political and the ethical things “look” when encountered and spoken of by the sophist and the philosopher? How do these things “look” in our age?

Each area of knowledge is “cut out”of the whole of things and has a definite aisthesis or “lens” (as we now call it) in which its perceptions have been shaped and honed regarding the objects which it inquires about. In geometry, the objects are the relations of space or place, things as they are “by and within nature”. The objects of physics are beings that are “in motion”. The physicist does not first prove that his objects of inquiry are in motion; they are seen that way in advance. Philosophy and the philosopher distinguish themselves from sophists and dialecticians by the type and mode of competence, and mode of existence which they demonstrate. The philosopher is dedicated to “substance”; the sophist to “semblance”. The sophist claims to educate by enabling his hearers to “speak well” about anything and everything. The sophist disregards completely anything substantial in his speaking.

In contrast to the philosopher, the sophist does not take things seriously because he is not concerned about the substantive content of his “speeches”; nothing gets too “heavy” in the speeches of the sophist simply because there is no substantive content to give them weight. The philosopher, on the other hand, wishes to bring about understanding; the sophist attempts to persuade and cajole through his speeches’ apparent reasonableness and brilliance. The sophist’s unconcern for substance is a matter of principle because the sophist is concerned with semblance, the false, the not, and negation. The sophist is well aware of the importance of speech and the speaking person and of the spoken word’s dominance in the individual and the community. The form which the speeches take is most decisive. In the view of human being-in-the-world and ethics, Plato associates the sophist with the politician and the madman.

Today’s politician is a sophist if we look at the character and mode of being of the sophist as outlined by Plato and Aristotle. Because the sophist is a “complicated” thing to “describe”, comparisons of commonplace things which no one will dispute will be used. The first commonplace comparison that is familiar to everyone is an “angler”. So what similarities do the “angler” and the sophist “reveal”? The methodological approach used by Plato is one of diaresis, a separation in which the two things, the thematic=sophist and the example=angler, are placed side by side so that they may be compared and “brought to light”, similar to the methodology that you will be using in your Exhibition.

The “angler” is shown to be a technite, one who has “know how”. Someone who has no “know how” whatsoever is what is called an “idiot” by the Greeks. This is the origin of our word meaning the same thing. This “know how” of the angler is called by the Greeks dynamis “an ability, a capacity, an aptitude for something”. Techne is a “producing”, a bringing into being what is not there at first, “a bringing forth into presence”, a “revealing”. The angler brings to presence what before was hidden in the depths. Learning is a “bringing something close to oneself”, “making oneself familiar with something”, “getting to know someone or something”, “taking something into awareness”. In Greek, the word pragma means “something there that one can do things with”, “something one can use”, “something one can appropriate”. The demiourgos is one who makes things for public use. The relation of all these terms is that they concern something that is already there; the things may be appropriated or “grasped” in logos or in praxis. The prey which the angler hunts is already there, though hidden.

What is appropriated in knowledge and speech is the truth of things that are already there in their “unconcealment”. Knowledge was developed by the Greeks without any “theory” or “epistemology”; they did not have a “theory of knowledge”. Knowledge, for the Greeks, was a taking to oneself of something that was already there on hand such that the being, the thing that is taken up remains precisely what and where it is. The things offer themselves in their full presence without distortion, and knowledge and discourse is allowing the beings or things to give themselves as they are. To contrast the Greek understanding of what knowledge is to our understanding of knowledge would take much more writing than this entry will allow. How do all of these concepts relate to the sophist?

The sophist’s comportment to the world is speech/logos. We have referred to it as “language as a way of knowing” and, as we have mentioned, each way of knowing is a comportment to the world, a “lens” through which the world is perceived in some way. Speech, words is the means the sophist uses to procure his objects which are other people. “Correct speaking” is what he himself has to give. His techne brings about “disputatiousness” in others; that is what his “education” brings about in other people produces “divisions” rather than the “understanding” that leads to “friendship”. The goal of “correct speaking” or rhetoric is the inculcation of opinions in others. The aim is to prevail in public opinion to procure power and reputation. The intention of speaking is not to comprehend those things about which the speeches are made, but to prevail in public opinion and procure power thereby. (Gorgias 453 A2)

The Greeks define human being as the zoon logon echon, the animal capable of discourse. Since language is crucial to understanding who and what the sophist is, we must look at how language relates to the techne and to the comportment of the sophist in relation to the world and the beings in it. Plato believes that the sophists are misinformed about the nature of their techne. Deception can only be carried out if one sees the truth. This deception must first begin with the self.

In his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates describe his love for speeches and why he does so: his love of speeches is driven by his desire for “self-knowledge”. It is a love of learning, or literally, “hearing what people say”. Socrates does not leave the city because he has nothing to learn from the fields, meadows and trees. Phaedrus itself is a dialogue regarding the human comportment in Love to speech, the soul, and the Good. But the dialogue itself takes place outside of the city, under a tree by a brook. Socrates’ love is not referring to the degenerate speeches of orators and the like; his love is of the speech with substance. The speeches of the sophist, however, concern the needs, demands, dispositions, inclinations, and the manners of the many, and these serve as the guidelines for discourse. The sophist must first have knowledge of the audience to whom he is speaking (See the Great Beast passage above).  Socrates does not distinguish between the speech about serious, important matters and the speech about trivialities and chit-chat. The one who is competent in the techne of speeches is also the one who is able to deceive in a perfect way by this same techne. The condition of the possibility of genuine self-expression is also the possibility of perfect deception and misrepresentation.

For example, deception is to speak about something in such a way that it looks like something else which it is not but which it is to be seen as. This “being seen as”, this sight, is to be formed by logos. The actual “what” of the thing needs to be hidden and the thing depends on the “face” that it wears, how it is made to appear. The face of the deception must be precisely revealed. The one who knows the truth of the thing must have this first before the deception is possible. One can see specific examples of this techne of deception running throughout the attempt to impeach Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. The thing, the “crime”, is made to not look like a crime by Trump’s defenders. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth must deceive himself first through the logos which he does by not addressing the act which he contemplating to be “murder”. Macbeth refers to the murder as “it” and he invents a new word, “assassination”, in order to hide from himself the “face” of the action that he is considering doing. (Act I sc. vii) This self-deception is “evil”, for evil is the denial of the light as light, and this denial must occur first prior to the action being carried out. An element of “intentional ignorance” must be present and a denial of the truth as truth.

Where and how does this denial of truth originate? In Plato’s Sophist the discussion is of the relation between the soul and the body, and the themes of “sickness” and “ugliness” or “deformity”  (c.f. Macbeth). The “sickness” that arises in the soul is when one mode of comportment or way of knowing the world comes into conflict with another mode of comportment. This results in what we would call “stress” today and it is experienced in the body. “Ugliness” is considered to be a condition of the soul and is understood as “inadequacy” or “unfittedness” for the goal or aim that the individual is trying to achieve. This does not relate to the different modes of comportment but is something residing in the comportment itself. The “aim” or telos, the “aspiration” is not appropriate to the nature of the individual’s thinking nor to the individual’s psyche or soul thus resulting in a “deformity”. Where the “ugliness” is, things do not have “the proper outward look”; disfiguration in the things that are seen occurs because the soul itself does not have the proper “outward look”.

We will continue to attempt to explore the nature of political things in Part II of this writing on knowledge and politics. For a conclusion to this writing, as we rest along our journey along the path to the arriving at the origin of political things, let us just say that the modern thought reaches its culmination in the most radical historicism. It condemns to oblivion the notion of eternity or the permanence of things. Oblivion of eternity is our estrangement from our deepest desire, the desire of and for the Good, according to the Greeks. This estrangement has resulted in our present confusion regarding political and ethical things due to our estrangement from the primary issues. We do not know what the questions are that we need to ask. It is the price that we have had to pay for our attempt to control necessity and become masters and owners of nature.


OT 2: Language and Knowledge

“Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself.”—Wittgenstein

“Language is the house of Being. In its home humans dwell.”—Heidegger “Letter on Humanism”

“‘En arche ‘en ‘o Logos” (“In the beginning was the Word”)—John 1:1

“…we ourselves no longer have the power to trust that the word is the essential foundation of all relations to beings as such.”—Heidegger: “Aristotle’s Physics”

Language is probably the most important theme of 20th century philosophy and will be of the philosophy that moves into the 21st century. Why this has come to be the case will be the outline of these writings on language and knowledge.

The very essence of what we are as human beings, our ontology or way of being-in-the-world (to use the philosophical word) is contained in our language and in our understanding of language. To understand language is to contrast instruction with teaching; and to do so is to recognize the teaching in TOK and to characterize its “uselessness” and why it must be “useless” in order to be true learning and teaching. The issue of “uselessness” and “usefulness” is to connect these seemingly varying themes here to the status of education in our modern technological age.  In order to do so, we must rethink language.

The rethinking of language takes place from and within the rethinking of technology. The relation between technology and language is crucial for a rethinking of language in our modern technological age. It is therefore necessary to talk about the technological language, which defines “a language that is technologically determined by what is most peculiar to technology”, that is, by framing (or enframing). It is imperative that we ask what is language and in what special way it remains exposed to the dictates of technology. Such imperatives to our thinking about language are only met in the rethinking of the current conception of language that we might characterize in the following way:

Today we think speech is: (1) a faculty, an activity and achievement of humans. It is: (2) the operation of the instruments for communication and hearing. Speech is: (3) the expression and communication of emotions accompanied by thoughts (dispositions) in the service of “information”. Speech is: (4) a representing and portraying (picturing, the making of pictures) of the real and unreal. Speech deals with the “correspondence theory of truth”.

The traditional metaphysical connection (subject “the things”) + (predicate “the qualities of the things”) between language and thinking defines language in terms of thinking, thinking as the human activity of representing objects, and thus language has been seen as a means for conveying information about objects. This “information” we call “data”. Traditional metaphysics places thinking as “reason” (reason, “logic” which has its root in “logos”) as the determining factor in the relation between language and thinking. The Greeks called this way of knowing nous. It is through reason that we attain truth and, thus, knowledge. This is shown in our current conception of language as an “instrument of expression” in the “service of thinking”. The common view believes that thought uses language merely as its “medium” or a means of expression. The problem with regard to language as a means of “uncovering” truth is that the uncovering of truth is not intrinsic to language. In language, things can come to presence and be revealed as either true or false (pseudos). And this is the major problem or difficulty with language.

We assume that language is a tool used by human beings to communicate information. We think that the same fact can be expressed in many different languages. We think a competent speaker is in control of language and can use it efficiently to convey data to his/her audience. In the quest for efficiency in communication, we have devised artificial languages that give us more control over language. Symbolic logic, computer programming languages, and the technical languages of the sciences are set up as systems in which each sign can be interpreted in only one way. Each sign points clearly to what it represents so that the sign itself becomes completely unobtrusive. The perfect language is a technique for perfect representation. Algebraic calculation is a dominant influence in this type of thinking.

There are two major schools of thought on language: the “structuralist” or “analytical” school which has been the one described up to now, and the “continental” school. The “continental” school’s foremost representative is Martin Heidegger: “Language is the house of being. In its home humans dwell” is a quote that captures Heidegger’s understanding of language. But what does this statement mean? In attempting to understand language and knowledge, we will speak about written and spoken language.

The conception of language, as a mere means of exchange of information, undergoes an extreme transformation in our modern technological age that is expressed in the definition of language as “information”. The analytic school of thought on language offers a prime example of a “metaphysical-technological explanation” of language stemming from the “calculative frame of mind”. This view believes that thinking and speaking are “exhausted by theoretical and natural-scientific representation and statements”, and that they “refer to objects and only to objects”. Language, as a tool of “scientific-technological knowing”–which “must establish its theme (thesis, theory) in advance as a calculable, causally explicable framework”– is thus “only an instrument that we employ to manipulate objects”. Think of this in terms of our computers and our other tools of “information technology”, particularly the speed reading technologies and applications that are becoming available.  Heidegger notes the influence and understanding of language by analytic philosophy in our modern technological age:

Of late, the scientific and philosophical investigation of languages is aiming more resolutely at the production of what is called “metalanguage.” Analytic philosophy, which is set on producing this super-language, is quite consistent when it considers itself metalinguistics. That sounds like metaphysics -not only sounds like it, it is metaphysics. Metalinguistics is the thoroughgoing technicalization of all languages into the sole operative instrument of interplanetary information. Metalanguage and sputnik, metalinguistics and rocketry are the Same.  

Heidegger is speaking this in the late 1950s, but the connection to today’s information technology illustrates the truth of his statement. Given the logical bent of analytical philosophy, the modern mathematical and symbolic logic or “Logistik” is metaphysics. Logistics was for Heidegger the “unbroken rule of metaphysics” establishing itself everywhere; and modern epistemology (theories of knowledge, theory itself) acquire a “decisive position of dominance.”  It was a matter of grave concern for Heidegger to see that logistics was being considered everywhere “the only possible form of strict philosophy” on the grounds that its procedures and results are deemed productive for what he called “the construction of the technological universe.” Have a look at the etymological roots of “logistics” on dictionary.com. They might alarm you. This manner of thinking must be thought about in relation to what we understand as “artificial intelligence” or AI. The consequences are very grave for the future.

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger’s negative characterizations of logistics abound: It is a “logical degeneration” of traditional categorical logic, and its development is a sign of the “decay of philosophy”, an indication of its “dissolution” and “completion.” At another point, Heidegger states: “Technique is the metaphysic of the age.”

 Language and Concepts:

If we think about what we call “dead” languages for a moment, we will notice that they are called “dead” because they are no longer subject to changes in meaning. Any “living” language will have changes in meaning and interpretation according to the historical time in which it occurs. Our modern attempts to fixate language into an unambiguous tool for communicating information and representing beings/things illustrate our desire to fulfill the revealing of truth as representation, to follow the correspondence theory of truth and the principle of reason. There is “truth” (according to Heidegger), but this truth is relative to the historical situation in which it occurs; it is not a “subjective” truth, but a communal truth: that is, it is not based on personal knowledge, but is the knowledge that we all share. In our current situation, this is the global “revealing” through technology and drives us to realize the “global village” or “internationalism”. This view of truth is sometimes called “the pragmatic theory of truth”. Heidegger was not a holder of the pragmatic theory of truth.

If Heidegger is correct, the same fact cannot be expressed in many different languages because beings and “information” present themselves differently according to different cultural contexts. The quest for a universal, unambiguous language can only succeed in creating stillborn languages. These languages are locked into a particular interpretation of the world and the things in it (representational revealing) and are incapable of responding creatively to new experience. Artificial languages (and one might say artificial intelligence since it will be based on these languages) are not more “objective” than natural languages—they are just narrower and more rigid. They are the language of commandeering and dominance.

Language cannot be merely a tool that we use because we can control it: we owe our own Human Being to language and in this sense, it is language that uses us. What distinguishes human beings from other animals and species is that we are the zoon logon echon the animal capable of discourse. Language is fundamental to the revelation of the world in which we live; it is an essential part of what enables us to be someone and notice things in the world in the first place. Language has the power to reveal our world and transform our existence. But the lucid and creative moments are few both in individuals and in societies; the rest is inauthentic and derivative or what we have come to call ‘shared knowledge’. Everyday “idle talk” is a pale, dull reflection of “creative meanings” that are first revealed and achieved in poetry.

Where does the understanding of language as “representation” come from? As the “doctrine of the logos” in Aristotle is interpreted as assertion or statement, logic is the doctrine of thinking and the science of statement (or the making of statements—propositions, the creation of “pictures”), that is, logic (the principle of reason) provides the authoritative interpretations of thinking and speaking that rule throughout the technological. More specifically, logistics has as its basis the modern interpretation of the statement or assertion as the “connection of representations” (the coherence theory of truth).  It is in this sense that Heidegger regards it as another manifestation of the “unchecked power of modern thinking” itself.  Heidegger depicts the connections between logic and modern technology in very dramatic tones:

Without the legein (the saying) of [Western] logic, modern man would have to make do without his automobile. There would be no airplanes, no turbines, no Atomic Energy Commission. Without the logos, of logic, the world would look different.

The general form of modern metaphysical thinking is thus a “scientific-technological manner of thinking”. This thinking, this world-view, threatens to “spread to all realms” thereby magnifying the “deceptive appearance which makes all thinking and speaking seem objectifying”. This thinking and speaking finds its full realization in algebraic calculation. It is this form of objectifying thinking that strives to “represent everything henceforth only technologically-scientifically as an object of possible control and manipulation”. With it, language itself takes a corresponding form: it becomes “deformed into an instrument of reportage and calculable information” or what we call “data”. However, while the form that language takes is thus instrumental, in such a form of thinking, language itself exerts its own influence insofar as it is “treated like a manipulable object to which our manner of thinking must conform”. Language itself allows itself to be treated in such a way. Language and reason are, in the end, inseparable. They allow themselves to create our box, the “lens” through which we view the world.

The traditional metaphysical manner of thinking in our age is a “one-track thinking,” (in Heidegger’s words) and this ‘one track’ can be understood and associated with technology.  It is a “one-sided thinking” that tends towards a “one-sided uniform view” in which “[everything] is leveled to one level”, and “[our] minds hold views on all and everything, and view all things in the same way.” Our manner of thinking is the box.  (*A link can be made to the uniformity of our understanding of number and its correspondence to Newton’s view of the uniformity of matter. See the AOKs Mathematics and Natural Sciences.)

There is a kind of language that, as the expression of this form of thinking, is itself one-tracked and one-sided. One “symptom” of the growing power of the technological form of thinking is in our increased use of designations consisting of abbreviations of words or combinations of their initials. Our text messaging and our love of acronyms is a technological form of language in the sense that these herald the ordering in which everything is reduced to the univocity of concepts and precise specifications. This reduction and ordering also leads us to view all activities we engage in to be leveled to one level: the student who is asked to create a work of art either in words or other media, sees their activity as nothing more than their being in a shopping mall or at a supermarket. The activity ceases to have any priority in importance. In this view, “speed reading” will come to flourish since we cannot learn from texts anything other than “information”.

Such interpretations are the “technological”; they are a given only “insofar as technology is itself understood as a means and everything is conceived only according to this respect (technology understood as “tools”).” If our way of thinking is one that values only that which is immediately useful, then language is only conceived and appreciated from this perspective of its usefulness for us. More importantly, this suggests it is the essence of technology as framing that somehow determines the “transformation of language into mere information.” We refer to this framing as “the box” that inhibits our thinking. The word information itself is composed of in+form+ation: “that which is responsible for “the form” so that it may “inform”.

If the essence of modern technology is “framing”, then there is also a “language of framing.” (See the unit on Technology as a WOK for an understanding of the concept of “framing”).

[All] ordering finds itself channeled into calculative thinking and therefore speaks the language of framing. Speaking is challenged to correspond in every respect to framing in which all present beings can be commandeered. –Heidegger

It is within framing (the “form”), then, that “speaking turns into information” and that which is responsible for the framing is what is referred to as “technology”.

We can look at the computer as one manner in which modern technology controls the mode and the world of language as such.  We can infer that the computer is one crucial way in which this language of framing speaks.

“To compute”, obviously, means to calculate. With the construction of artificial intelligence, calculating, thinking and translating machines, speed reading applications, the computer is made possible insofar as its activities take place in the element of language. The term “computer” should not be taken as merely talking about calculators and computers. Machine technology itself is “the most visible outgrowth of the essence of modern technology”, (Heidegger) and that ours is the age of the machine (and the Age of Information) is due to the fact that it is the technological age, and not vice versa.  More importantly, framing (the form) itself is not anything technological in the sense of mechanical parts and their assembly. Thus, the language of framing cannot itself be reduced to anything technological in this narrow sense. The computer intrudes by regulating and adjusting through its hardware and software and their functions how we can and do use language. Think of our smart phones and other assemblages that are linked to our computers and the manner of their linkages and how they assemble information and how this information must be assembled.

If there is a transformation of language in the computer that speaks the language of framing, then the question is what is the essence of language itself that it allows for its transformation into a technological language, into information? The essence of language is defined from the essence of language: It is a Saying that shows, in the sense of letting-appear. The possibility of a technological language lies here, for it is itself a Saying-Showing that is limited to the mere making of signs for the communication of information. Let us now examine some of the historical background for this development of language.

Historical Background of Language as Representation:

St. Augustine
St. Augustine 5th Century

St. Augustine in his autobiography Confessions gives us the common understanding of how language comes about:

When they [my elders] named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out.  Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something.  Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. (Augustine, Confessions, I. 8)

Here, Augustine speaks of language as “signs”.  They are a “pointing out”, a “directing of the gaze or glance” and from them, the thing that is pointed out comes to stand for us as what it is in the saying so given and becomes “grasped” or “captured” by us. But notice that in Augustine’s description there are a number of steps involved in the “grasping” of the thing that is “pointed out”. First there is the pointing, then there is the bodily movement, then there is the sound uttered, then there is the notice of the “disposition” made when the sound is uttered; and, all of this occurs within a social context; there is “dialogue”. From this follows the “grammatical” structure of language, “the placing of the signs in their proper places in various sentences” which allows one to “express their own desires”.

Augustine is speaking of language as “representational”: the picture created is a word or a sign that stands for or represents a thing by virtue of that word or sign’s meaning. Each word means just one thing, and it does so by virtue of a meaning that we can think of or understand.  Language is, then, the communication of meanings from one person to another in the package of a sign: to communicate with you, I “frame” my intended meaning within the appropriate sign, and then give you the sign in speech or writing, whereupon you “decode” (interpret) it again, supplying the meaning for the sign I have given from within the same frame.  To speak language, then, is to imbue dead signs with life, to breathe air into the otherwise mute forms of signs.  Language is thought of as the breath of life animating lifeless form; language is the soul of meaning infusing and animating the bodies of signs.   Hence Aristotle discusses language as the “showing” of the soul’s “dispositions”: 

Now, whatever it is [that transpires] in the creation of sound by the voice is a showing of whatever dispositions there may be in the soul, and the written is a showing of the sounds of the voice.  Hence, just as writing is not identical among all [human beings], so too the sounds of the voice are not identical.  However, that of which these [sounds and writing] are in the first place a showing are among all [human beings] the identical dispositions of the soul; and the matters of which these [dispositions] form approximating presentations (pictures) are likewise identical. 

Aristotle construes language as a kind of showing (in pictures), but taken in the view of the history of Western metaphysics that we have outlined in our writing on “Reason as a Way of Knowing”, Aristotle’s pictures imply that language is a mere instrument (tool) for the expression of inner intentions or thoughts (dispositions).  Within the tradition of Western thinking, the picture will imply that the relationship between signs and the thoughts they express is purely arbitrary, or to use the term favored by logical positivist philosophers “conventional”; language is a system of arbitrary correlations (conventions) of signs to common meanings. Notice, though, that Aristotle insists that the “dispositions” themselves are the identical common meanings. It is important to note that Plato wrote “dialogues”; Aristotle wrote treatises. If one reads Plato’s dialogues in the same manner as one reads an Aristotelian treatise, one will fail to understand the dialogue. This manner of reading Plato is one of the fates that have befallen us within the English-speaking community. British and American thinkers of previous generations read Plato as if they were reading a treatise of Aristotle. It has only been recently that this has changed.

The traditional picture of language found in Augustine, Aristotle, and the logical positivists, also has deep connections with the metaphysics of subjectivity (Descartes, Kant).  In this traditional picture, the sign stands for an object (subjectum), but it is also the sign for a concept or image in the speaker’s mind (the frame).  The concept, or mental image, is a representation in the speaker’s mind or brain.  Even though we can exchange signs in communication, we can never be sure, in the traditional picture, that we are successful in communicating the mental representations, concepts, or images that go with them (the predicates).  The connection between a particular sign and the mental image that it evokes is the connection (or lack thereof) between something public and communicable, and something essentially private and incommunicable. Mathematics as “symbolic language” or “signs” overcomes this sense of arbitrariness in the public realm and is one of the reasons for its dominance in the realm of what can be called “knowledge”.

How can we rethink language and meaning, outside the traditional picture, in a way that reveals its essence as a showing (aletheia), rather than portraying it as a conventional correlation of signs to meanings, a mere instrument for the expression and communication of thoughts and dispositions?  To rethink the essence of language, we must attempt to “bring language as language to language.”  But how is this to be done?

To recapitulate: in the traditional view, language turns out to be “the eternally self-repeating labor of spirit to make articulated sound capable of being an expression of thought.” Language is what humans do to make sound able to express thought: it is the infusion of articulated sound with the spirit of meaning or intention.  It is an action. This way of “bringing language to language,” this labor of the spirit, the infusing of sound with meaning, has been the intellectual development of mankind.  But because it construes language as a human doing, as a labor of soul upon body, this traditional way of thinking of language remains trapped within the metaphysics of our age and fails to reveal the essence of language. According to Heidegger: “[this] way to language goes in the direction of man, passing though language on its way to something else: the demonstration and depiction of the intellectual development of the human race.” Heidegger continues: 

“However, the essence of language conceived in terms of such a view does not of itself show language in its essence: it does not show the way in which language essentially unfolds as language; that is, the way it comes to stand; that is, the way it remains gathered in what it grants itself on its own as language.”

To determine what language is, we need to determine what pertains to language as language.

We list what pertains to language in order to understand what is essential to language, what is at the root of everything that happens in, and through, language.  One of the things that pertains to language as language is the speaker.  “To speech belong the speakers.”  In speaking, we presence things; we make present the objects of our concern and our common interest by “pointing them out”.  “In speech, the speakers have their presencing.  Where to?  Presencing to the wherewithal (purpose) of their speech, to that by which they linger (the “things” that are present-at-hand), that which in any given situation already matters to them.  Which is to say, their fellow human beings and the things, each in its own way; everything that makes a thing a thing and everything that sets the tone for our relations with our fellows.  All this is referred to, always and everywhere, sometimes in one way, at other times in another.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language”).

What else belongs to the essence of language?  We can run through the things that belong to language – the speaker, what is spoken, also the unspoken – but we do not thereby think their unity.  Their unity, the unity of the essence of language, remains hidden to us. What we are saying here becomes obvious, though hardly pondered in its full scope, when we indicate the following.  To speak to one another means to say something to one another; it implies a mutual showing of something, each person in turn devoting himself or herself to what is shown.  To speak with one another means that together we say something about something, showing one another the sorts of things that are suggested by what is addressed in our discussion, showing one another what the addressed allows to radiate of itself.” To speak, then, is not to talk to someone else; it is to participate in the “saying” (logos) that is a showing.

This “showing”, according to Heidegger, is older and more essential than the definition of language as a system of signs.  “What unfolds essentially in language is saying as pointing.  Its showing does not culminate in a system of signs.  Rather, all signs arise from a showing in whose realm and for whose purposes they can be signs.”  This showing (aletheia) is not simply something that we do, but a self-showing of that which shows (a revealing of what we are as human beings), a manifesting in which language itself speaks.  When we think of language as this self-showing, we can begin to understand it as something to which we ourselves belong and with which we ourselves may come into a more or less direct relationship: “If speech as listening to language lets itself be told the saying, such letting can be given only insofar – and so near – as our own essence is granted entry into the saying.  We hear it only because we belong to it.  However, the saying grants those who belong to it their listening to language and hence their speech.  Such granting comes-to-stand in the saying; it lets us attain the capacity of speech.  What unfolds essentially in language depends on the saying that grants in this way.”  (Heidegger “The Way to Language”).  When we think language essentially, as a self-manifesting showing that points, we are well on the way to bringing language as language to language.  We experience language, then, as a possibility or a granting, an essence that allows manifestation (aletheia), rather than as something we do, make, or control. Thus, language as the saying (legein, logos) holds its own in the realm of truth.

In a world in which language and speaking has become the mere exchange of information, “the framing…sets upon human beings – that is, challenges them – to order everything that comes to presence into a technical inventory (standing reserve or “disposable”), [and] unfolds essentially after the manner of appropriation (a “grasping” and an “owning”); at the same time, it distorts appropriation, inasmuch as all ordering sees itself committed to calculative thinking and so speaks the language of framing.  Speech is challenged to correspond to the ubiquitous orderability of what is present.  Speech, when posed in this fashion, becomes information.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language).

All that remains of language in information is “the abstract form of writing that is transcribed into the formulae of a logic calculus” whose clarity “ensures the possibility of a secure and rapid communication” (our text messaging and our public discourse as media bytes). The principles transforming language are technological-calculative. It is from the technological possibilities of the computer that the instruction (command) is set out as to how language can and shall still be language. Such instruction (command) spells out the absolute and overriding need for the clarity of signs and their sequences. The fact that the computer’s structure conforms to linguistic tasks such as translating (i.e. whether the command/instruction is in Chinese or English does not matter) does not mean that the reverse holds true. For these commands are “in advance and fundamentally bound up” with the computer. With the “inexorability of the limitless reign” of technology, the insatiable technological demand for a technological language, its power increases to the point that the technological language comes to threaten the very essence of language as Saying-Showing. It is “the severest and most menacing attack on what is peculiar to language,” for language is “atrophied” into the mere transmission of signals according to Heidegger.

Moreover, when information (in the form of command) is held as the highest form of language on account of its univocity, certainty and speed, then, we have a “corresponding conception” of the human being and of human life. Norbert Wiener, a founder of Cybernetics, said that language “is not an exclusive attribute of man but is one he may share to a certain degree with the machines he has constructed”.  This view is itself possible only when we presuppose that language is merely a means of information. This understanding of language as information represents, at the same time, a “threat to the human being’s ownmost essence.” (Heidegger) The fact that language is interpreted and used as an instrument has lead us into believing that we are the masters of the computer, but the truth of the matter might well be that the computer takes language into its management and masters the essence of the human being creating a fundamental change in human ontology (human being-there-in-the-world).

These assessments of the metaphysical-technological interpretation and form of language are indisputably critical. Why? What is at stake? Why should this be important for us?

The gripping, mastering effect technological language has over our very essence (ontology) makes “the step back out of metaphysics difficult.” (Heidegger) Language itself “denies us its essence” and instead “surrenders itself” to us as our “instrument of domination over beings.” (Heidegger) It is extremely difficult for us moderns to even understand a non-instrumental concept of language. The interpretation and form of “language as information” and of “information as language” is, in this sense, a circle determined by language, and in language, within “the web of language.” (Heidegger) Hence, Heidegger has referred to language as “the danger of all dangers” that “necessarily conceals in itself a continual danger for itself.”  In fact, “we are the stakes” in the “dangerous game and gamble” that the essence of language plays with us.

OT 1: Knowledge and Technology

Inquiring Into the Essence of Technology

According to the current TOK Guide May, 2022, the TOK course will examine “knowledge” according to four elements: 1. Scope; 2. Perspectives; 3. Methods and Tools; and 4. Ethics. These elements provide a framework in order to aid us in our examination of ourselves and the things that are. The framework of “conceptual tools” indicate how knowledge is produced or “brought forward”: how we come to know the things that are either in our own experience, or from the “shared knowledge” that has been handed over to us from our traditions and from other social contexts. What we call “knowledge” comes to be and is in this area that we experience as our “freedom”. This “freedom” is a realm that is distinguished from Nature or Necessity and we call this realm “History”.

This writing’s objective is to investigate how technology can be said to be a “way of knowing” and as a way of knowing how it determines our “cognition”, our “mindset” and thus how we define ourselves as human beings and what we think “knowledge” to be. In the quest that we take to understand what knowledge, we need to first question what is given to us as the map to guide us in that search for knowledge. How do the constituents and contents of the map become determined? Who provided us with the map and from where does the compass originate? What does “freedom” mean in relation to “technology” and why and how do we need to reflect on technology in order to prepare for a “free relationship” to that technology itself? The more one reflects on and thinks about what technology is, its great mystery looms before one. For most, there is no mystery to understanding technology: it is the instruments and tools that we have ready-to-hand about us in our everyday lives i.e. our computers, our hand phones, our media.

How do we relate to technology? How do we think about it? What do we imagine it to be? How is technology a “way of knowing” the world rather than merely the “products” that have come to be through technology? What is technology’s relationship to reason and to the principle of reason that determines and drives it? How does technology determine our cognition and thus our understanding of what we think human beings are and what the things about us are i.e. how does technology determine our current “mindset”, our current “hard wiring”?

How do we stand, or what is our under-standing, with regard to technology? The problems that have arisen and are posed by technology cannot be answered simply by making technology better and we cannot ignore these difficulties simply “by opting” out of technology, if that were indeed possible. What does it mean to say that “technology is our fate”?

We cannot experience the essence of what technology is so long as we are merely conceiving and pushing forward the technological, putting up with it, or evading it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it. Technology is our fate as human beings. Why and how has this become the case?

In looking for the essence of technology, we will be looking for something that is not “technological”; the essence of technology actually precedes the historical emergence of the “concrete” forms of technology in the 18th and 19th centuries. To understand the essence of technology and thus our “key concepts”, as well as our “scope”, “perspectives”,  “methods and tools” and “ethics”  that we use to understand knowledge in our AOKs, we must go back to Greek philosophy for some guiding concepts to help us with our analysis. Our  ways of being-in-the-world shape how we view our world; and in that shaping both we and the knowledge we produce affect both the maker and what is made. The essence of technology remains a mystery to us and it is up to us to choose to remain thoughtfully within that essence.

Our method of questioning will strive to expose the unexamined assumptions that shape our understanding of the world we live in and the “key concepts” that we use to understand that world. Our purpose is to attain a more “empowering” way of conceiving the world and our place in it, even though we hesitate in using the word “empowering” and must pose it in an ironic mode since the idea of “empowerment” is itself a product of, or a predicate of, the technological world-view we want to examine.

Our Current Understanding of Technology:

How do we generally think about technology? What is said about technology in the current TOK Guide? We think about technology in two ways: 1. technology is a means to an end; 2. technology is a human activity. In the TOK Guide for May, 2022, the discussion of technology will involve “issues relating to the impact of technology on knowledge and knowers, and how technology helps and hinders our pursuit of knowledge. It examines the ways that technology can be seen to shape knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and exchange, and even the nature of knowledge itself”(TOK Guide, p. 16). These themes indicate what is the current “instrumental” (aimed at getting things done) and anthropological (a human activity) definition of technology. These definitions define technology accurately; however, they do not go far enough. They do not give us the essence of what technology is. (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” trans. Lovitt) We will examine these instrumental and anthropological views of technology more closely in this writing.

Our everyday understanding of technology as instrument has many implicit assumptions that prevent us from understanding more fully our relationship to technology. Even our attempts to maintain control over technology, to master it so that it doesn’t destroy us, are informed by our “instrumental conception” of what technology is. “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control” (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”). This fear of “loss of control” over technology is emphasized in the current discussions and critiques of Artificial Intelligence or AI. But what is this “intelligence” that these machines exhibit?

For a fuller understanding of how humanity stands in relation to technology, we need to consider what we mean by “instrumental”: what assumptions lie behind our understanding of “getting things done” or “achieving our goals” through the use of tools? The basic idea in any attempt to “get something done” is that one thing (e.g. a student in the Arts class) has an effect on something else (the paper, paints, etc. that make up the student’s next piece of work or project). Our effects on other things to achieve an end is sometimes referred to as the application of “algorithms”, a schema or plan for organizing the world we live in. “Algorithms” and the question concerning the meaning of “instrumentality” (tools used to solve problems) leads to an old problem in philosophy: the question of causality. We will look at the role of reason as the primary approach to “how” we solve the problems that we encounter in our day-to-day lives or “real life situations”.

The original meaning of the Greek techne is “know how”, a feeling of “being at home in” the things that surround us. This understanding can be said to combine our understanding of the word technique or “applications” and the “know how” of the techne. Our applications, our uses of methods and tools, come after we have already determined what it is that we want to achieve through our technique in the schema or plan which we have already projected onto the world about us. An interpretation of that world is already present so that the techniques will be “applicable” or “appropriate” for the task to be carried out. This suitability is tied in with our understanding of reason (logos) which, in turn, is tied in with our understanding of causality.

Historical Background: The Four Causes: A Tea Ceremony Cup


We will examine the question of causality by examining Aristotle’s understanding of causality and applying his four causes to the making of a tea ceremony cup. For Aristotle, there are four components to what can be understood as causality:

  1. the material cause (clay, the hyle)
  2. the formal cause (the form; its “cupness”, its “outward appearance”, the eidos)
  3. the final cause (the end or purpose for which it is to be used; a tea ceremony, the telos)
  4. the efficient cause (the tea cup maker; the artist)

What exactly do we mean by “cause” anyway? Let us look at a cup prepared for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to illustrate the traditional model of the four causes. What do these modes of causality all have in common?

Our English word “cause” comes from the Latin word causa. Causa stems from the verb meaning “to fall”, and is used to designate “that which brings it about that something turns out as a result in such and such a way”. Our current use of the word “algorithm” carries this Latin meaning of “cause” within it.

Philosophical tradition traces the doctrine of the four causes back to Aristotle, but the Greek words Aristotle uses are quite different from the later words for “cause” that emphasize effecting as used by the Latins. Instead, the Greek word aition carries the sense of “that which is responsible for something else”, or “that which is obliged to” something else for its being as it is. So our word “education” comes from the Latin educare “to lead out” combined with the Greek suffix aition “that which is responsible for” or “obliged to” something or someone else: education is that to which we are obliged to for the “leading out”. “To educate” means that which is responsible for the “leading out” (think of Plato’s Cave here), or that which is obliged to something else for the leading out. The “leading out” cannot occur on its own initiative. We have to hear the words “responsible” and “obliging” in a different tonality than what we normally hear in these words. Think of these terms in relation to your “shared knowledge”, your own “education”.

tea ceremony cupLet us return to our example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup and try to understand it in a Greek way as opposed to our understanding which comes from a Latin interpretation of the Greeks. The “key concepts” that we use are Latinate in origin because philosophical English language is Latinate in origin.

Clay is the material (hyle) that is shaped into the form (eidos) of “cupness”. Both the clay and the form are responsible for or are obliged to the tea ceremony cup being a cup. These are known as the “material cause” and the “formal cause”, but we must not hear the words as “causes” which bring about “effects”. The cup has been produced in order to be used in a particular kind of activity—a Japanese tea ceremony. Its existence is determined by this context, which literally defines the cup in the sense that it gives it clear boundaries: it is neither a water glass nor a coffee cup. This drawing of defining boundaries is telos and is responsible, along with the material and the form, for the tea ceremony cup’s existence as a tea ceremony cup and not something else.

Aristotle and the Greeks had no such category as the “causa efficiens”. Instead of seeing the cupmaker or artist, the techne, as the agent that “effects” the production of the cup as we moderns do, Aristotle’s model would view the careful consideration of the artist—the logos, a term derived from apophainesthai, “to reveal”—as a kind of point of departure for the cup’s coming into being. Rather than mastering the material by wrestling it into a particular form, the Greek version of our Japanese artist brings together the various potentialities of clay, the abstractness of “cupness”, and the context in which the cup will serve, and through this method allows the Japanese tea ceremony cup to come into being.

For the Greeks, the way in which the material, the form, the context, and the thought or consideration of the artist all “give themselves up” to the existence of the cup, is bound up with the Greek idea of Being. Giving as a “giving to” the existence of the cup, helps us understand the Greek word aition as “that to which something else is indebted” or “obliged”, “responsible for”. The cup is “indebted to” the clay, the idea of cupness, and the artist. The artist is responsible for the Japanese tea ceremony cup; the cup is “indebted” to the artist for its being. The artist, in turn, is indebted or obliged to the material and the form for the making of the cup. These are not products of the artist’s mind or “creativity”; they should not be understood as the artist imposing on the material but as being obliged to the material, much as I am obliged to the young student who offers me her seat when I am travelling on the public bus and I respond to her offering with “Much obliged”, “Thank you”.

But what do responsibility and indebtedness mean here?

It should be clear that our method here is to return to earlier and more fundamental meanings of commonly used terms and concepts, what we understand as our “key concepts” or the conceptual tools that we use to understand what we call “knowledge” or to produce what we call knowledge. All of us constantly “skip over” what our words mean and in this “skipping” gaps are created so that we lose our way (or have lost our way) and become exhausted and despair because of our neglect of the real, original sense of our basic ideas. I’m sure many of you have experienced this “exhaustion” in many of your TOK class discussions.

We do not want to think of “being responsible” or “being indebted” in an overly moralistic manner (although what we think “ethics” are is involved in them); we’ll think of them, for the moment, as “to occasion”. We sometimes think of “to occasion” as “to cause” such as “His presence in the room occasioned much concern” or “President Trump’s tweets occasioned much concern for his fellow citizens”. For the Greeks, however, the sense of “responsibility” and “indebtedness” was more “to make present”, in the sense of bringing something that was not present before into time and space, what we mean when we say “to produce” some thing. Being responsible for is a “bringing that thing into appearance” or “starting something on its way to arrival”.

Think of your exhibition “presentation” in this fashion: that which is responsible for bringing the event of the present-ation into “presence”; it is an “ex-hibition”, a “showing forth”, a “bringing out of hiding”. The four causes in the example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup all serve less to “create” the cup than to assist the potential cup in the clay, in the idea of cupness, and in the context of the tea ceremony, in making its appearance. All four causes are contributors to the cup’s appearance and the maker of the cup is not the sole or primary contributor. Our modern emphasis on the human being as the centre of this “making” is attributable to our historical, Western “humanistic” or “humanism” world view. In this “humanist” view, the “effect” (the artist’s purpose and the artist himself) are the primary “cause” of the cup’s coming into being. The TOK Guide continues to follow this “humanist” world-view with “you” at the centre or its “core theme”.

We have to imagine that the cup is “on its way” to existence; the four ways of “being responsible” help it to “arrive” there. They are responsible for what the Greeks called hypokeiesthai, which designates how something that we see as “present” is made present for us. From the roots of this word comes our word hypothesis and we should remember the relationship of hypothesis to “theory” or the “looking” that is prior to the bringing into “presence” of knowledge for us.

White foam cup containing coffee with bubbles on top

Let us look at a second type of cup. Both the tea ceremony cup and the Styrofoam cup contain the form of “cupness” but their material, purpose and sufficient causes are quite distinct. Comparing and contrasting these two cups will give us a much better understanding of causation as it is understood today and how it was first understood by Aristotle. With the Styrofoam cup, one can arrive at an understanding of what is meant by technology in the writing here.

The essence of technology is shown in the “arrival” of the Styrofoam cup. The cup is a “com-posit” of materials brought together by human beings whose “pose” is to “impose” on Nature in their “com-posing”. Their “bringing together”, their “ordering and gathering” is of something not found in Nature; the polystyrene molecule is the invention of human beings. The end purpose of the cup, its usefulness, also demonstrates the essence of technology and an understanding of modern human being in the modern world. The cup is intended to be “disposable”. Its characteristics establish its “efficiency” for our uses.

tea ceremony cupThe Japanese tea ceremony cup represents an arrival or a “bringing into presence” that is of a different essence of technology, an ancient understanding of technology. Whereas the Styrofoam cup is replicable to an unlimited number, the tea ceremony cup is unique. The “bringing forth” of the tea ceremony cup is what the Greeks understood as poiesis. The “bringing forth” of the Styrofoam cup is not a poiesis. What do both these artifacts say about the nature of “bringing forth” or “producing”? What do these two things “say” about the “cultures” of which they are the products? What is valued as “useful” and not “useful” in the making of these two products in each of the cultures of which they are products?


For the Greeks, this “making present” and “being responsible” is termed poiesis from which our word “poetry” is derived. That the Greeks would designate poiesis as what we understand as poetry shows the regard they held for poets in their society and how important language was in the “making present” of things for them.

Poiesis means “bringing forth” and there are two forms of bringing forth. The first is directly associated with poiesis, as it is the bringing forth into existence that the craftsperson and the poet (and anyone who “produces” things) practices. The activities, the making of poets and craftspeople, was called “techne” by the Greeks, “know how”. The products of these activities are brought forth by something else (en alloi—“in another”), that is, the poet makes the poem, the artist makes the tea ceremony cup, etc. The second type of “bringing forth” is physis, the bringing forth that occurs in nature, in which things such as flowers are brought forth in themselves (en heautoi). Both instances, however, fall into the category of poiesis in the sense that something that was not present is made present.

This “bringing forth” out of concealment into “unconcealment” is what the Greeks termed “aletheia” which literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”. It is the Greek word for “truth”. This disclosing or unveiling is of something that was always already present and the four causes all participate in the revealing of this thing that was always already present. We need to keep this original concept of truth in mind when we discuss the other theories of truth: correspondence, coherence and pragmatic.


  • we began with our everyday understanding of technology as instrumentality, as a way of getting things done
  • we moved from what we mean by instrumentality into a discussion of “cause”
  • the examination of “cause”, in turn, lead to a discussion of poiesis as a bringing forth, a revealing of something that was concealed
  • we arrived at the conclusion that this “bringing forth” was related to the Greek word aletheia or “truth” and that all bringing forth, “production”, is related to what the Greeks understood as “truth”. We call this “knowledge”.

Technology as “Techne” + “Logos”:

But what has poetry to do with technology? Technology is a kind of poiesis, a bringing forward, a revealing. In this way it is associated with “truth”. We need to grasp a different view of “technology” than our current view of it as “instrumentality” or “methods and tools”. What does the word “technology” mean? We overlook this word and assume that we know its meaning because we are surrounded by technological things like a fish is surrounded by water.

Our word “technology” comes from the Greek technikon, someone who uses techne. This is where the word techne comes from and means “know how” or “knowing one’s way about or in something”. For the Greeks, a techne was a “maker”, whether of shoes or of poems. In the sense of “technique”, techne refers to both manufacturing (the techniques of shoemakers and tailors, for example) and to the arts (the techniques of poets and graphic designers, for example). Techne is part of poiesis. “Know how” is one definition of a type of “knowledge”, the knowledge that is a “knowing one’s way about or in something”.

In Greek thought from Plato on, the word techne is used in connection with the word episteme, from which we get the word “epistemology”–the branch of philosophy that examines how we know things. Our course is called “Theory of Knowledge”. It is a course dealing with “epistemology”. The Latins interpreted this type of knowledge as “science”: “Science is the theory of the real”: “knowledge is the looking at that determines what will be called the real”.

Techne is a kind of knowing. We might think of it as “expertise” which we generally understand as more than a set of practical skills. It is “know-how”. What is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before. Our word “technology” thus means “making” (“making” as “producing” or “bringing forth”) + “knowing” (knowing as a kind of expertise or “know how”). It is the kind of knowing that makes the “making” possible.

If we understand technology as deriving from this concept of techne, then we will see that its essence lies not in the instrumental production of goods through the use of tools or manipulation of materials or data, but in “revealing”. The artisan, through his techne, brings together the form (a cup) and the matter (the clay) of the tea ceremony cup within the idea of “cupness” to reveal the cup that has been “on its way” to existence. The cup was always already there. Its coming into being or presence was the partial responsibility of the artist but not the sole responsibility of the artist. The artist did not “create” the cup.

So far, we have been focusing on the arts and their relation to “technology”; but when we think of technology, our focus is on the sciences, in particular the physical sciences. We think of “technology” as a product of the physical sciences and its applications, the computers we use, the medical achievements that we have made, and so on.

The example of the tea ceremony cup might seem irrelevant to a discussion in the technological age in which virtually all of our artisans’ work can be performed by a machine. One of the differences, we might assume, is that modern technology is based on modern physics. But the development of the physical sciences has been so dependent upon the technological development of devices for testing, measuring, etc. (the enhancement of our sense perception, our “viewing”), that science cannot be seen as a “cause” or “origin” of technology.

The difference lies elsewhere. It lies in modern technology’s orientation to the world. Modern technology’s mode of revealing is not poiesis, according to Martin Heidegger.

The “revealing” that rules in modern technology is a challenging which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such. (Money is really “congealed energy”, for instance. It is stored energy.) This challenging, demanding viewing of nature is grounded in the principle of reason: we challenge, demand reasons for why some thing is the way it is. The principle of reason determines how we understand causality nowadays.

The difference between older forms of technology (the windmill, for example, which draws its energy from the wind but does not extract and store that energy) and modern technology which exploits and exhausts–“challenges”–our planet’s resources is an example of the difference of our orientation to the world. Our challenging looks at the environment as “disposables”, how the resources can be of some use to ourselves. Unless they have some relation to ourselves as “usefulness” for our conceived ends, then they are not allowed or recognized as having any independent being in their own right; they are not allowed “to be”. They are not “objects” as these have traditionally been understood. Reflect on both the Styrofoam cup and the tea ceremony cup once again. The Styrofoam cup has no reason for its existence beyond its “usefulness”; and once used, it is disposable and meant to be disposable. The relation of the tea ceremony cup to its users is quite different.

ThreeGorgesDam-China2009Another example illustrates the difference between technology’s “challenging forth” and poetry’s “revealing”. Let us look at China’s Three Gorges, a potent symbol in Chinese national culture, to show how technology transforms our orientation to the world. When we build hydroelectric dams on the rivers, the meaning of the rivers change: they become an energy resource. There is a contrast between “the Three Gorges” viewed as a source of hydroelectric power and “the Three Gorges” as it appears in the work of many Chinese artists and poets, in which the rivers appear as the source of philosophical inspiration and cultural pride. It is interesting to note here that technology also includes the tourism industry, which in its own way transforms the natural world into raw materials, a source of profit. Now, Chinese pride is in their mastery of nature and millions of tourists, both domestic and foreign, flock to see this Chinese mastery of nature at its height.

It might help to recall at this point the Greeks’ description of things being “on their way into arrival”. The tea ceremony cup “arrives” when the artisan’s work brings it “out of concealment”. Before, it was only potentially a cup; in the work of the artisan (techne), that potentiality is realized and the cup is “revealed” or brought into actuality.

Modern technology also reveals. But its revealing is different from that of the older crafts. To explain this difference more fully, we need to introduce the idea of the “resources” or “disposability”.

“Resources” is closely related to the idea of technology as “instrumentality” with which this writing begins. Technology’s instrumental orientation to the world transforms the world into “resources” or “disposables”; it transforms the world into “disposables” so that all the things we encounter, including other human beings, are “disposables”. We might say that for technology, nothing in the world is “good” in and of itself, but only “good for” something. In the grip of technology, things that are always already present no longer get to “arrive”; our striving is to “change the world”, but this changing is to make the things of the world “disposables”. The airplane that stands on the Changi airport runway, for example, has no meaning or value in and of itself; it is merely a means of transportation and its value to humanity is completely tied to its being at humanity’s disposal. The computers we use have no meaning outside of their uses; after a short period of time we “recycle” them with the loss of an incredible amount of wasted energy that has gone into their making. Our networking and relationships are turned into what “use” we can make of the human beings (resources) we are in contact with.

Technology transforms humanity itself into resources; humanity itself becomes “disposable”. We have become “human resources” or “human capital”. Today, the burning of Sumatran forests to replace them with palm oil trees is perhaps a better example of how our own well-being and health is placed at risk; and for the majority of people, this goes well beyond the profits of the palm oil companies. The chemical sciences have determined the “value” of palm oil, which is used in many, many products that we use as consumers.

Our use of the expression “human resources” aligns human beings with raw materials such as coal or petroleum or palm oil or agricultural products (and this use of human beings as “resource” by other human beings is what is called “cybernetics”). If one reflects on the consequences of such thinking and viewing, one may understand why there are so many reservations regarding AI among many learned people. AI is the outcome of a particular human way of thinking and viewing the world.

But because humanity is, as it were, in the “driver’s seat” of technological advances, humanity never completely becomes mere raw material. By the same token, nature and nature’s mode of revealing never fall completely under human control. Even though humanity has now acquired the capacity to destroy nature utterly (atomic energy), the natural world reveals itself to human beings on its own terms. Humanity doesn’t directly control the formation of coal or oil deposits or the accumulation of nitrogen in the soil; we can only control the way we orient ourselves, our thinking and our actions, in relation to such resources and to other human beings.

This fundamental relationship between humanity and the world gives rise to a particular human orientation or comportment to the world, an orientation or attitude referred to as Framing which in turn determines our “composing”.

What is framing? The “Hard-Wiring” of Our World-Views

The German word Gestell has a number of meanings: “rack”, “skeleton”–the basic sense is of an armature or framework. In the history of philosophy, it finds its origins in Leibniz and Kant, and through them to Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. This term is used to describe how human beings have come to relate to the natural world. It can also be found in the poetry of William Blake where he refers to the “framing” of the “fearful symmetry” of “The Tyger”. (Blake in an earlier draft, originally used “German forged manacles” for “mind forged manacles” in his poem “London”).

Let’s return to the Greek word eidos, familiar to us from the example of the tea ceremony cup, and explain how Plato redefined this word. Eidos originally designated the outward, visible appearance of an object; Plato, however, uses the word to mean the abstract, universal essence of that object: the “cupness” of the cup is the eidos, not the individual outward appearance of any individual cup. From Plato’s redefinition comes our word “idea”. The use of Gestell, or “Framing”, follows a similar path: a word meaning something concrete (a bookshelf, for example), is used to designate something abstract when given its philosophical applications.

We often hear people criticized for wanting to “put everything into boxes”; we are exhorted to “think outside of the box”. This expression usually means that a person thinks uncreatively, narrowly, with too high a regard for established categories.

The “frame” in the concept of “Framing” corresponds to these “boxes”, but all of us have a tendency to think in this way. We call it our “mindset”.

We noted before that nature reveals itself to us in its own terms, and all that humanity can directly control is its orientation to the natural world. We should think of “nature” here in the broadest sense, as the entire realm of the non-human–but also including such things as our physical bodies, over which we have only limited control. But what we have done to Nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. What characterizes the essence of modern technology is the human impulse to put the world “into boxes”, to enclose all of our experiences of the world within categories of understanding–mathematical equations, physical laws, sets of classifications–that we can control. The need to domineer and control is what has determined our “looking” at nature as calculable, orderable and this is grounded in the axiom that is principle of reason.

When the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, for example, states that “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological”, he means that technology’s driving force is not located in machines themselves, nor even in the various human activities that are associated with modern modes of production. In the example of the computer, the parts that make up the machine as well as the labor of the factory workers all belong to technology, but are not its essence. The “frame of mind” that views the world–its reserves of rare earth metal ores, its chemical structures, its human populations–as raw materials for the production of computers approaches more closely what we mean by the essence of technology. It is in our “ordering and gathering” that determines how we will live in our societies and how we will view other members of our societies. The technological world-view, however, is still more far-reaching. Framing or the viewing of the world as disposables stems, historically, from the human drive for a “precise” and “scientific” knowledge of the world.

What is technology’s place within the history of the modern sciences? In at least one sense modern technology comes before the development of modern physics and actually shapes that development. This claim will make sense to us if we remember that the essence of technology is that orientation to the world called “Framing”. Insofar as the human drive for a precise, controllable knowledge of the natural world paves the way for modern physics, we can say that “Framing”, and thus the essence of modern technology, precedes and determines the development of modern science. Technology is not applied modern science; modern science is applied technology.

The essence of something does not reveal itself till the end. The instruments and devices, the tools of technology, are the revealing of what technology is in its essence in much the same way that the oak tree is the revealing of the essence that is contained in the acorn, or the full human being from the fertilized embryo.

Where does this Framing tendency of human thought begin? The philosophical context in which that question can be asked must be considered here. The task for ourselves in TOK is to question the implicit assumptions in our thinking, assumptions that are in the “key concepts” that we use to understand what knowledge is. To do this, we must undertake the painstaking effort to try to think through still more primally what was primally thought. Greek philosophy and the tracing back of the meanings of words is closely related to the larger project of uncovering the implicit significance of important concepts. What is most “original” or “first” is also that which is most enduring; the most fundamental concepts are those that will continue to shape the concepts that come after. I am here pointing to the principle of reason which is axiomatic.

One of clearest statements of what we mean by “Framing” appears in the dilemma of modern physicists, who are discovering that the physical world does not lend itself to measurement and observation as readily as they once thought. Physics is bound to a particular way of looking at the world: that nature reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remains orderable as a system of information. This system is then determined by a causality that has changed once again.

Werner Heisenberg

As Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, has said: “”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.” Mathematics is the language of modern physics.

The model of causality that shapes modern physics is neither the “original” Greek one of “ways of being responsible” nor the traditional Latin one of the four causa, but a model of “numbers crunching” in which things exist and come into existence only insofar as they can be measured. An atom, for instance, is a mathematical equation, not an “object” in the traditional sense of that term.

We often think of technology as the “application” of the discoveries of science. Much of the discipline of “Applied Physics” is devoted to the construction and testing of useful devices. It is not enough to have identified Framing as the essence of modern technology. We need to determine how we, as human beings, stand in relation to technology. The essence of technology precedes the historical emergence of both modern science and modern machine production. In that sense, we might view modern science as the “application” of Framing. But what, exactly, is Framing?

Is humanity’s “Framing” orientation to the world an inevitable outgrowth of the history of human consciousness as is suggested by many of the latest biological and sociological studies? The question about how we are to relate to technology always comes “too late”, since we are already caught up in a Framing view of nature which sees nature as disposable as much as we are caught up in the concrete realities of technological development. We can, however, gain some perspective on our own orientation to the world, and thus achieve a perspective on technology.

How is human history related to the historical development of technology, and how can humanity come into the “free relationship to technology”–which is, remember, the aim of this TOK course for both the teachers and the students and are questions we must consider throughout our studying and questioning.

Geschichte, the German word for “history”, and Geschick, the word for “destiny”, deriving from the verb schicken, “to send”, are related etymologically. The human drive to obtain a quantifiable and controllable knowledge of the world “sends” humanity on the way to an orientation that views the world as a set of raw materials, as “resources”, disposables, culminating in modern technology. From the primal relationship in which the physical world reveals itself to humanity on its own terms, humanity moves or is sent into a Framing relationship with the world. Within this relationship, however, the earlier relationship is maintained: humanity is still experiencing the world as the world reveals itself. Oedipus is “sent” on the road to his destiny, ironically, once he visits the oracle of Delphi and learns that his destiny is to marry his mother and murder his father. Oedipus attempts to escape this fate by fleeing Corinth and the parents that have adopted him only to meet his fate, his real parents, and realize his fate in his journey. Oedipus completes his fate because of his “blindness” to the things that are and through the rashness of his character. We, too, are in Oedipus’ position and we, too, must open our ears and eyes in order to re-orientate ourselves to our being-in-the-world.

Because Framing does not utterly change humanity’s connection to the world, there is room, even within Framing, for a different–we might say “renewed”–orientation to the world, according to Heidegger. It is not exactly right to speak of Framing as an inevitable development of humanity’s interaction with the world—we must caution against a fatalistic view of technology’s incursion into our lives. We can neither throw up our hands in the face of the problems brought on by technology, nor can we “rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil” (Heidegger).

Once we realize that our own orientation to the world is the essence of technology, once we “open ourselves” to this essence, we find an opportunity to establish a free relationship to technology. We have a choice, according to Heidegger: Humanity can continue on its path of Framing, of “pushing forward nothing but what is revealed in ordering”, seeing the world as disposables, and structure our lives according to the rules and values of this orientation. This is the world-view that ultimately devolves and arrives in nihilism, meaninglessness.

The continuation of this viewing would cancel out the other possibility: Humanity can come to realize that it, too, is “on its way” to an arrival, and that only by re-orienting itself to the way in which nature reveals itself can humanity establish a relationship with the world that is not ultimately self-destructive. Our self-destruction does not come about through atomic weapons or climate change or any of the other problems or crises that our technological world-view has brought about. Our self-destruction is the ultimate loss of the essence of our own humanity. We have intimations of this loss of our essence when we view our world situation today.

The danger associated with technology is not so much the direct effects of mechanization. The danger is the threat to humanity’s “spiritual” life. This danger has four main elements:

  1. In continuing on the path of Framing, humanity will eventually reach a point at which the human, too, becomes only so much “resources” or disposables.
  2. Humanity’s over inflated sense of its power over the natural world will result in humanity’s coming to believe that humanity has control over all existence.
  3. This excessive pride leads ultimately to the “delusion” that humanity encounters itself and only itself everywhere it looks–a kind of narcissism at the species level and the extreme end of “humanism”.
  4. Finally, such an orientation to the world will blind humanity to the ways in which the world reveals itself. In spite of (in fact, because of) the entire set of scientific apparatuses and theories which are meant to guarantee our precise knowledge of our world, we will miss the truth of what the world is.

In Heidegger’s words: “The threat to humanity does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and instruments of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted humanity in its essence.” The rule of Framing threatens humanity with the possibility that it could be denied to us to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.

Another Orientation to the World: The Return to Plato’s Cave

Within the “supreme danger” of humanity’s Framing orientation to the world lies the potential of a rescue from that very danger.

To help us to understand this paradox, we turn our attention to the meaning of “essence”. The traditional philosophical sense of “essence” means “what” [in Latin, quid] something is. It names a genus, a class of things that are all the same kind of thing. All trees, for example, have “treeness” in common; “treeness” is their essence. From their inquiries into essence, the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, developed the concept of eidos, which we have already encountered in the example of the tea ceremony cup.

This traditional understanding of essence, however, does not apply to modern technology. For Plato and Aristotle, the essence is what “remains permanently”, what outlasts any particular manifestation of a thing. The particular oak that has grown out of the acorn has its essence in being both an oak (and not an elm) and in being a tree (treeness) already, permanently held in the acorn. In trying to “get behind” the assumptions and established formulations that shape traditional philosophical thinking, the model of essence as a “genus” does not adequately represent the relationship between the essence of a thing and the thing as it appears before us. This raises questions for all of our AOKs.

If Framing, as the essence of technology, cannot be thought of as a category to which all technological things belong, how are we supposed to think of it? We can return to Plato’s Cave at this point. For Plato, the eidos and “idea” are in Being and allow beings (things) “to endure permanently”. The Sun’s light “grants” the appearance of beings to humanity (remember that the Sun is a metaphor of the Good in the Cave analogy and this light is a metaphor for all of our ways of knowing and seeing things). There is a connection of the concept of “enduring”–a quality of essence in the traditional model of essence–and “granting.” This “granting” is the sense of “otherness” that is “given” to humanity and not “created” or made by humanity.

The idea of “giving” or “granting” is crucial, and the phrase “to be” is, in German, es gibt–literally, “it gives”. If we return for a moment to the example of the tea ceremony cup, the ceremonial cup is used in a “transformative practice”, in particular that of “wabi-sabi”. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry emphasizing simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrating the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” “Sabi”, on the other hand, represents the outer or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn,” “weathered,” or “decayed”. Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honored as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are – the first step to “satori” or enlightenment (Wikipedia). The tea ceremony and its cup is the opposite of the technological fast-food industry and its ubiquitous Styrofoam cups, plastics and other petro-chemically composed and produced materials. The Japanese tea ceremony experiences life as a ‘gift’ while the ‘quick’ breakfast is efficient, useful and non-reflective and emphasizes that there are other more important things to be done.

The world “gives” itself to us insofar as it reveals and opens itself to us. Our response to this “gift” as “Framing” is at once a grave danger (our instrumental, exploitative, disposable, blind orientation to the world sets us on a self-destructive course) and an opportunity to see ourselves as a part of the coming-into-being, the revealing, and the “granting” of the world, what has been called the “otherness” of the world in other writings here. Life gives us a choice: to view it as a “problem to be solved” or as a gift to be cherished.

Furthermore, since humanity is as we have said “in the driver’s seat” of technology, we must realize that our capacity to manipulate nature entails a solemn responsibility to “watch over” nature. Again, we can easily see the argument in terms of today’s environmental movement, but we need to remember that it is not simply speaking of nature in the sense usually assumed by environmentalists. Everything that exists must be cared for–humanity’s responsibility is to care for Being itself. In this activity, memory is of crucial importance. It would also be a simplification of the argument to associate it too directly with the anti-nuclear movement, but the specter of the total devastation of the planet does bring home the gravity of our/the concerns with our technological world-view. In the question concerning technology and knowing everything is at stake.


Let us sum up the major points:

We tend to think of technology as an instrument, a means of getting things done as shown in the Styrofoam cup and the fast-food breakfast. This definition, however, misses the actual essence of technology, and tends to make us think that by making the technology better–better able to “get things done”–we will master technology and solve the problems that technology has itself created (the environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists remain within the technological way of revealing).

This instrumental way of thinking stems from our assumptions about causality. If we come to understand modes of causality as ways of being responsible for the arrival of things into existence, we can begin to understand that the essence of technology has to do with the way we are oriented to the coming-into-existence, or the “revealing” of the world.

Humanity’s orientation to the world takes the form of a Framing which views the world only as “resource”, a source of raw materials, disposables, as “good for something”. In this Framing, however, lies the potential for another orientation.

Framing is the essence of technology. Framing is ambiguous, in that it contains two possibilities: 1. It is a danger that sets man on a destructive and self-destructive course. “On the one hand, Framing challenges forth into the frenziedness of ordering that blocks every view into the coming-to-pass of revealing and so radically endangers the relation to the essence of truth”. (Heidegger) 2. At the same time, it is a “saving power” and an opportunity: humanity’s Framing orientation to the world makes clear the responsibility of human beings to the world. If we reflect upon the Framing as the essence of technology, we will find not only that we are a part of the world, but that the world “needs” us to care for it, that humanity “is needed and used for the safekeeping of the essence of truth” (Heidegger).

Let us try to clarify the relationship between these two opposing orientations contained within Framing.

The danger of technology’s essence and the saving power inherent in it are joined in the way stars are joined in a constellation: part of a whole, but separate entities. The individual is one part of a whole that is encompassed by Life (Being). Enclosed as we are within our Framing orientation to the world, what can we do to save ourselves from the consequences of Framing? How can we nurture an alternative way of looking at things that will help us to change the ways of thinking that drive technology and thus to evade some of the horrific dangers that inhere in technology?

Against an orientation that investigates all aspects of the world and assumes that the world can be grasped and controlled through measurement and categorization (classification), an alternative may be found in art (although the saving power of art was denied by Socrates). In the history of the West before the onset of Framing, in ancient Greece, where the concept of techne–which, as we have seen, is the source of our word “technology”–included both instrumentality and the fine arts, that is, poiesis we may find the source of a possible alternative. In Greece art was not a separate function within society, but a unifying force that brought together religious life, political life, and social life. The art of ancient Greek culture expressed humanity’s sense of connectedness with all Being. Art was a kind of “piety”; it was the outgrowth of humanity’s care–in the sense of “stewardship”–of all existence. It was no one less than Socrates who said, however, that art cannot be the “saving” of humanity: only reason can do this. This is something that must be pondered for what is the “reason” that Socrates is talking about here and is it how we have come to understand reason? Is it the principle of reason and causality as algorithm?

In our own time, the paradox of how “Framing” can hold within it a saving power can be resolved by viewing the artistic or poetic orientation to the world as the alternative dimension of “Framing”. The poet looks at the world in order to understand it, certainly, but this reflection does not seek to make the world into a “standing-reserve”, a resource, or a disposable; the seeing does not seek to change the world. The poet takes the world “as it is”, as it reveals itself—which is the world’s “true” form (remember that the Greek word for truth, aletheia, literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”).

“Truth” is a “revealing,” the process of something “giving” or “showing” itself. Art is the realm in which this “granting” of the world to us is upheld. Art’s relationship with the world is different from technology’s in that art is less concerned with measuring, classifying, and exploiting the resources of the world than it is with “taking part” in the process of the coming-to-being and the revealing that characterize our existence and our essence as human beings.

In the second Bremen lecture of 1949, Heidegger said the following extremely controversial statement: “Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockading and starving of countries, the same as the production of hydrogen bombs.” Such a statement shocks our liberal humanist sensibilities and “values” when the deaths of millions of human beings are said to be essentially the same as our slaughtering of animals to provide food in the most efficient way. But here Heidegger is being consistent in his thought regarding the uncanny essence of technology. Within the technological world-view, that there are human beings to whom no justice is due, to whom nothing is due but extermination is the stuff of today’s headlines. What is the alternative to this?

We are not suggesting that we all go out and become artists, but rather that we incorporate more of the artist’s and poet’s vision into our own view of the world. In “Imagination as a Way of Knowing”, I have tried to illustrate this through the example of William Blake. In incorporating the artist’s vision into how we view the world, we can guard against the dangers of Framing, and enter into a “free”–constantly critical, constantly questioning, constantly listening and hearing–relationship with the technology that in its persistence is constantly making new incursions into our lives. No matter how we view and live within the technological, the issues are of the most importance for ourselves as human beings and our future on this planet.

May 2020 Prescribed Titles: Deconstruction


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.

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. Contact me at butler.rick1952@gmail.com


Title 1: “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not” (Pablo Picasso). Explore this distinction with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #1 asks you to explore and question the thought of a great artist, Pablo Picasso. We should try to set aside whatever pre-conceptions we might have of Picasso and his art and explore the more general implications of his implicit understanding of what being-in-the-world is and how, in his utterance, he distinguishes the contrasts between art and science, poetry and philosophy, “others” and the “I”. These contrasts and distinctions are very old questions and have been with the people of the West since their historical beginnings. Picasso should be seen as a representative of Art as an area of knowledge and of the imagination as a way of knowing in the modern world i.e. a particular example, and your discussion should be about how “knowledge” and the search for knowledge is implicitly given in his quote. Do not focus on Picasso himself in your discussion even though I will say a few words here about him as a general representative of modern art (albeit a great one) and provide an example in relation to him.

By doing some research, you will find that Picasso himself began the art movement known as Cubism, and the principles behind the techniques involved in this type of art form are helpful in expanding on what Picasso might have meant in his quote, particularly with regard to “what is” and “what could be”. The development of the techniques of art throughout the centuries could provide examples for you to explore in your discussion of the relationship of art to the imagination. Seeing beyond the limitations of three-dimensional “seeing” as an example, through the use of imagination, could be a focus for your discussion. It might be interesting to approach a discussion of the title with some reflection on modern techniques in art such as Picasso’s and other post-Modernists and the mathematics involved in matrix mechanics in modern Physics.

In the mural Guernica below, we have Picasso’s presentation of “reality” at a terrible moment in Spanish history. Clearly, a great truth is presented in the painting so a discussion of the relation of truth to art could be in order. Questions regarding the role of art in personal and shared knowledge could also be a useful approach. A discussion of the work of art and truth can be found by following this link: What is a work of Art?. The relation of art to “reality” through the use of imagination as a way of knowing could be contrasted with the approach to reality using the scientific method (inductive reasoning) and how sense perception as “seeing” is involved in each. You may find the following links on The Arts as an Area of Knowledge and Imagination as a Way of Knowing helpful in exploring ideas that could lead to reflection on the topics involved in the title.


The quote distinguishes between the “actual” and the “potential”, between necessity and possibility, between reason (“why”) and imagination (“why not”). Historically, the Scottish philosopher David Hume discusses the role of imagination as a way of knowing most pointedly in his critique of reason as a way of knowing. The imagination is that faculty which allows for a “projection” of our understanding of the “real” from the “habits” informed through “experience”. Cause and effect is an example of this habit-formed view of the world, according to Hume. Artists, if they are great artists, are in constant contention with this view of being-in-the-world as they attempt to change the way we see the things of our world, to change our “habits” of how we view the world. One could take the Cartesian approach and discuss “objective” and “subjective” knowledge. Is beauty a product of the imagination and, thus, “in the eye of the beholder” or is beauty something “objective” in itself, something to be seen and not judged? What role does language as a way of knowing play in determining “what” something is? Is the destruction of language in the technological world an attack on the imagination? Is the desire to change the way we view the world in Art connected to or related to the desire to change the world itself and is part of the techne and logos that we call “technology”? What role does art play in what we call “technology”?

The “present” as the “actual” is contrasted with the “future” as the “why not” in the title. Picasso, like most artists, questions “why the why?” as our experience of being-in-the-world in his quote. The “present” and “future” relate to time, so art as producere, “a bringing forth” of something that was not, is implied in the title. Discussions of dystopias (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) or utopias (Thomas More’s work by the same name, but there are many others) could be used as examples. Here, language as a way of knowing, how language “brings something to light” could be examined. How imagination requires language in order to be a way of knowing is a topic that can be explored. See the following link: Imagination as a Way of Knowing.

How is art “the production of knowledge”? and other questions regarding what knowledge is also a possibly that could be explored through the title. The “techniques” or methodologies, the approaches, in the various areas of knowledge and the role imagination plays in them are some possibilities. Another approach could be a discussion of Ethics and the issue of novelty with regard to the production of “knowledge”, the “should I” or “shouldn’t I” issue. The American physicist Robert Oppenheimer once said: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” This quote can be related to the role of imagination in our everyday lives and the impact that it has. Picasso himself once said “Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, and Goya were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and has exhausted the best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries”. What is the role of the artist in the society of which he is a member? Of what “value” is “originality” in the arts?

Title 2: “There is a sharp line between describing something and offering an explanation of it.” To what extent do you agree with this claim?

The key terms to define in title #2 are “describing” and “offering an explanation”. Discussion of “a sharp line” is also required if one is to examine this title in depth. Another aspect of the title asks “to what extent do you agree” and this, too, must be addressed along with a demonstration of how you support your agreement or disagreement with the statement through examples from the WOKs or the AOKs.

A “description” of some thing gives us its “what” while an “explanation” gives us its “how” and “why”. Both descriptions and explanations are a “rendering of an account” of some thing so both involve language as a way of knowing and both involve other human beings so that these renderings of the things can become “shared knowledge”. This “rendering of an account” is what the Greeks called logos from where our word logic is derived, so it might appear at first glance that the use of the phrase “a sharp line” may be somewhat hyperbolic.

Whatever is being rendered in an account must also first  be “sensed” in some way, so sense perception as a way of knowing comes into play. But what shapes this “sense perception” so that some thing becomes defined as what it is in such and such a way? What some thing is is its “essence”;  a description of a thing provides the boundaries and limits of the thing so that we can arrive at a “de-finition” of the thing and so are able to distinguish one thing from another i.e. a donut from a coffee cup. Historically, these descriptions were referred to as “categories” or “what was said about something” or “down to some thing”. How large or small, the position in time and space, the color of something, etc. were all predicates of the subject that the thing itself was. Human beings were not themselves the subjects. That is a development that came into thought through Rene Descartes where human beings became the centre of knowledge and gave being to the things themselves. The “descriptions” of the things determined ahead of time what they were and how they would be examined i.e. our AOKs.

An “explanation” of a thing has its roots in our demand that a thing give us its “reasons” for being the way it is, its “why” and its “how”, and this is based on the “principle of reason”, nihil est sine ratione, “nothing is without a reason” or “nothing is without reason”. But is there such a “sharp line” dividing these accounts of the thing in question? Each area of knowledge has its own “thing” for which it gives an account and, perhaps, an exploration of the thing and how it is accounted for in two or three AOKs might be a way of approaching the title. A tree in a Group One text such as a poem and a tree in a Group 4 biology class are still the same “tree”, but the approach to knowing what, why and how the tree is are quite different in these AOKs. Choosing to discuss WOKs or AOKs will determine the approach that you will take on this title.

Thinking, or what is called thinking  in our age, is a metaphysical stance involving an empowering and overpowering activity, and our search for knowledge involves this primordial stance towards the things that are requiring that we demand “explanations” not only for “what” the things are but “how” and “why” they are as they are. This “sense perception” of the thing originally determines what the thing will be for us. The inquiry into who the knowers are and what the things that they know are, how they establish the horizons or boundaries of those things in their definitions and classifications, arises from a preliminary “description” of the things that they choose to examine and a preliminary determination of what the things are. The inquiry into the “how” of definitions and classifications is a search for an understanding and “explanation” of the “key concepts” that are used in TOK and in learning today.

Another possible approach could be a discussion of  “to what extent” a “description” or an “explanation” gives greater illumination regarding the “truth” of the thing that is being discussed. When we are speaking about the “truth” regarding things, we are speaking about the manner in which we make propositions or assertions regarding the thing so that the thing under discussion comes to presence or “presents” itself to us. If, for example, we were to “describe” Picasso’s Guernica shown above, that is give a description of its form and its content, would that give a greater “illumination” of the work than an “explanation” of the work? In both cases, the work would have to become an “object” for us and be placed “outside” of us, and in so doing we would miss the “truth” that is “present” in the work itself. Great art, by its very nature, resists “objectivization”. “Description” precedes “explanation”; an awareness and agreement of what a thing is is prior to the “why” and the “how” of the thing itself. Newton’s law of motion, for example, as a description of the nature of things must be preceded by a prior description or understanding of nature that will allow that law to operate in our reasoning. Once that “description” is in place, then the laws of mathematics can be applied to it to provide an “explanation” for its behaviour.

Both “descriptions” and “explanations” are based on metaphors or analogies in that a thing to be an original, unique thing, must be identified as some thing in contrast to something else in order for it to be classified and defined. Our AOKs are all descriptions of the things that have been interpreted beforehand. All of our metaphysical accounts of things are based on metaphor i.e. they are interpretations. When we ask “to what extent” questions, a normative or standard interpretation of the thing about which the question is asked is already understood.

Should you choose to approach the topic from the point of view of the WOKs, you may find the following links helpful in building your arguments: Language as a Way of Knowing;  Personal Knowledge and Reason

Title 3: Does it matter that your personal circumstances influence how seriously your knowledge is taken?

Title #3 invites the student to reflect on the relation of personal and shared knowledge and what kind of knowledge is considered “valuable” to the community of which one is a member. What “type of knowledge” matters or is of some importance to that community, or what knowledge is taken “seriously” by that community?

One can see, for instance, what kind of knowledge is “valuable” to the “international community” of the future by looking at student choices of what IB subjects to study.  One can see that it is science and its applications which can be achieved through the study of mathematics as algebraic calculation. Calculative thinking is what is and what will be “valued” in the “future” world society of which you will be members. Some few individuals may be driven because they value “truth” and will find such truth in scientific knowledge; others will be driven towards the goal of making “big bucks” and gaining the prestige they desire within the communities of which they are members. Because of their “personal circumstances”, some students will be able to afford to enter the Ivy League colleges of the USA or the Oxfords and Cambridges of the UK, and as past historical examples have shown, if their entrance cannot be achieved by merit, then they will find other ways to gain entrance. Today, the appearance is all with regard to how “seriously” “your knowledge” will be taken whether you have any knowledge or not.

As I write this, there is a controversy in the USA regarding what occurred during Hurricane Dorian and its threat to the American East coast. The hurricane brought catastrophic devastation to parts of the Bahamas and was a threat to do the same to the USA. In the controversy, President Trump, who had decided to spend the weekend golfing rather than monitoring the hurricane and providing solace to those who might have been victimized by it, insisted that the state of Alabama was in danger from the storm in one of his many infamous tweets, but the scientists of the National Weather Service contradicted the statements that the President had made. It was quite clear that the President had decided not to keep himself updated on the progress of the storm while he was golfing, and his statement regarding the state of Alabama was based on information published three days earlier, prior to the storm arriving in the Bahamas, and not on the current weather information that had been issued by the NWS scientists.  Trump insisted, nevertheless, that his statement was accurate.

This incident illustrates the difficulty of establishing “reliable sources” for one’s information even prior to this information becoming “knowledge”. What role do “authorities” play with regard to how “seriously” one takes their knowledge? What constitutes an “authority” on a particular subject? How “seriously” is a rational person to take the information that is received from Donald Trump? What role do “experts” play in whether their knowledge should be taken seriously? What makes a source “reliable” and what is “reliability”? Given the existence of mass media, anyone can put themselves forward as an “expert” or “authority” of one kind or another on any topic. These are all questions that you should consider when writing your essay on this topic.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play that shows us the what, why and how of the relation of truth to tyranny in human beings and in the societies they form. We can relate this example to the “for whom” that “knowledge matters” and the consequences which result when the truth of the knowledge does not matter (there is no “knowledge” without “truth”). In tyrannies and fascist societies, truth must be manipulated and finally destroyed in order for the tyranny to flourish. Macbeth must first cloud and obscure his own reception of truth before he can carry out the murder of King Duncan; he must become “unnatural”. Following the murder and Macbeth’s becoming king, falsehood and deception rule and are constantly required for him to maintain the semblance of power. Shakespeare sees truth as something that belongs to human beings as human beings, and without truth we are not human beings; we become “monsters”, a word which comes from the original Latin monere or “warning”.

This example from Macbeth leads to the question of “personal circumstances” with regard to how “serious” one’s knowledge is taken. The Divine or the Eternal can take care of itself, but “truth” requires human beings to be receptive to it and to bring it to presence. Without the presence of truth, human beings will cease to be human. Our parables and the fairy tales that are part of our shared knowledge illustrate to us that truth somehow rests in “the smallest of things”, not in how many “likes” someone gets on their postings on modern media platforms. Perhaps our modern fascination with “giganticism” has led to this perception of what propositions should be taken “seriously”. When judging the sources of knowledge or information (they are not the same thing, and you could develop your essay by distinguishing between the two), one must be alert to “red flags” regarding the statements or propositions put forward by those who make them. If, for example, someone calls themselves “a philosopher” one can be quite certain that they are not in much the same way that when we hear someone who calls themselves a “saint” is not: their very calling precludes their being what they say they are. One can find many examples and parallels of this in American and world politics today where political leaders claim to be “experts” in fields in which they are clearly not. If Einstein had published his “Theory of Relativity” on the Internet and not in a respected scientific journal, its “truth” would not be known to us today but its “truth” would, nevertheless, remain present. Einstein was not in the best of “personal circumstances” when he wrote the paper.

What is the kind of knowledge that we value and why? Is “valued knowledge” in the “eye of the beholder”? That the emphasis on calculative thinking and the sciences as what is worthy to be called “knowledge” and is what is valued today is shown where art as “knowledge”, for instance, is not taken “seriously” and is considered to be merely for the entertainment of the masses in their leisure hours. What is being said about the culture that does not take its art “seriously”? When the Romans conquered ancient Greece, it was when the Romans removed the Greeks’ statues and their art that the Greeks wept. Would we weep today if our societies, our cultures lost their works of art? When the issue of cloning is brought up, the ideal of reproducing Einsteins and Mozarts is often mentioned. There is no mention of cloning a Mother Teresa. But this begs the question of whether or not our world needs more Einsteins or  more Mother Teresas. 

A long quote from Picasso should provide some perspective on “personal circumstances” and the “serious” knowledge of which we are speaking here: “In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exultation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understood me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited them as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.”

Title 4: “The role of analogy is to aid understanding rather than to provide justification.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Title #4 asks the student to distinguish between a number of key concepts in Theory of Knowledge: “understanding”, “justification”, “analogy”, and has the ubiquitous “to want extent” prompt for the thesis of an argument for the essay. Avoiding simple dictionary definitions of these key terms is best, so a recommended approach is an exploration of them through examples.

How does analogy work with regard to thinking? An analogy is a comparison which establishes a relation between unlike things. A map, for example, is an analogy which establishes a relation between the user of the map, the terrain of which the map is a model, and the unknown terrain over which he or she is traversing. Maps are “models”, and all models are analogies. Some models are more useful than others when it comes to helping our understanding of the things that we are trying to understand but some prior understanding of the things, the situations or contexts or of the things themselves is required before the analogy can be made and be effective.

If we look at our Venn diagram used to describe the TOK program, personal knowledge and shared knowledge are interwoven through the “relation” established by the WOKs. This diagram is also an analogy, an ana-logos or an “appropriate correspondence”, as this was understood by the Greeks and Latins. The relation between the “unlike” things is established through logos or speech: a naming of the thing to be discussed is put forward first so that a “correspondence” can be established between human beings and the thing that is named. For this naming to occur, it must first “come to light” as some thing. An “understanding” is reached through an agreed upon “judgement” of what the thing is, and this is how an analogy “aids” our understanding in our naming of what the things are. The naming helps us to ascribe limits to the thing and a “definition” of the thing beforehand. The naming allows us to classify the thing. What we call “knowledge” is the appropriate correspondence of the name to the thing and from it derives “the correspondence theory of truth”. Logos, fatefully, becomes translated by the Romans as logic so that it is through “logic” or what we have come to call “reason” that the correspondence between human beings and their world is most firmly established. For the Greeks, human beings were the zoon logon echon or the animal capable of speaking, or the animal whose nature was dominated by speaking or discourse; for the Latins, human beings become defined as the animale rationale or the animal capable of, or dominated by, reason. For the Greeks, things were brought to light through speech; for the Romans (and, subsequently, for us) it is through reason that things are brought to light. This bringing to light was done through “analogy”, an “appropriate correspondence”.

The role of analogy in reason as a way of knowing can be seen in our construction of inductive and deductive arguments and in our use of the algebraic calculations which are dominated by logic or “cause and effect”. Our use and reliance on algorithms is a dominant example of the role that analogy plays in our thinking today. “Argument from analogy” is a type of inductive argument where perceived similarities are used as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed. They aid in our making predictions of the possible outcomes of events or experiments, and we “value” the “correctness”, “precision” and “certainty” of establishing these outcomes or our judgements of the outcomes in advance. “Justification” is “judgement” and judgements require “evidence” which is obtained through what was historically known as the “categories”. The categories provide us with descriptions of the “case” under discussion. The categories give us the “what”, the “how”, and the “why” of the things.

Our metaphysical understanding of the world is based on analogy, or metaphor to be more precise. These analogies help us to navigate the terrain that is the mystery of Being-in-the-world, to use an analogy. They “aid” our understanding by helping us to clarify our understanding of what is. In your oral presentation, it is more than likely that you will use inductive analogy to move from a specific example (case) that you are examining to arrive at some universal question or statement regarding what the example’s “truth” is or how the general principle throws light on the essence of the example under discussion, the “whatness” of what the example is, your “judgement”.

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, critiqued the use of analogy in inductive reasoning, and it took nothing less than the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to adequately respond to his critique. Kant’s attempt to demonstrate that “synthetic judgements a priori” are possible is his attempt to save reason as a way of knowing from Hume’s critique. Hume critique states that our establishing of relations between the objects of the world and ourselves, our “experiences”, rests in and is driven by our own necessities and not necessities in the objects themselves. There is no analogy. Our belief and “understanding” of things is false from the start. Hume radically separates the mind within which ideas occur, from the body which receives impressions through sense perception as a way of knowing. The analogies that are made, according to Hume, are in the constructions of the mind and imagination, and their relation to the body is only based on whether or not they provide “pleasure or pain”.  There is no “justification” for our beliefs in the analogies that we have made between the world and ourselves because there is no correspondence; it is our necessities and not the necessities of nature which inhere in our judgements about things. What was the correspondence theory of truth devolves into the pragmatic theory of truth where “know how”, or “knowing one’s way about” in something (technology) or what we regard as our “understanding”, comes to dominate since our “know how” is how we grasp the things that are and this grasping “works” for us by helping us to achieve our ends whatever they may be, what we desire.

An inductive argument by analogy is an argument that goes beyond the information in the premises by making a projection on the basis of them and contains an analogy as one of its premises. As such, it is an argument where it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. An inductive argument by analogy can range in strength from very weak to very strong. There are two key features that determine the strength of an argument: the amount and variety of the features that A and B share; and the relevance of the features shared between A and B with respect to the conclusion. If A and B are similar in many relevant ways, then you are likely to have a strong argument. However, if A and B are similar in only a few ways or if the similarities are not really relevant to the conclusion, then you are likely to have a weak argument. Remember to consider this in the preparation of your oral presentations and also in the development of your arguments as you “judge to what extent”. In the Natural Sciences, for example, uniformity in the prior determinations of mass and motion allow the use of algebraic calculation to make predictions that can be verified through the outcomes of experiment. These “analogies” are very strong and until the discoveries of modern physics worked quite well for us as what we called “knowledge”. The discoveries of modern physics place this knowledge into question.

To say that two things (or situations) are analogous is to say that they are comparable in some relevant respect. This is not to say that two things are identical but only that they are relevantly similar in some way. In the Human Sciences, Social Darwinism is an example of an analogous model used to predict and determine outcomes of human behaviour in the politics, actions, and the societies that human beings create. The “fact/value” distinction that is the primary methodological principle of modern social science has its roots in Hume’s distinguishing between arguments of what ought to be cannot be made from arguments of what is. That is, that nature provides no grounds or “evidence” for determining what good and bad or good and evil are other than the “pleasure/pain” principle. In the Natural Sciences, we use the Rutherford model of the atom to “aid” us in understanding what an atom is even though the model has no relation to the results that arise from the discoveries of quantum physics. In Indigenous Knowledge Systems, on the Nicobar Islands, stories of the battles between the Goddesses of the Sea and the Earth informed the villagers that when the Earth Goddess appeared to gain the upper hand by the withdrawal of the sea, they knew that the Sea Goddess would return with a vengeance and so they took to higher ground and were saved from the resulting tsunami in December 2004.

In deductive argument by analogy, a deductively valid argument contains an analogy as one of its premises. First, an argument by analogy contains three parts: (1) the analogy  between two situations A and B, how they are alike and the manner in which they are alike (2) a statement P follows from situation A, and (3) the conclusion that P follows from situation B. However, there are also two key additions to this three part analysis. First, arguments by analogy contain an analogy (as a premise) which contends that two different situations (A and B) are analogous, i.e. they share some relevant feature x. Many arguments by analogy, however, do not specify what the specific relevant feature x is that A and B share. That is, they do not specify exactly how A and B are analogous. In order to analyze arguments by analogy, we add a fourth feature, which is an explanation of the analogy.

Second, in order for the argument by analogy to be deductively valid, we need a principle that makes it such that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Without this principle, it would be possible for the premises to be true and conclusion false. For example, it is possible for A and B to share a similar feature x, for P to be true in A, yet for P to be false in B. What a deductive argument by analogy requires is a principle that makes the argument valid. This is a principle asserts that P is true for anything that has some specific relevant feature x. The argument is now deductively valid for if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. None of this is to say that the premises or conclusion are in fact true, just that if they were true, then the conclusion also would be true. In your drafts of your essays and oral presentations, you should construct the inductive and deductive arguments by analogy that you are going to use. Following the steps outlined above by enumerating them should help you with this.

In the Arts, the now old film Forrest Gump often shows Forrest quoting his mother’s analogy that “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”. This use of analogy attempts to make appropriate valid comparisons between two unlike things. (See the discussion of Title #2 above).  The “correspondence” of the relation between the two things used for comparison is what makes the analogy and its use effective. In comparing life to a box of chocolates, the analogy stresses the element of chance in life with regard to the outcomes of our decisions and that, at times, we will not enjoy the outcomes of our choices.

In literature the use of simile, metaphor, allegory and analogy are common artistic techniques in poems and other works. When Robert Burns says “My love is like a red, red rose”, he is making a comparison between something abstract (“love”) to something that all human beings can relate to ( a red, red rose). If we should take his simile and change it to a metaphor “My love is a red, red rose” then confusion would reign with regard to his meaning. Someone from a scientific world-view would not be able to comprehend the statement because they would take it in a literal sense and think Burns was a botanist! George Orwell’s Animal Farm is considered to be an allegory or analogy of the Russian Revolution, but it could be an allegory for all revolutions.  In the Christian Bible, Christ often uses parables as analogies of complex ideas comparing them to things that all human beings can relate to: “”The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds.” Obviously, the analogies that parables make are not based on “emotion as a way of knowing” but are “aids” to “understanding” our experience of being-in-the-world and illustrate that “religion” is not, primarily, an emotional experience only. Many examples may be found in Indigenous Knowledge Systems as well as Religious Knowledge Systems. Analogical reasoning is one of the most common methods by which human beings attempt to understand the world and make decisions.

Title 5: “Given that every theory has its limitations, we need to retain a multiplicity of theories to understand the world.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #5 invites you to explore the meanings of a number of key concepts that are used throughout the explorations carried out in a TOK course. It is important that you demonstrate your understanding of the quote used in discussing two AOKs through examples from those AOKs in developing your response. These examples must be RLSs (real life situations) not hypothetical examples. To do so, something must be said about “theory”, the knowledge “produced” from these “theories”, the “limitations” of these various theories, our “need” for a “multiplicity” of theories, and our prior “understanding” of the world in which we live that establishes what things are and how they will be viewed to begin with.

A “theory” is a way of seeing. The manner in which we see or view the world will determine how our “theories” will be stated in language, whether that language be words or numbers. It is through language that the relations, the ways of knowing, between ourselves as knowers, our “personal knowledge”, and the things to be known, our “shared knowledge”, are established. The multiplicity of theories or ways of viewing the world is required because the world is experienced as a multiplicity of objects of various types. “Specialization” is what is required because it has become impossible for us to have knowledge of the whole. Was knowledge of the whole ever possible? TOK is an attempt to return to the questioning of the whole. When examining events historically, for instance, a number of various theories from various AOKs are used to try to gain an understanding of the whole of what that event is because each “theory” is limited in its nature or “essence”.

“Theory” is a very complex concept. From its Greek origins, théa means ‘look’, ‘sight’ and hora means ‘to see’, ‘to bring to sight’.  Thea as ‘sight’ is that which allows the look of something to be seen and is connected to eidos (form) which is the ‘outward appearance’ of some thing. For Plato, the eidos is eternal or permanent; the theoretical looks upon the permanent things, upon their “essence”, what the thing is. The ‘treeness’ of a particular tree is that which is present and permanent in all trees. The theoretical person is the one who looks upon something as it shows itself, who sees what is given to see. From this word comes our word “theatre”, and the theoros is the spectator who goes to the great festivals and dramas to ‘see’ and ‘to be seen’.

The other complex of ideas associated with theoretical is that of the root theo which is to look upon the divine, to look upon the eternal things, the permanent things or the things that do not change. For the Greeks, however, this looking was not one way: the theoretical was also how the divine looked upon us so that we are given a sight of the eternal things, or the first things (archai), and this giving of the sight of the divine was a ‘gift’. So, the theoretical is both the god’s looking upon us, which comes first, and our response to that look (theo=divine, horao=the disclosive looking back). The proper response on our part was, initially, a contemplative, pious, thankful ‘looking back’ in response to the god’s look upon us. To be a spectator at the theatre for a Greek was to have both the god looking upon them and their response to the god’s looking; to be a participant/spectator at the Greek theatre was to take part in a religious activity similar to our attitudes when we go into our churches, temples or mosques. There were no ‘fourth walls’ in the Greek theatre. The whole conception of a ‘fourth wall’ in theatre may, indeed, be a product of modern fantasy or a result of our predominant subject/object perspective which requires that the play being viewed be turned into an object.

The connection between the Greek understanding of the theoretical and the modern understanding is that in the modern the theory encompasses the first principles, the first things, which determine the procedures and experiments or experience of the things that are (methodology); this is what the Greeks understood as techne.  For us, the dominant first principle is the principle of reason. The things are required to ‘come to light’, to ‘come to sight’, within the principle of reason which establishes the validity of the other first principles e.g. the principle of contradiction, etc. The great achievement of quantum physics is the discovery that things don’t quite come to ‘sight’ in the manner in which we expected them to under this manner of viewing.

It is through our “theories” that we arrive at our understanding of what the “essence” of things are. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of what something is and what lets be what something is has changed since ancient times. Many of the important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This origin of the thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand what we conceive personal knowledge to be and what the shared knowledge is that is given to us in the handing over to us of our traditions.

Language is “the giving of an account”, and our account is that we reach knowledge when we represent things to ourselves as objects, summonsing them before us so that they will give us their reasons for being as they are. This is true whether we are speaking about the Natural Sciences or the Arts. In order to do this, well-defined procedures or “methodologies” have been developed and these procedures are what we call “research”. The “knowledge framework” is just one attempt to illustrate these procedures. These procedures belong to the very essence of what we think knowledge is because we believe that “research” is the effective condition for the realization of any knowledge; research “produces” knowledge. That which we call “knowledge” is such because the object which has been researched has been “revealed” or uncovered, “re-searched”. There are many examples that you can point to of the results that have come about through this research and have justified their theories in their uses.

While there are a “multiplicity of theories” within the various AOKs, our “understanding” of the world is based on the distinction between ourselves as “subject” and that which is as “object” so that most, if not all, theories begin with this assumption as their starting point, and our “seeing” are “pro-jections” on the things that are. All three words contain the Latin root jacio “to throw”, so our theories are a “throwing forward” and/or a “throwing against” the world understood as object. The world stands over against us. The “knowledge framework” of TOK is one example of this “throwing forward” in that the past (as History) is represented as an object or our “shared knowledge”. When we look at a thing as an object, it can only have meaning as an object for us. We can learn about it but not from it. This stance of command necessary to research kills the past as teacher.

In the Arts, the “work” of art must first be turned into an object so that it will lay below us as the transcending summonsers in order to answer our questions for its being as it is. In this transcendence, we ensure that the work’s meaning is “under” us and is therefore “dead” for us in the sense that it cannot teach us anything greater than ourselves. All the multivarious theories in Art today arose from the understanding of Art as “aesthetics”. It is not a coincidence that the theory of “art as aesthetics” arose in the 17th century simultaneously with our mathematical projection of the natural world: both required that the world be viewed as object. The place that experiment plays in the sciences is taken in arts’ and humanities’ research by the critique of historical sources i.e. the social contexts, the biographies of artists. The ancient Greeks, for example, did not relate to their art as “aesthetics”. Our views of the Arts as “aesthetics” has led the Arts to have less significance in the societies that these works inhabit. They have become “entertainment”. They provide us with “experiences” and are crucial to the “fun culture”. 

Belief is required to overcome the “limitations” that are present in our “theories” or views of the world. In the Natural Sciences, “evolution” is not taught as “theory” but as “fact”. This belief coincides with the “need” that human beings have for “truth”. In the West since the thinking of the French philosopher Rousseau, we have believed that there is a realm of being called ‘history’, and that there is a need to try to understand what the science of that realm was supposed to teach us. The need for truth that human beings have as the deepest part of their nature, that “need” that provokes them to give thought to the whole of things, requires that we ask questions that go beyond the “research” and “theory” in the natural sciences or of history. When human beings ignore this “need”, they will become less “humane” because of the inevitable tyranny that will result from their way of viewing the world.

Title #6: “Present knowledge is wholly dependent on past knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #6 invites you to explore the nature of “present knowledge” and “past knowledge” and whether or not “present” knowledge is “wholly dependent” on the knowledge that has been handed over to us from the past. The reference to “present” and “past” is, of course, a reference to time, and time is a reference to History. This presents a challenge in that our word for “History” in English does not distinguish between “the study of” what is called history (which might be better called “historiology” or “historiography”) and “that which is studied”, the “object” of history that is an historical event or artifact. “History” relates to time; “knowledge” to human being-in-the-world. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said that “Only that which has no history can be defined” by which he meant that the necessity and contingency of “change” is our dominant experience of being-in-the-world and because of this, we can never have “knowledge” of the things that are but can only impose “permanence” on this change through our “will to power”. Another statement by the French existentialist, J. P. Sartre, is that “Existence precedes essence” and it indicates that “what” something is cannot be determined until it has no “history”.  History dominates our understanding of what things are; all things have a “history”. Nowadays, many write as if God has a history.

While the title speaks of “present” and “past” knowledge and their relation to one another, the purpose of this knowledge in the “present” must also be taken into consideration and that implies that the “future” is also understood in what we consider knowledge to be. What is the aim or goal for that which we call “knowledge”? Why study history, for instance?

This title can be approached in either a direct way, by using the “knowledge framework” and examining the histories of the development of the Human Sciences and the histories of the discoveries in the Natural Sciences, for instance. A similar approach could also be taken towards a discussion of the Arts. One may take a chronological approach where every development or significant discovery builds upon past research such as the Periodic Table, our models of atomic structure, and so on. The history of “movements” in the Arts could also be undertaken showing how these “movements” relied on a “past” understanding of what the Arts were attempting to do. “Past knowledge” creates the “box” which thinking becomes enfolded in, and yet the thinking is not wholly dependent on this “box” as paradigm shifts do occur.as in quantum theory and Einstein’s relativity. (See The Natural Sciences: Historical BackgroundNotes on Ancient Greek Philosophy and Modern ScienceThe Arts as an Area of KnowledgeThe Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:)

“Historicism” dominates how we view our “past knowledge” and how our past knowledge comes to be “interpreted” and “understood” as “present knowledge”. Under the influence of the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and later through an impressive array of historical data and analysis, European intellectual life became influenced and later dominated by the contention that all human thought is radically contingent. That is, the diversity and bewildering change that was revealed by the historical sciences led many intellectuals to assume that the ideas of the past were bound absolutely by the particular historical limitations of the age, and such limitations can never be overcome by any human effort.

This historicism, especially in its more radical and nihilistic forms, meant that no ideas can ever claim any sort of universal validity, including the ideas of “good” and “evil”. The effect that this historicism has on human thought is that the conclusions of the historicist do not lead to “enlightenment”,  (as the Age wherein these thoughts first arose) but rather leave the thinker without any rational guidance in ordering his personal or social-political existence: a single comprehensive view is imposed on us by fate: the horizon within which all our understanding and orientation take place is produced by the fate of the individual or of his society. As mentioned in the discussion of title #5, examination and research in the Arts is dominated by the examination of historical sources. The same could also be said of the Human Sciences. One of the essential questions regarding historicism is that is not historicism, our “present knowledge” regarding the truth of things, is not historicism itself a product of its time and, therefore, not inherent in the truth of things themselves?

The historical development of the Human Sciences shows the abandonment of an unconditional distinction between right and wrong among modern thinkers, and by modern I mean that thinking which first arose in the Age of Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries. What is lacking because of this abandonment is any substantive conviction concerning those permanent moral and ethical principles not of merely human making or contrivance that can provide us with an intelligible guide toward the proper ordering of our existence. To put it in other words, for us moderns the “good” is not accessible to “reason” but is merely a “value” judgement i.e. the “good” is in the eye of the beholder. For we moderns, much of the personal and political nihilism that we have inherited as part of our “past knowledge” and upon which our “present knowledge” depends, stems from this lack of any standard independent of positive right and higher than positive right (i.e. of our own making or contrivance), a standard with reference to which we can judge of the ideals of our own as well as of any other society. This abandonment of “natural right” has taken place because of the role of history and historicist thought in the development of the nineteenth and twentieth century social sciences.

“Past knowledge” requires interpretation. An “interpretation” is what is called hermeneutics nowadays. Hermeneutics comes from Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology (though he is very similar in nature to the Norse god, Loki), and pneuma or “breath”, “in-spiration”, to “breathe in” or “take in”, and was related to the life spirit or our being-in-the-world. So hermeneutics is initially rooted in the “divinely inspired” interpretation of religious texts or the “messages of the gods”. Today, however, everything is understood as text, or “object”, something to be interpreted from the commanding summonsing of the “subject”. The physical world is a text; the works of Shakespeare and their productions are texts; the Bible and the Koran are texts. These texts, however, are not understood as “messages from the gods” to be interpreted and understood, something which has been given or gifted to us, but are more related to what we call “theory”, “truth” and “method” (which is why we have the “knowledge framework” and Indigenous and Religious Knowledge Systems as two AOKs). From our commanding summonsing stance, “past knowledge” is “old knowledge”, “outdated knowledge”, something that we can learn about but cannot learn anything of worth from. We somehow see our own knowledge as a creation ex nihilo, which is not dependent on anything but our Selves. The findings of relativity and quantum physics in the Natural Sciences are clearly not “wholly dependent” upon “past knowledge” but are also not possible without that “past knowledge” already being in place.

The commandeering summonsing stance is the ground of historicism and is what is called the “technological”. It is part of our fate, first as Westerners and now as “global citizens”. It issued forth in “the religion of progress”, but now historicism has even shown that “progress” itself is a “value” which is highly questionable. The “know how” that is understood in the Greek word techne illustrates our summonsing stance and is one of the flowerings of the essence of technology. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of what something is and what lets be what something is has changed since ancient times and this change arose from our differing view of how Nature was interpreted.

Many of the important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This origin of the thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand what we conceive “past knowledge” to be and thus what we consider our personal knowledge to be and what that past or shared knowledge is that is given to us in the handing over to us of our traditions. For those of us from North America, we have to understand that North American societies have little or no cultural history of their own which pre-dates the modern age, i.e. the age of utilitarian reason, “free-thinking” rationalism, and material-technical progress (technology as it is commonly understood). In North America, the needs of the spirit have been overcome by a pre-occupation with consumption and pleasure, and this is in no little way due to North Americans’ inheritance from the “past knowledge” of the thinking that was going on in Europe.

Historicism dominates our interpretations of what we call the Human Sciences. In North America (and now world-wide),  we have become completely oriented toward some future world, one that must bear the mark of our own creative freedom. Our destiny has become bound up with the will to change the world (to “make history”) through the expansion of scientific learning. We have made actual the dream of the philosophes of our past knowledge — to conquer an indifferent nature and harness it for purposes limited only by the human imagination. In the process we have learned to subordinate the past and the present to the future, so much so that the very meaning of human existence is bound up with what is yet to be (“existence precedes essence”). What is and what has been find their significance only in their relationship to the future; for modern human beings, time has become history, and history means the progressive fulfillment of man’s quest for a humanist centred mastery and perfection.

When the production of knowledge is directed towards the future, the net of inevitable progress is a shallow secular form of the belief in God,  and just as the historical sense has killed god, it kills the secular descendants of that belief (Nietzsche). For Nietzsche, two distinct character types will emerge in the modern world as a result of this “past knowledge”: the “last men” and the “nihilists.”

The last men are those who will continue to understand their existence simply in terms of the shallow and petty pleasures of life based on the “passions”, and will understand politics in terms of mass democracy and the continued social quest for material progress. Such individuals will, in turn, make up the mass of ordinary individuals in the modern technological society. The nihilists, on the other hand, are those relatively few individuals who, under the influence of scientific rationalism, recognize that all values, especially the trivial values of the last men, are all relative and contrived for they have learned this from their “historicism”. They will be the ones to see through the contradiction at the heart of contemporary liberalism, even to the point of undermining rationalism itself. It is from these individuals, the true heirs of Western rationalism, that Western civilization has the most to fear. Such men, says Nietzsche, are strong-willed, yet have no content for their willing, not even reason itself. This means that they will be resolute in their will to mastery, but they cannot know what that mastery is for (Grant, Time as History 1969, 34). The violence which is precipitated by the nihilists will therefore be unlike any experienced in past ages; the rise of Nazism is a prime example of the Nietzschean prophecy fulfilled. The thinking arose in Germany and it was Germany that first had to endure its coming forth. Contemporary North American and world politics see Nietzsche’s prophecy being enacted and unfolded globally. The thinking of Nietzsche lets us know where we are and who we are from the “past knowledge” that we have inherited.

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


AOK: Individuals and Societies: Supplementary Notes


Individuals and Societies: Historical Background: The Arrival of the Modern

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows: each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy; the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,

And the rude son should strike his father dead;
Force should be right, or rather, right and wrong
(Between whose endless jar, justice resides)
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite,
And appetite, an universal wolf,
(So doubly seconded with will and power),
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last, eat up himself. –Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida Act 1 sc. iii

We have been attempting to explore the origins of the “theoretical viewing” that have determined how what we call the Human Sciences or Individuals and Societies in the West have come about and through this viewing how human beings of the West make their judgements of the other human beings that inhabit our planet. In examining the historical background behind the development of the Human Sciences, we must ask the question: What is the uniqueness, the peculiarity of modernity in the West and the human beings who live within it, and how might it be distinguished from the classical Western world-view of Plato and Aristotle? What we call “ethics” is inseparable from what we call the study of the Human Sciences but why and how have they become separate as two distinct domains of Knowledge? What does this significant fact tell us about who we are and who we think we are and how we view things in the world and our actions within the world?

If we wish to look at how and why ethics has become separate from the Human Sciences we have to understand that modernity in the West is “secularized Biblical faith”; the “other worldly” faith has become “this worldly”: not to hope for life in heaven, but to establish heaven on earth by purely human means. Once again it must be reiterated that what is being said here is that there is no distinction between theory and practice. The theory is the practice. “Globalization” and “international mindedness” are but the latest secularized expressions of this original Biblical faith which had “charity” or caritas as its highest end i.e. the recognition of the “otherness” of the world and of the human beings in it. These modern secularized views find their ultimate realization in the universal, homogeneous state of Hegel.

Today’s Human Sciences find their grounding in positivism so it is necessary to keep this in mind when we examine the historical background of the Human Sciences. The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), for example, conceives of human beings as a polarity of “evil pride” and a salutary “fear of death”; this is a secularized version of sinful pride and fear of the Lord. “Secularization” then means that the thoughts, feelings, or habits that were of Biblical origin are retained after the loss or atrophy of Biblical faith. Could the modern technological project be conceived without the help of these previous ingredients of Biblical faith? Is it possible to speak of the modern technological project as “one” since its chief character is novelty and change?

In the area of knowledge Individuals and Societies, what we mean by modernity is the understanding that a radical modification of pre-modern political philosophy (and, thus, of “the human sciences” of Plato and Aristotle) took place; the modification comes to sight as a rejection of pre-modern political philosophy. In our “shared knowledge” we can see that part of this modification is the very fact that “politics”, the covenants and laws that determine how human beings will live in their communities, is not considered the “queen of the social sciences” in today’s thinking. This rejection of pre-modern political philosophy takes place during that period which we in the West call the Renaissance. We can see how this change occurred by the fixing of the beginning of modernity by means of a non-arbitrary criterion: if modernity begins with a break from the pre-modern view of the world, the great minds who achieved this break must have been aware of what they were doing.

Who is the first philosopher to see pre-modern political philosophy as unsound? Thomas Hobbes. But closer study shows that Hobbes was continuing the thinking of Machiavelli (1459-1527). (Strauss, What is Political Philosophy) We can say that the foundation and genesis of what we know today as the “human sciences” finds it conception in the thoughts of Machiavelli. Why is this so? Machiavelli claims that true political philosophy (and thus what we call “the social (human) sciences”) begins with him. Machiavelli describes himself as a Christopher Columbus, his contemporary, and like Columbus, Machiavelli sees himself as exploring and discovering new continents and determining new horizons regarding morality and politics. What is Machiavelli’s “new” position and how is it grounded?

Machiavelli profoundly disagrees with others regarding how a prince should conduct himself towards his subjects and his friends. The reason for this is that he is concerned with the factual, practical truth and not with fancies. Many (primarily Plato and  Augustine) have imagined commonwealths and principalities which never were, because they looked at how men ought to live (virtue) instead of how human beings, in fact, do live. Machiavelli opposes to the idealism of the traditional political philosophy a realistic approach to political things. This is the first part of his approach, his moral, ethical approach. The second part: “Fortuna (chance, necessity, fortune) is a woman who can be controlled by the use of force.”

Classical political philosophy was a quest for the best political order, or the best regime as a regime most conducive to the practice of virtue or how human beings should live within their communities. It was profoundly ethical. According to classical political philosophy, the establishment of the best regime depends necessarily on uncontrollable, elusive Fortuna or chance. According to Plato’s Republic the coming into being of the best regime depends on coincidence: the unlikely coming together of philosophy and political power. Aristotle agrees with Plato: the best regime is the order most conducive to the practice of virtue, and the actualization of the best regime depends on chance; the best regime cannot be established if the proper matter or content is not available i.e. if the nature of the available territory and the available people is not fit for the best regime. Whether or not that matter is available in no way depends on the art of the founder, but on chance (Plato and Aristotle called politics the “royal art” or the “royal techne”).

Machiavelli seems to agree with Aristotle: one cannot establish the desirable political order if the matter is corrupt i.e. if the people are corrupt; but what for Aristotle is an impossibility is for Machiavelli only a very great difficulty: the difficulty can be overcome by an outstanding man who uses extraordinary means in order to transform corrupt matter into good matter. The obstacle to the establishment of the best regime which is man as matter, the human material, can be overcome because that matter can be transformed. Human beings are infinitely malleable.

The imagined republic of Plato is based on a specific understanding of nature which Machiavelli rejects. According to Plato, all natural beings, at least all living beings, are directed towards an end, a perfection for which they long (the Good); there is a specific perfection which belongs to each specific nature; there is especially the perfection of human being which is determined by the nature of human being as the rational (logos) social animal. The “essence” precedes the “existence” to put it in other words. Nature supplies the standard (the “degree” in the quote from Shakespeare above), a standard wholly independent of human beings’ will; this implies that nature is good. Human beings have a place–a definite place– within the whole. Human beings are the microcosm in that they are wholes themselves, but they occupy that place by nature; human beings have their place in an order that they did not originate or create. “Man is the measure of all things”, the famous saying of the sophist Protagoras, is the very opposite of “Man is the master of all things”.

Human beings have a place within the whole: human beings’ power is limited; human beings cannot overcome the limitations of their nature. Our nature is ‘enslaved’ (Aristotle) or we are “the playthings of the gods” (Plato). This limitation shows itself in particular in the power of chance/necessity/fortuna. The good life is the life according to nature which means to stay within certain limits, as is suggested by the Pythagoreans (who discovered “degrees” and “music” and thus provide the background for the metaphor used by Shakespeare in the quote that begins this entry). Virtue is essentially moderation or what the Greeks termed sophrosyne or prudence and its knowledge is based on “experience” or what the Greeks called phronesis, or what is understood as “experience”. Our happiness is decisively dependent on the limitations of our desires in our knowledge and understanding of ourselves. (cf. the tragic literature in the study of the Language A texts, particularly Oedipus Rex,  where the tragic heroes are precisely those who do not know who they are; they “miss the mark”, hamartia, in their actions which exceed the limits in some way. Literature, decidedly, has an ethical and moral purpose behind its study and is not “value-free”).

According to the Western Bible, human beings are created things in the image of God. They are given rule over all terrestrial creatures: human beings are not given rule over the whole but only a part of the whole. Human beings have been put into a garden to work it and to guard it, to nurture and abet its flowering. Human beings have been assigned a place. Righteousness (justice) is obedience to the divinely established order (just as justice in the Greeks is compliance with the natural order); to the recognition of elusive chance corresponds the recognition of inscrutable Providence (God’s will). (See the discussion on William Blake in imagination as a way of knowing Imagination as a Way of Knowing).

According to Machiavelli, traditional views either lead to the consequence that political things are not taken seriously (Plato’s Republic is, finally, a comedy…a discussion of the best regime in speech is undertaken by men who will soon experience the worst regime in deed, but it is an ironic comedy), or else political things are understood in light of an imaginary perfection, of imagined states or principalities, the most famous being the kingdom of heaven (Augustine’s The City of God). Machiavelli: one must start from how men live; one must lower one’s sights. Immediate corollary: the reinterpretation of virtue or morality (what has now come to be called “ethics” and “values”): virtue must not be understood as that for the sake of which the commonwealth (state) exists, but virtue exists exclusively for the sake of the commonwealth (state). Patriotism is the highest virtue.

According to Machiavelli, political life is not subject to morality. Morality is not possible outside of political society; it presupposes political society. Political society cannot be established and preserved by staying within the limits of morality for the simple reason that the effect or the conditioned cannot precede the cause or condition. The establishment of political society and even of the most desirable political society does not depend on chance, for chance can be conquered or corrupt matter can be transformed into incorrupt matter according to the thinking of Machiavelli.

The solution of the political problem for Machiavelli is guaranteed because: 1: the goal is lower i.e. in harmony with what most human beings desire; and 2. chance can be conquered. The political problem becomes a technical problem (a matter for techniques used by the prince). Nations, states, communities desire four things primarily: freedom from foreign domination; stability or the rule of law; prosperity; and glory or empire. The matter is not corrupt or vicious; there is no evil in human beings that cannot be controlled. What is required is not divine grace, morality, nor the formation of character (ethical education), but laws and institutions with “teeth in them”. Lee Kwan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, can be said to be an example of a modern “Machiavellian” and the evidence of his successes (and failures) can be seen by anyone who visits the country.

The first result of Machiavelli’s great change occurs with the revolution in the Natural Sciences: the emergence of modern natural science (first with Galileo (1564-1642) and further in Newton (1643-1727) and referred to in Leibniz (1646-1717) and the introduction of infinitesimal and finite calculus through the revolutionary role of algebra). This change may be understood as the rejection of final causes: a new understanding of science with a new understanding of nature: knowledge is no longer understood as “receptive”. The initiative in understanding is with human beings, not within the cosmic order. Human beings, literally, become the center of the universe (the rise of humanism). In seeking knowledge, human beings call nature before the judgment of reason; human beings put “nature to the question” and “torture” nature (Bacon: 1561-1626). Knowing is a kind of making; human understanding through the principle of reason prescribes to nature its laws. Human beings’ power is much greater than before believed. Not only can human beings transform corrupt human matter into incorrupt human matter, or conquer chance–all truth and meaning originate in human beings–they are not inherent in a cosmic order which exists independently of human beings’ activities. Truth and meaning are the “values” that human beings themselves create through their actions.  Correspondingly, poetry is not understood as inspired imitation or reproduction, but as creativity. It is with Machiavelli that the age of “humanism” arrives: the view of human beings as autonomous freedom, as “resources” and “disposables”, begins, or what we call “social engineering” begins.

The second great effect of Machiavelli’s thinking is that the purpose of science is reinterpreted: it is for the relief of the human condition, for the conquest of nature, for maximum control, the systematic control of the natural conditions of human life and of human beings, the making of corrupt matter less corrupt. From this arises the modern view of justice. The conquest of nature implies that nature is the enemy, a chaos that is to be reduced to order. Everything good is due to human labour rather than nature’s gift: nature supplies only the materials which human beings through their techne bring to perfection. Human communities are in no way natural: the state or regime of a human community is simply an artifact due to covenants (laws). Man’s perfection is not the natural end of human beings as Plato and Aristotle believed, but an ideal freely formed by human beings, a “value” (man’s essence is freedom which finds its realization in action or “existence”). “Existence precedes essence” because human being is the as yet “undetermined animal” as Nietzsche would say in the 19th century.

The Fact/Value Distinction

From what has been said regarding the historical background of the development of the human sciences, we can examine how what is called “the fact/value distinction” in the Human Sciences came about. The fact/value distinction in the Human Sciences is part of the core of its metaphysics or its way of viewing the world. It is based on the need for “objectivity” in its methodology as scientific research in order to gain true knowledge of the object under investigation through the use of logic i.e. a rational view of human beings (individuals) and their communities (societies). It decrees that there is a fundamental difference between judgements of fact (scientific judgements) and judgements of value since “values” are inaccessible to human logic and reason and, therefore, are beyond the ability of science to make any statements about them, of what is good or bad. The social scientist must avoid value judgements altogether. Every textbook and methodology of the human sciences begins with this premise and it is part of its “shared knowledge”, what has been passed on to others who wish to pursue knowledge in this area of knowledge.

“Values” are here defined and understood as the things/outcomes preferred and the principles of preference and if we look to the grounds for the principles of these preferences we will see that they are based on the prevailing views of what a society (in this case Western society) upholds as being good. The Human Sciences as presented to us as an Area of Knowledge are supposedly “value free” or “ethically neutral” as they attempt to base their grounding in the principles of the modern natural sciences. But because the Human Sciences deal with human beings and their communities, what we call “social science” is unable to justify the reasons for its existence, for instance, for to do so would be to make a “value judgement” i.e. to deduce what the purposes or the values of the Human Sciences are, or what their use is for.

Now, presumably, human scientists would say that the purpose of their engagement with their objects of study is the pursuit of “truth” regarding the “what”, the “how” and the “why” of those objects i.e. human beings and their actions in their communities. But the difficulty they have with their “viewing” is that it itself is a product of the very society or culture that they are attempting to judge and it is one of the “values” that that society has promulgated prior to the inception of the science itself. All other societies which they view will be judged by those “values” that are inherent in the goals and purposes of the social sciences themselves and these “values” are the baggage that the methodologies of these sciences bring with them and which are greater than those sciences themselves. To attempt to overcome this, the human sciences engage in “cross-cultural research”. In our areas of knowledge we have “Indigenous Knowledge Systems” and “Religious Knowledge Systems” as examples of attempts to get beyond the prejudices of our own viewing. But the very use of the word “system” indicates that the viewing is conceived from a modern western society and this viewing fits best only with that particular society. It is here that historical understanding comes into play. Any answers to knowledge questions using the rules of the principles of reason will depend on the “subjective” viewing or “values” of the viewer and these, in turn, will be based on the “interests” of the viewer, not upon logic. The subjective and objective elements of social science cannot be separated from each other. 

From the time of Machiavelli to the present day, the “facts” of “how” human beings actually do live and the “what” and the “why” of those social facts has already been pre-decided. Machiavelli’s assertion states that human beings are completely malleable and as corrupt matter can be made less corrupt through social engineering, the techne of the prince. These are, of course, “value judgements” according to the social scientists. These judgements of value continue to the present day and will continue into the future as the goal of the Human Sciences clarifies itself in cybernetics or the unlimited mastery of an elite of human beings over that mass which is other human beings. The “good” society or societies will be decided and created by the helmsmen (helmspersons) using human beings as “disposables” and “resources”. What is “good”, the making of “corrupt matter” less “corrupt”, will be determined through the techne of this elite.

AOK: Individuals and Societies or the Human Sciences: Part One


Preliminary Statements on Human Being

The word “knowledge” has been traditionally understood as “science” or episteme, from which comes our word “epistemology” or “theory of knowledge”, the “science of knowledge”, “the knowledge of knowledge”, “how do I know X” or “how do we know Y”. The “science of…” something is considered to be the grounded knowledge that has come to constitute those specific things that are within each AOK as a unique area of knowledge and so they become part of the “shared knowledge” that we have which has been “given over” or handed over to us. But from where does this classification of the things within the AOKs stem? We believe our knowledge comes from the “rendering of an account” of some thing based on the principle of reason: “I know be-cause”, the cause “is”, the cause “being”. We believe we attain the truth of some thing, knowledge of it, through the principle of reason, primarily through one of its sub-principles, cause and effect, and the logic upon which the principle of causality is based.

Individuals and Societies, the Human Sciences, could be called “The Science of Humans”, the knowledge that we have already grounded with regard to what human being is and what human beings are, the starting points from which we can begin our journey towards understanding Human Being and human beings. This “science” originates in, has its grounds in, what we now call “biology”, “the science of” (“logy”) “life” (bios) or living things. The Human Sciences, Individuals and Societies, must take as their starting point the findings of the Natural Sciences. In order for the Human Sciences to begin their study, what human beings are and how they are must already be defined in some preliminary way through the findings of the Natural Sciences. This way of viewing is Western European in origin. Traditionally, it was known as psychology.

Two opposing views are present today and are related to the religions or faiths of both camps: human beings are either the products of modification and chance (evolution) or human beings are “created” beings that have a purpose and destiny for their being. i.e. they have an essence. This clash shows itself in the views of human beings as “ids” (“things”, “it”s) or “Selves”, or that human beings are not “their own” as Socrates expresses so beautifully in the Platonic dialogue Phaedo and elsewhere.

The Human Sciences consider not only what human beings are, but how they act or behave. Again, if we remember what the sciences attempt to do in the modern age, it is to domineer and control those objects which they investigate in order to possess predictive knowledge of the behaviours of those objects.  The application of this knowledge toward the objects of study (in this case human beings), the enfolding of the “logos” into the “techne”, or the “knowing” into the “making” (the application of that knowledge), is what we have called  technology. We have elsewhere called “technology” a way of knowing. It is one possible comportment of human beings towards beings/things that pre-determines what those beings/things are and how they are to be dealt with.

What we call the human sciences was called by the Greeks episteme ethika or ethos, the science of human behaviour, the comportment of human beings towards each other and towards the world which human beings inhabit. Human behaviour or “action” is “ethics”. The Greeks did not separate “theory” from “practice” as we do. “Theory” was one’s way of being in the world for it provided the comportment, the scope, for how one “viewed” the world. The deliberations we make about what course of action we are to take are not ethics; the actions themselves are the ethics. This confusion has created a lot of useless spilt ink and windy chat over the understanding of ethics and its relation to “values”. (For an understanding of the word “values” and its origins see the writings on Nietzsche, particularly the relation of values to will and action. (Darwin and Nietzsche: Part 3: Truth as “Correctness”: Its Relation to “Values”).

The Greeks divided up the sciences into three categories: Λόγος is the science of speaking, as opposed to ε͗πιστήμη φυσική the science of the cosmos and ε͗πστήμη η͗θική, the science of comportment towards others ,or ethics . However, for the Greeks, speaking is to be conceived neither as vocal utterance nor as an incidental property of human beings. Rather it encompasses ‘language, speaking, thinking’ as ‘the way in which we reveal and illumine (both for ourselves and for others) the world and our own human existence’ so that ‘we gain insight into ourselves and an outlook on, and a practical insight into, the world’. This emphasis on speech is the reason the poets were held in such high regard in ancient Greece.

Brief Historical Background

Historically, as mentioned above, the sciences were divided into three broad areas and were understood as the science of physics (the natural world), the science of ethics (the human sciences of human beings and their actions) and the science of “speech” or the logos. The science of speech is the way in which our personal and shared knowledge come together, how our knowledge is “handed over” and so becomes knowledge for us as individuals and as societies. It is the science of our “relatedness” to the world and the things of the world. So we have “the world” (physics) and “human beings” (ethics) and the “science of speech” (logos) which overlaps the two. This “science of speech” is what we refer to as our ways of knowing although this is not a clear definition of what the “science of speech” is. We could sum up the “science of speech” in the word “rhetoric”, but this word has too much derogatory historical baggage brought about by misunderstandings of what “rhetoric” originally meant. We might also call it “history” for it is a telling of human actions rendered in speech. To Josef Stalin is attributed the statement:  “Only the winners get to write the history”, and this statement was recently appropriated by the US Attorney General William Barr when he was asked about his dropping of the case against Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor to the President. It is apropos that Barr should have chosen those words given what is currently occurring in US politics.

From this brief discussion, we can see that the Ethics and the AOK the Human Sciences are inextricably linked and that this linkage has been forgotten; and in our forgetfulness, we have come to classify them as two distinct AOKs (even though they are not done so in the May 2022 Guide). But why has this distinction become necessary? One of the causes for this is the “fact-value” distinction that is central to the methodology of the Human Sciences, and we shall discuss this distinction in more detail later (although the “fact/value” distinction is more of a consequence rather than a cause).

Once again, a few words regarding Plato’s allegory of the Cave will illustrate the problematic that is in question here. Some may find my repeated references to Plato’s allegory of the Cave tedious, but in the philosophy and history of the West this writing of Plato’s is crucial for our understanding (or misunderstanding) of ourselves and our actions. Since technology as a way of knowing has and will come to dominate the future of our comportment towards the world and the other beings and human beings in it, it is crucial to try to gain an understanding of who and what we are since we of the West have delivered this fate to the rest of humanity. If the subject matter of Individuals and Societies as an AOK  is human beings, and if it is human beings that are in themselves being questioned by other human beings, then how those questioners understand themselves must be understood in order to gain any insight into the findings that will come about from the Human Sciences. It is quite clear from the many examples present today that graduates of the Human Sciences will use their knowledge to do ill rather than good to other human beings in the future, and this is but one example of how and why Ethics and the Human Sciences are inseparable.

In Plato’s allegory, human beings understand themselves only in terms of what they encounter, only in terms of the world. The enchained ones see themselves only as shadows. How does a transition to a higher level of truth come about? Where do we find what is essential to the differences in the levels of truth, what has come to be perceived (erroneously) as “truth relativism”? We are not speaking about a “truth relativism” here; our speaking about things will either bring things to a greater light or leave them in the shadows. There is no “alternative truth” or “alternative reality” here; things are either revealed as they truly are or they are not. It is the same “reality” that is being spoken about and that prevails.

Gaining more “experiences” by way of the old cognitions, having a greater variety and novelty of “uncovered things”, does not achieve the transition to a greater light because our mode of being or comportment is only one of shadows. This is explained in much more depth in the writing “Understanding Plato’s Shadows”. CT 1: Understanding the Shadows The enchained human being must be released so that they can see in the light itself, and in this light they can release the things which they be-hold. As we have written elsewhere, the light in Plato is a metaphor for Love and Human Being must gain knowledge of this light and its nature. This requires a change in the way human beings are in the world so that in their seeing, in their comportment towards the things that are, they will see the things as they really are.

Such a transition to a comportment moved by Love is not easily accomplished and the allegory speaks of a pain-filled journey to this state of comportment towards the things that are. It is nothing less than the de-construction of the ego, the Self, so that things may be viewed in the light of their otherness and consented to in their otherness so that they may be released. Shakespeare’s King Lear is the best example of this journey that we have in our language.

For Plato, what we call our “freedom” is only our recognition of the light as light i.e. truth. We are advised at times to avoid any discussions of truth; but the connection of what we call “knowledge” to what we conceive the truth to be is unavoidable; they cannot be separated nor avoided. Truth, the light, is not “relative”. The light is light. Human beings are not the creators of the light; one could say that they are more in the nature of abettors allowing the light to act and to bring things to light. The question is: how much does the light reveal of what the things are? Why do things resist their revealing? This must be recognized for how else are we to get “better” answers in our essays and exhibitions unless a norm has already been pre-established and aimed at. The silly talk of the relativity of truth in our public domain is brought about by those who would choose to hide or obfuscate the truth for reasons which are, usually, less than savoury. One is reminded of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.

According to Plato, truth or the light is that which is given to us by the highest Idea, the Idea of the Good. This highest Idea is the completion of our understanding of the things that are and it prescribes the “limit” to our understanding of those things i.e. it allows us to state what the things are, to de-fine and de-limit them. The Idea of the Good is what gives to things their “fittedness” and beauty. It is the ground and origin of all beings and of Being itself. As the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “Faith is experience that the intelligence is illuminated by Love.” For Weil and Plato, Love is higher than Reason or logic if we wish to understand the truth of the being of beings. Both Love and Reason as ways of knowing and comportments towards the things that are, are prior to philosophy; they are not philosophy itself.

In our comportment to other human beings in the Human Sciences, we remain within the shadows of our caves, our “shared knowledge”. We are called upon to journey to understand the nature of the light itself so that we may see the things as they really are.

In the past, the TOK has found that the definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” which was provided in Plato’s Theatetus as inadequate for our understanding of what knowledge is. Plato’s Theatetus is part of a trilogy of dialogues, the others being Sophist and Statesman. There is a connection or linkage between the three dialogues and they relate to the three disciplines that were outlined above as encompassing all knowledge areas for the Greeks.

Plato’s Theatetus deals with aisthesis or what we call “sense perception” as a way of knowing, doxa or “opinion”, “language”, and episteme or “knowledge”. These concepts are all concerned with our modes of “apprehension” and our modes of knowledge or what we consider knowledge to be. They are our comportments to the things when Love is not present; and they are our knowledge of the things and the “statements” that are made about the things which give us the knowledge that is to be gained when Love is not present. For Plato, these comportments and their knowledge are “the shadows” or things that “are not”. But how can some thing both be and not be at the same time?

Our speaking with each other and to each other is not something that goes on all the time, but speech itself—λόγoς—is always going on—whether we’re repeating what others have said, or telling stories, or even just silently speaking to ourselves or explaining things to ourselves or taking responsibility for ourselves. In this broad and natural sense, speech and speaking is a way that human beings behave, one that reveals a natural, pre-scientific view, such as when we are young. It indicates what the difference is between human beings and other living things in the world. Our specific being as human beings is revealed by our speech. And what is essential about speaking is that it is experienced as speaking to others about something. It is a behaviour which makes us stand out as human beings. Through speech we learn how to guide all our other behaviours toward other human beings and things and this, in the most general way, is what we call our “education” and “experience”.

Personal knowledge and shared knowledge along with our speaking about them deals with all the things that can be called beings or that have existence. The things that have existence “change” or “become” something else; they are what is referred to as “becoming” and have been referred to as such since Plato. For Plato (and others after him) what does not change is the “idea” or the “outward appearance” of the thing that presents itself as what it is: the treeness of a tree, etc. Though the tree itself changes through the seasons and there are many varieties of trees, the “idea” of the tree is permanent; the ideas are unchanging; they are the “essence” of what a thing is. They delimit and define what the thing is so that it may be classified as some thing.

So how does the permanent relate to what is “changing”? This has been one of the most challenging knowledge questions for human beings. The German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: “Only that which has no history can be defined”. The ideas, being timeless, have no history but the things that they define do. This is a contradiction for Nietzsche and one of the principles of reason is the avoidance of contradiction or non-contradiction. The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre’s statement that “Existence precedes essence” is a response to this apparent contradiction. Plato, however, states that “Time is the moving image of eternity”, which when reflected on, is a very complex manner of attempting to resolve the conflict within the contradiction (one must remember that for the Greeks Nature itself is sempiternal).

What we give to the things that gives things their presence is the logos or “speech” in any of its many forms. From this word for speech and speaking, “logos”, we get the word logic and this word derives from the Latin understanding of what the Greeks meant by “speech”. The Greeks distinguished human beings from all other beings as the “zoon logon echon”, the “living being that can speak and defines its being through speech”. The Latins defined human being as the animale rationale, the animal that is capable of speech, logic and reason and who defines its being through this speech, logic and reason. What we call “logic”, after Aristotle, primarily develops through grammar, through speech. If we follow what is being said, “logic” is thus the science of the originary truth of our worldly existence as human beings. Consideration of this ‘naive beginning of logic’ (from out of which comes our current understanding and application of “algorithms”) raises the simple and far reaching question of whether, as the discipline of logic typically assumes, ‘theoretical cognitive truth, or even the truth of statements, is the basic form of truth in general’. We cannot speak of ‘knowledge’ in any “theory of knowledge” without discussing the relation of what we call truth to what we call knowledge. What we call artificial intelligence or AI is not possible without speech to originate it.

In our primary, natural experience of how human beings live together with each other, we understand speech as the revealing of something by speaking about it, and as a thinking that determines and orders it, defines and classifies it, and by doing so renders an account of it. Language, speaking, thinking coincide as the human way of being in the world. They are the way we reveal and illuminate (both for ourselves and for others) the world and our own human existence so that in this illumination we gain “sight”, the human insight into ourselves and an outlook on, and a practical insight into, the world. Logic as the science of speaking studies speech in terms of what it properly is: the revealing of something. The subject matter of logic is speech viewed with regard to its basic meaning, namely, allowing the world, human existence, and things in general to be seen and, thus, known.

This allowing to be seen is what the Greeks referred to as “truth”, but concurrent with it was the tendency to “hide”. As ways of knowing and being-in-the-world, language and reason dominate our understanding of what we are as human beings and what we think the world is and of what and how the world is seen and defined as what it is. Language and reason, along with intuition as a way of knowing, account for what we call “sense perception as a way of knowing”.

Aristotle begins his Metaphysics with the famous statement “All human beings by nature desire to see”. “To see” is usually translated (in the popular W.D. Ross translation, for instance) as “to know”, so we can see the close association of “seeing” to “knowing”. The fact that our existence has and understands and strives for this basic form of revealing by seeing implies that, for the most part, much of the world stands in need of “illumination” and “revelation”, of being un-covered from the darkness and made known to ourselves and to each other. In other words, much of the world and much of human existence is, by and large, not un-covered. So beings can be drawn out of their “not-un-covered-ness”, their hiddenness. They can be un-covered or un-hidden. This uncoveredness or unhiddenness of beings and things is what we call “truth”. What is the relation between “truth” and “logic” and how does “logic” illuminate for us all the areas of knowledge that we come to study as well as ourselves? We shall find the answer to these questions in what we call the proposition.

When we speak of experience as personal knowledge, we are usually referring to those “experiences” which we consider unique to ourselves as individuals, our individual “cognitions”, and these “cognitions” are primarily “pre-scientific’ or prior to what we would consider as “knowledge”. They do not become knowledge until they are “handed over” to others. If we do not hand them over, we cannot be certain whether or not we may be mad! But what makes or allows these cognitions, these “experiences” to become knowledge capable of being handed over? How do these “experiences” become “true” or contain “truth”? How do they “reveal” or “illuminate” and what is it that they reveal and illuminate? We shall attempt to answer these questions in Part II.

Intuition as a Way of Knowing

Intuition as a Way of Knowing: Historical Background

Immanuel Kant

​”The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, A 158, B 197)

Intuition is another difficult, controversial term and its use as a way of knowing in Theory of Knowledge can sometimes be confusing. INTUITION as it is commonly understood may be defined as understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason.  We shall see how Kant critiques this understanding of intuition in his writings later.

Intuition was traditionally known as “direct vision” or “direct seeing”. Some see this process as somehow mystical while others describe intuition as being a response to unconscious cues or implicitly apprehended prior learning involving memory and imagination as ways of knowing. All these understandings of intuition require re-presenting to let them be ways of knowing as we understand a “way of knowing”. Representation is the way we put ideas and thoughts into images so that they can be seen.

Although intuition has been mentioned in the texts of the philosophers and others from ancient times to the present, its grounding as a concept (or as a way of knowing) in the modern comes to us primarily through the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant’s concepts of “transcendental intuition” and “transcendental imagination” describe his understanding of what intuition is. His grounding of intuition has determined how we understand “personal experience” in the present in both the scientific and common sense manners. Kant’s great effort shows us what we are as human beings in our understanding of “experience” and what the things about us are as “things” in the sense of an objective reality.

Sometimes people refer to intuition as ESP or “gut feeling” but these understandings, again, stress the “immediacy” of the “seeing” related to intuition. An examination of the historical background of the term will show why this understanding of intuition has come to be and why the kind of thinking involved in intuition has become denigrated to some degree because it resists calculation. Kant’s understanding is the calculation itself for his work is the grounding of mathematics as a way of knowing the objects of the world. We want to hold with us the commonly held view of what intuition means as immediacy as we try to clarify what it is as a way of knowing. We want to retain the notion of representation when we try to comprehend how intuition is a way of knowing.

Historically, intuition as a way of knowing is related to sense perception as a way of knowing, and what we call sense perception requires intuition if it is to provide “knowledge”. Intuition was considered “direct seeing” in the Middle Ages, and this understanding of intuition was based on the Scholastics interpretations of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The speculation of philosophers in the Middle Ages was called “Scholasticism”, the speculation of the “schoolmen”. Scholastic thinking gave great importance to deductive reasoning, and this emphasis later found its flowering in the thinking of Rene Descartes where he discusses intuition.

We want to see how Aristotle’s unique term the “bios theoretikos” or “the life of theoretical speculation” is related to what was known as “intuition” and how it gave rise to our understanding of “logic” and the “correspondence theory of truth”. Aristotle’s bios theoretikos is a unique turning in Greek philosophy and we’ll try to show how this turning came about and why this turning came about. We need to remember (and emphasize) that “theory” is the “looking” or the “viewing”, and we need to understand how this “looking” relates to what was understood as knowledge and how that knowledge is related to truth.

mozartMozart’s apprehension of his music can be called “intuitive”. Many artists experience their insights by intuition. Here is a “supposed” letter of Mozart; its authenticity has been questioned.

“The question is how my art proceeds in writing and working out great and important matters. I can say no more than this, for I know no more and can come upon nothing further. When I am well and have good surroundings, travelling in a carriage, or after a good meal or walk or at night when I cannot sleep, then ideas come to me best and in torrents. Where they come from and how they come I just do not know. I keep in my head those that please me and hum them aloud as others have told me. When I have that all carefully in my head, the rest comes quickly, one thing after another; I see where such fragments could be used to make a composition of them all, by employing the rules of counterpoint and the sound of different instruments etc. My soul is then on fire as long as I am not disturbed; the idea expands, I develop it, all becoming clearer and clearer. The piece becomes almost complete in my head, even if it is a long one, so that afterwards I see it in my spirit all in one look, as one sees a beautiful picture or a beautiful human being. I am saying that in imagination I do not understand the parts one after another, in the order that they ought to follow in music; I understand them altogether at one moment. Delicious moments. When the ideas are discovered and put into a work, all occurs in me as in a beautiful dream which is quite lucid. But the most beautiful is to understand it all at one moment. What has happened I do not easily forget and this is the best gift which our God has given me. When it afterwards comes to writing, I take out of the bag of my mind what had previously gathered into it. Then it gets quickly put down on paper, being strictly, as was said, already perfect, and generally in much the same way as it was in my head before.”

Since most of us are not Mozarts or even artists of any description, Mozart’s experience of his music is difficult to comprehend and may border on the mystical. Clearly, Mozart’s description of his experience is not something that he himself “creates”. It comes to him from outside of himself. Perhaps the key to understanding his experience is the “seeing all in one look”. Mozart’s manuscripts are noted for how few revisions there are in them; their writing was as he said “already perfect”. How is it possible “to see all in one look” and how does this relate to intuition?

This “seeing of all in one look” is to be understood through our use of concepts. Questioning the concepts is the core of the Theory of Knowledge course. (Guide 2015, p.#8) The concepts we use come from our ways of seeing and being in the world, and they come to determine what we call the methodologies in each of the Areas of Knowledge and are embedded in our Ways of Knowing. All of our ways of knowing are manners of “seeing” what is about us in the world. But upon what are these concepts that determine our seeing grounded? It is with this question that we arrive at the philosophy of Kant and his revolutionary book Critique of Pure Reason. Kant grounds what we call intuition in this book and in doing so, the nature of our conceptual thinking. It is from Kant that what we call “theories of knowledge” derives. There are no “theories of knowledge” in the Greeks, for instance. To follow Kant’s understanding of intuition it will be necessary to explore the various manners of how things are perceived and understood and to determine what we call “experience”.

For Kant, experience was composed of three things: intuition, thought and judgement. “In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge (a way of knowing) may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed. But intuition takes place only insofar as the object is given to us. This again is only possible, to man at least, insofar as the mind is affected in a certain way.”  (A19 (first edition) B33(second edition)  For Kant, human knowledge is the representational (images, “looks”) relating of the mind to objects, what we call the “correspondence theory of truth”.

A great danger that we face in today’s world  with the worship of the Self and the social is solipsism: the belief that all reality is just one’s own imagining of reality and that one’s self is the only thing that exists i.e. that all things are “subjective”,  and only “opinions” are what our interpretations of our world consist of. This “subjectivism” thinks that the existence of the world depends on the standpoint of the experiencing individual and the time point in which, on the part of the person, the experience of a thing happens to be made. It is what we have come to call ‘personal knowledge’—which, of course, is no “knowledge” at all in its true sense. Kant, in a way, is responsible for this.

What something is does not depend on our caprice or pleasure. Even if the experience of the external world does depend on us, it equally depends upon the existence of the things in the external world that we are ‘experiencing’.  The questionableness of the truth of things that we experience in our daily experiences as to whether they are ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’, or both together or neither, stands in our understanding of what the truth of experience itself is. It could be that the distinction between subject-object and with it the subject-object relationship itself is highly questionable and this is the shared knowledge that we have gained in the West from Descartes, Kant and the other philosophers of modern times. There is no information to be gained from experience without knowledge of the kind of truth in which what we call “experience” stands.

Key Concepts: correspondence, truth, assertion, proposition, experience

In attempting to determine our answers to the questions “How do I know x” and “How do we know y” as they relate to intuition as a way of knowing, we want to keep in mind our commonplace understanding of intuition as “gut feeling” or “fore-sight” and our understanding of what the contents are of what we think we know i.e. the things we think we know and the situations we think we know as “experience”.

Some thing gets its “thingness” from its particular, unique relationship to time and space. It is indicated by a “this”: this computer here; this cup of coffee. Any other computer or coffee would be a “that” and would be located away from us in its time and place; it would be a “there”. If we look at the instrument before us through which we are viewing this writing, we will see that intuition is a “representation”, a bringing and a having before oneself as present a particular “this”: “this computer”, “this tablet”, “this hand phone”. Intuition is that way of knowing that places before some one some particular individual thing from which we can determine the thing’s qualities or categories/predicates: its hardness, its colour, its illumination, etc. We can calculate and measure these qualities as “intensities”. Thought, on the other hand, gives us the universal: computers, tablets and hand phones. Thinking is representing some thing in general in concepts that are “universals”.  Intuition is the representing of some thing as a particular thing. Both thinking and intuition are necessary for a thing to be for us.

When we consider intuition as a way of knowing, we need to go to the grounds of what it is that we “know”. To do this requires the distinction between what we “know” as personal knowledge and what we know as shared knowledge. This will involve a brief discussion of the relation of what we know to the “truth” of what we know, how that truth is “shared” in the form of a proposition, in the statements the we make about things, our  assertions about things.

The traditional definition of some “thing” is that it is something that is an existing bearer of the existing properties that belong to it. These properties are called “accidents” and are understood philosophically as the “categories” from which the limits of the thing may be determined and the thing defined and, thus, the thing itself. It is the defining of the thing that allows it to be “handed over” and so become part of our shared knowledge. Our defining of things rests in our understanding of what the “truth” of the thing is: the correspondence of our representations and accounts with the fact of the thing that it is an account of. The structure of truth and the structure of the thing of which it is said to be the truth must mirror each other. The “truth” contained in our propositions and assertions must “measure up” to the thing. 

We grasp the truth of things in language but a single word, “house” for instance, is neither true nor false. Only a combination of words can be true or false: “The house is painted white”, for instance. Such a combination of words is called an “assertion”. The assertion is either true or false. The assertion is therefore, as Kant says, “the place and seat of truth”. Truths and untruths are assertions. There are no “alternative facts” here; there are only true and untrue assertions about the facts. 

An “assertion” is an “account” of some thing or some situation. Assertions “of” some thing is called a “proposition”- a place that is put forward where some thing can stand as constant; assertions “about” some thing is “information” – something communicated to others; assertions “to” is the communication to others (shared knowledge); and self-assertions are expressions given to ourselves (personal knowledge). An assertion is a proposition that gives information when communicated to others. “Truth” is in the predicate’s belonging to the subject.

The concepts of what we think some thing is, the propositions regarding it, the assertions made, and the “correspondence theory of truth” (the judgement) in the account of the things in our Areas of Knowledge all cohere together.  The structure of the properties (subject + predicate) regarding a thing as a bearer properties is a pro-jected structure (pro= “forward”; jacio = “to throw”) that we have placed upon things. Historically, we have made a decision that “how I know x” and “how we know y” has been determined by x’s and y’s being constructed as mirror images or “corresponding” images of some thing that is “unconditioned” whether that be the ego of Descartes, or Kant, or the Absolute Self of Hegel, or the God of the Old Testament where things are taken as ens creatum. In the 19th century “positivism” emphasized “facts” where only scientifically demonstrable “truths” were taken as answers to the epistemological questions that we have posed. 

It is in our assertions about the categories of the things that we encounter which allows us to classify and delimit (define) them and so place them in our Areas of Knowledge. This addressing of things or giving an account of them was called logos by the Greeks, and this was later translated as ratio by the Latins (word, speech, reason). It is through the assertion that we intend and think things and bring them to presence before us. Our classifications tell us a great deal about how we understand the concepts that we are using today.

We become aware of some thing because we know what they are in advance: the body as bodily, the plant-like of the plant, the animal-like in the animal, the thingness in the thing, etc. This knowing in advance is what the Greeks termed “the mathematical” and it is the true ground of what we call “intuition”. It is what we bring with us to the things themselves. Our concept of number is one of the “things” that we bring to the things because number is not in the things themselves. This is what the word “mathematics” means. It is our basic presupposition of our knowledge of things, “how I know x” and “how we know y”. What is the relation of the mathematical to intuition as a way of  knowing?

In speaking about intuition as a way of knowing we must understand its relation to the mathematical. The mathematical rests upon the positing of the determination of things that is not derived by way of experience from the things themselves and that, nonetheless, rests at the basis of all our determinations of things, makes them possible and creates “space” for them in the overlapping area of our Venn diagram. Galileo’s experiment of free falling bodies is an example.

According to Aristotle’s representation, bodies move themselves each according to their nature i.e. the heavy downward, the light upward, Galileo’s insight is the determination that all bodies fall equally quickly and that the differences in the times it takes for a body to fall stem from the resistance of air alone and not from the different inner natures of the bodies and not from their corresponding relations to their own locations i.e. the earthly, the airy, the fiery, the watery. Galileo’s experiment is a precursor to Newton’s first principle or law of motion.

Intuition is a pro-jection of what we think things i.e. “facts” are and allows these “facts” the space to show themselves. The projections posits what the things are to be and what and how they ought to be evaluated in advance. The Greeks called such evaluation axioma. The pre-conceived determinations and assertions in the statements are “axiomatic”. The axioms are prior to the principles or laws which are derived from them. How does intuition become a mode of access to things, a way of knowing things, as axiomatically determined i.e. how is intuition placed within the overlapping portion of our Venn diagram? 

In the mathematical projection of intuition, things can only show themselves as relations of places and time points and as measures of mass and work forces. The mathematical projection (intuition) determines the manner of receiving and investigating what shows itself i.e. what we call “experience”, and what we call the “experiment” is derived from this pre-determined in advance. Investigation is pre-determined in advance, and nature must respond to this pre-determined manner of questioning. Our urge toward “facts” is a result of the over-leaping of the facts in the intuitive projection in the first place.  This has led to the emphasis on “positivism” in our current understanding of the world: the world can only report to us “mathematically”. The analytical geometry of Descartes, Newton’s calculus, and Leibniz’s differential calculus became possible (and necessary) because of the fundamental character of mathematical thinking itself. But many questions arise from this basic human stance towards things and the world.

In the writings of Descartes, “method” is the manner and mode (way) through which we gain access to “truth” or the manner in which things are to be brought to presence i.e. how we will see them. Method is the way in which we go after things as such and decides in advance what truth we will track down in the things. Method determines what can become an object and how it will become one. The mathematical determines the being of things in advance (what they are) on the basis of the principles inherent in the mathematical itself i.e. the principle of reason: the “I”, the principle of contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason. 

Our “knowledge framework” is an example of “method”. It is the ordering and arranging of things so that the “truth” about them can be discovered, so that they can be brought to “light”, so that they can be brought to presence. Intuition is the way of knowing where the axiomatic mathematical projection of things posits the first principles upon which everything further is based in sequential order. This is the “logic” of the principle of reason upon which are based what are popularly known as “algorithms”. It rests primarily upon our understanding of cause-effect. It is Descartes’ ego cogito, “I think” upon which all certainty and truth are grounded.

Intuition: Reason as Higher Ground: Principle of the “I”, Principle of Contradiction

In trying to get a grip on intuition as a way of knowing and to grasp how it has become degraded in our modern “gut feeling” understanding, we need to look more closely at the historical background of the concept. With Descartes’ ego cogito the “I” becomes the essential definition of human being.  The human being as the animal rationale becomes the “subject” and the foundation of all knowledge and the determiner of the things that are. In Aristotle’s understanding of human being as the animal rationale, human reason is not singled out as the chief characteristic of the subjectivity of the subject. In our speaking about things, our propositions and assertions, our sayings must not contradict themselves. “I think” means “I avoid contradictions”. This is what is known as “pure reason”. 

The basic philosophical axioms of intuition as a way of knowing are the principle of the I, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of sufficient reason. With the shift of human beings to the centre of “created things”, human beings are granted the power of not only naming the animals but all the things that are, and they grant this power to themselves. The philosopher Immanuel Kant grounds this power in his asking the question: “Are synthetic judgements a priori possible?” i.e. are judgements regarding things possible without the “experience” of those things? Our judgements regarding things determines and delimits (defines) what the things are so that they may be classified under the principle of reason.

Synthetic judgements refer to the categories or the predicates of the things i.e. “The house is green”. “Green” is a predicate of the general subject “house” and establishes it in its particularity. We can measure the greenness of the house by its intensity in terms of its colour. By making the assertion “the house is green”, we are making a judgement regarding the house. Judgements are “acts of understanding”, how we know what we know. 

In order for intuition to be a way of knowing, it must provide knowledge from principles and it must be a capacity for principles and basic propositions: it must be a “system” within a framework.

If we return to the common understanding of intuition as “gut feeling” or “sense”, what makes the gut feeling or sense of some thing possible? To answer this we must try to say something about how Kant understood “experience”. “Experience” is that which is “possible”. It may be an event that happens “to” a subject or “an act of the subject”. Nature is the object of experience for the subjective “I”; how we understand the “object”. This “thing of nature”, for Kant, can only be understood by means of what is “before and above” all nature. That which is before and above all is “the system of principles”. Time and space are concepts of “pure intuition” for Kant and make possible “the objects of experience”. Kant relates his system of principles to the principle of contradiction, the principle of the I, and the principle of sufficient reason.

For Kant, the capacity to think is the capacity to unite representations in one consciousness. “I think” means “I combine”: “The house is white”. Kant calls this “judgement”. Thinking is the same as judgement or to the making of assertions. The assertions are what are called “synthetic judgements”. They are contrasted with “analytic judgements”. 

For Kant, the first principle is “the principle of contradiction”. Our cognitions must be free from contradictions in their judgements. Intuition and thought are two components of cognition. Thought’s relation to intuition is one of servitude. Kant writes: “In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may relate to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. But this takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn is possible if it affects the mind in a certain way.” (A19/B33). Human cognition is conceptual, judgement forming intuition, a unity of intuition and thought and thus a way of knowing. Kant contradicts Descartes’ “rational cognition”, the cogito ergo sum by placing intuition prior to what we call thinking. 

If we look at the instrument before us through which we are reading this writing, we will see that intuition is a “representation”, or a bringing and a having before oneself as present a particular “this”: “this computer”, “this tablet”, “this hand phone”. Intuition is that way of knowing which places before one some particular individual thing from which we can determine its categories/predicates: its hardness, its colour, its illumination, etc. Thought, on the other hand, gives to us the “universal”: computers, tablets, hand phones. Thinking is representing some thing in general in concepts that are “universals”. 

Intuition as a way of knowing combines both intuition and thought in order to allow an object to be a possible object of cognition and to allow us to answer the questions “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”. Not just anything can become an object for us; the object must be something that stands “opposed” to us. What we encounter must be “standing” and “constant” for us. The “object” in Kant’s sense is not something merely sensed nor perceived.

What we understand by “subjective” can be determined from how Kant understood intuition and thought and how they both allow us to know objects. Our assertions about things around us are related to our sense perception of those things, but those perceptions are concerning what is given to us alone. This “subjectivity” is overcome when we make a causal relation of the thing to another thing: “if…then…”, or “because…therefore”. Saying such concerns the very thing itself whether I perceive it to be the case or not and is valid for everyone for all time; it is not “subjective” but is valid of the object itself. It is the concepts that give the object its “objectivity”. The intuitively given must be brought under the universality of certain concepts, concepts which are contained in the principle of reason such as the principle of cause/effect. The concept must overcome the intuition and determine what is given in a certain way. Sense perception as a way of knowing i.e. knowing objects “empirically” does not provide us with “experience” as such. “Knowing” only occurs when the given is represented through principles such as “cause and effect” (algorithms, for example) where intuitive perceptions and thought are combined. Our “gut feeling” understanding understanding of intuition is not a way of knowing without “thought” i.e. reason and language as ways of knowing, but thinking is always related to intuition which is given prior to thought.

For Kant, “pure intuition” is “time” and “space”. and these concepts are related to sense perception as a way of knowing. We can now understand Kant’s statement: “The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” These conditions of possibility are time and space. These are prior to reason in human experience. It is time and space that constitutes the overlapping region of our Venn diagram and allows for both our ways of knowing and gives space for those things that we know. Sense perception is insufficient in and of itself as a way of knowing. It requires thought, which for Kant, is “pure reason”. 

For Kant, the content of the “what” of our experience however it may be related to the object must not contradict itself in our judgements about that content. Thinking is at the service of intuition. What thinking is must already be decided. Thinking is logic. But how is it related to the judgements we make in our assertions about things?

The relation of the subject to the predicate is thought: “The house is white”. Thought is the combination of relations between several concepts. “Understanding” is the ability to combine representations i.e. to represent this subject-predicate relationship. In this “understanding”, Kant’s definition relates how our judgements about things are established in advance in the relation to the objects and to the cognizing human being. Every judgement is an analysis and a synthesis: “the house” is separate from “is white”; they are then combined to form the judgement. The analytic judgement is made in terms of the concept of “the house is extended” i.e. it is a physical body. A synthetic judgement is made when we say “is white” because there are other possibilities: it could be red or yellow. 

In the discoveries of Galileo and Newton, their thinking “leaps ahead” of what verification and experience offer. They are a priori in that all assertions made about courses of motion and their regularity must be in accord with their “highest principles”. The a priori is the essence of things. How the thing is grasped and how its being is understood decides in advance its interpretation and classification, where it will belong in the Areas of Knowledge, for instance. The a priori is that which belongs to the subjectivity of the subject while everything that lies outside the subject is a posteriori. 

Kant’s great effort and ultimate discovery was the grounding (and limitation) of synthetic judgements a priori. In doing so, he also grounds intuition as a way of knowing. With intuition, the judgement made is analytical: the truth is given in the concepts of the subject itself. With synthetic judgements, the truth rests in the object itself.

We can relate this to the overlapping region of our Venn diagram regarding personal and shared knowledge. In answering our questions of “how do I know x” and “how do we know y” we are relating that which we claim to know to judgements as assertions that we make with regard to things. When we make a proposition (a “throwing forward of a stand” or a thesis statement for an essay, for example) we are making a statement in which the basis for possible truth is posited, one that suffices to support the truth of a judgement and bring the thing “to light”, to reveal it. The thesis or proposition must be supported with “sufficient reason”. 

We take care to express our cognitions and our questions and manners of thinking in propositions. It does not matter which Area of Knowledge we are relating to: the AOKs remain distinct. When we speak of biology, for example, we cannot determine our viewing biologically. It cannot be found under a microscope. The objects within the AOKs are already determined in certain ways in advance. These advance determinations are necessary so that we can stand before the object as such whether it is biology or art history. We must already have a “synthetic judgement a priori” in order for objects to stand before us as such or we could never begin to direct our questions, investigations and come to our proofs regarding them. Synthetic judgements, pre-judgements are already present in all scientific judgements. The notion of “scientific objectivity” without judgement is not tenable. For Kant, truthful things are objects of experience, but the objects only become accessible when we have made synthetic judgements about them. “The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” This statement applies to both personal and shared knowledge and is Kant’s answer to “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”.

Kant’s “understanding” is based on principles. “Logic” defines “judgement” as the relation of subject/predicate representations where combining those representations do not contradict the principles inherent in the objects themselves. This combining is a determinate combining: the universal relation of “cause and effect” for instance helps us to understand many of the relations between objects that we experience. We currently dub these relation “algorithms”. This combining is what the Greeks originally meant by logos as a “gathering together”. This is why the Romans translated logos as ratio. The unities of the combinations are what we call “concepts” and lie in the “categories” or the predicates of some thing. The categories are quantity, quality, relation and modality. The “understanding” is both the “faculty of rules” and the source of rules. An object is a unity that stands or is constant. The presence of the object is made possible by our representing that is a thinking, a combining. The thinking can be of a subjective “I” with its emotions, moods, opinions, or it can be a disciplined “I” in which the rules for combining representations is present (methodology, the “scientific method”, for instance). But why is this combining represented by the mathematical?

Kant defines the thing of nature as a physical body that is in itself “mathematical” in terms of its time and space. What does this mean? Kant speaks of “axioms of intuition”. “All intuitions are extensive magnitudes”.  “Appearances” are not illusions but the object itself in its constancy, its presence before us. Things have quantum and quantitas i.e. magnitude, and answer the question “how big?”. Quantum is the size of the whole thing overall; quantitas is the measure and measurement of the parts. Quantity is a pure concept of understanding and does not require experience. Quantum, on the other hand, is the given for an intuiting. Space and time are quanta. Appearances as intuitions must be measurable. Space is a quantum because it exists “as a whole”. Quantitas is possible because space is a quantum: the pieces or parts are within the whole. 

Earlier we said that intuition is the immediate representing of a particular thing. Through this representing, the thing is given to us. Intuition is not a making or forming by way of assembly. Space is our representing that gives the possibility of a “where”, “there”, and “here”. In English, our prepositions in our statements express our apprehensions of relations in space. Space, as a quantum, is a “one” and a “this”. The immediate representing of a particular is a “this”.  Space is intuited before all appearances of the objects within it. Space is not “sensed”in sensation but is intuited in advance–a priori– and determines everything empirically given to us in advance so that our sensations can be ordered. Space is not a thing at hand in itself (Newton) nor the many relations that result from  the relations of things (Leibniz). Space is the unique whole of which all prepositions in our language regarding the things that encounter us are possible. Space determines our sensibility, the way we encounter what encounters us in advance, but it is not that which encounters us. 

What Kant justifies here is that because space contains within itself the concept of extension and the thinking forms the various synthesis of the quantities of things (the logos  as the “gathering together”) all mathematical principles (such as “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”) are true because they apply to our experience of the objects themselves. The applicability of mathematics as extension and number can be justified because the conditions of mathematics itself, quantities and quantum, are at the same time the conditions of the appearances to which the mathematics is applied. The condition of experiencing appearances with regard to shape and magnitude (synthesis as quantity) is at the same time the possibility of the object of experience. The specific quantitas of spaces and times makes possible the encountering of the thing, its apprehension, and its coming to stand as an object. Appearances must be extensive magnitudes; it does not matter whether they are inside or outside the self. Objects have extensive magnitudes and this is the synthetic judgement (a “composing”) which is a priori made not on the basis of perception of  particular objects but from what we call “experience” in general. The concept of quantum in space is transferred to objects appearing in space. Intuition and thought make this possible: they make possible the being of the object. We understand their outward appearing form.

Kant deals with the other “sensations” besides sight in his second principle. We know that the world is real because the things of the world have an intensity which opposes us. This intensity can be measured by mathematics. The sensations that we experience such as sights and sounds are after (a posteriori) we have apprehended the object a priori. The intensity of colours can be measured by us. These measurings are what we call “data” and are based on the “objectivity” of the objects around us. But when this is done, when we measure extension and resistance such as we do in modern physics, the intuitive perception of the thing is given over to what is given in the sensations, the empirical. The thing as understood in the sciences is based on the reliability of the measuring device but it is, nevertheless, an interpretation–much the same as what the poets do in the Arts. The colour of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, for example, belongs to the sunflowers themselves and to the original unity of our intuition of the kinds of things that they are. It is our relation to the things in the AOKs that is key. 

The common perception is that human cognition is based upon sense perception as a way of knowing and that this allowed for the emergence of modern natural science, but if we look more closely we can see that the givens of our everyday experience of the world are determined by a mathematical point of departure which must see things as extensive and movable in space and time. In this mathematical world, the “real world” and our experience of it is forgotten.

Kant’s idea of “reality” differs from what we understand as reality. The common understanding is that reality is “actual” or “existing”. The word “reality” comes from res which in Latin means “the matter, thing, affair”. It is “what” something is. So “extension” is a “reality” of a natural body as well as its weight, density, and resistance. For Kant, reality is the “whatness” of the thing. Things and their opposites constitute reality: blindness is the negation of sight. In Kant, extension and intensity allow themselves to be ordered as numerical quantities or “degrees”. (We can measure the intensity of “hot or cold”, for example).

We take sensing something and perceiving something as the most ordinary, simplest things. But we do not sense a “something” or a “what”. Whatever is sensible must be re-presented in advance and anticipated within the area of knowledge in which they can be received (our “gut feelings”, for instance). Kant calls this “anticipation”. All perceiving is “anticipation”. Kant dismisses our “gut feeling” understanding of intuition: “But the real, which corresponds to sensation in general, in opposition to negation = 0, only represents something whose concepts in itself contains a being (i.e. the presence of something) and does not signify anything except the synthesis of an empirical consciousness in general.” (A 75-6/ B217).

Mathematics is applicable to objects because appearances come to stand as an “againstness” (ob-ject “the thrown against”) in advance in the gathering together of the intuition in the concepts of a unity from the categories of quantity and quality. On the basis of the mathematical construction, it is possible to meet up with something corresponding to the mathematical construction in the object and the construction itself and be able to demonstrate it by way of experiment. The conditions of the appearing of appearances, the specific quantitative determinations of their form and matter, are at the same time conditions of the standing against, the collectedness and constancy of appearances.

The unity of intuition and thought is the essence of experience. In looking at our ways of knowing we can say as A is to B, so C is to D, a correspondence. If the relation between A and B is given along with C, then by “analogy” D can be made available by the mathematical construction itself. This inference to a fourth, of something not given, is an indication of how we have to search for the non-given in light of the given and as what we must encounter it when it does show itself. This methodology is the essence of why the woman in Moscow, Russia can work in collaboration with the man in Moscow, Idaho in their research and why their findings must express themselves mathematically. 

This methodology requires that the thing of nature be “present” as constant. In intuition as a way of knowing, time is also a concept of pure intuition for Kant. Time is one and whole. Different times are part of one and the same time, just as different locations in space are parts of one and the same space. Space is where all outward appearances encounter us. Time is both our inner and outer experience of the world and all experience is possible only within time. For Kant, time is “unchangable and lasting” and it is only that which is within time that changes. Time for Kant is the same as it was for Aristotle, a series of “nows” that can be measured as “magnitudes”. 

Kant’s thinking regarding time runs: All appearances or what encounters us as human beings encounters us in time and stand, with regard to the unity of their properties, in a unity of a time-determination. Time itself is originally persistent/present because only as long as time persists is constancy as enduring in time possible. This constancy is what lasts in advance of all that encounters us and we call it “substance”. 

Time itself cannot be perceived by itself i.e. even though we can only perceive things in time we cannot perceive the essence of time itself. Time requires that the determination of what exists (how we know what we know) exists in space and has constancy in space prior to its being perceived and taken up in any relation or way of knowing. 

Kant’s conclusion: the standing and constancy of an object must be perceived on the basis of persistence. The representation of persisting throughout change belongs to the material reality of the object in advance. Change presupposes consistency or constancy. Only what persists can be altered while what is changeable cannot be altered. The constancy of objects is determined on the basis of the relations of the alterations to each other and we call these alterations “forces”. The principles that concern the existence of objects are called “dynamics”. Kant is attempting to ground the views of Newton’s “classical physics”. The standing of objects that encounter us is determined by what he calls persistence, succession, and simultaneity. But since time itself cannot be perceived, the temporary location and relations of an object cannot be understood intuitively a priori but only as a “now”. If we are to be able to see the whole of appearances (nature) in its objectivity then well-founded rules are needed that contain an indication of the time-relations in which our encountering them must stand so that the unity of appearances i.e. nature, an “objective world”, is possible. What Kant does is provide for the first time the foundations of the law of causality as a law of the objects of experience.

Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason illustrates four groups of categories that determine “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”. They are: quantity, quality, relation and modality. The section “Axioms of Intuition” shows in what way quantity as extensive magnitude belongs necessarily to the “whatness” of an object encountering us. In “Anticipations of Perception” quality as reality determines in advance the nature of our encountering as such. Kant calls these “Analogies of Experience”. 

Kant uses the word “analogies” in order to illustrate the principles of correspondence of what stands-in-relation and its determination (the ways of knowing and the things to be known). We are speaking about the overlapping region of our Venn diagram here where what stands-in-relation are our ways of knowing and the things we encounter and come to know. Quantity, quality and relation determine in advance what belongs to the object as it encounters us and what is constant in that object. The categories are the realities of the essence of the object. The corresponding principles prove that the categories as realities make an object possible, belong to the object as such, and so have objective reality.

Modality from modus is “a way” and also a “how” so our ways of knowing have inherent in them the methodologies, the “hows”, of how we approach things in general. The categories of modality for Kant are: possibility, actuality or existence, and necessity. These do not belong to the object itself. They assert something about how the concept of the object is related to existence and it modes, and how, according to which way of knowing is chosen, the existence of the object is determined. These categories of modality do not concern the reality of the ways of knowing themselves since they do not belong to the reality of the objects themselves. 

For Kant, the necessary is that which cannot be conceived as non-existent (the law of gravity, for example). We cannot know an object in its necessity in itself but only the existence of the state of the object in relation to another. Our awareness of things as thoughtfully intuited is related to the possibility of objects and the powers within the ways of knowing themselves. 

Kant shows that we are able to know ourselves as well as know the things that we have not made (nature). The letting encounter of the object occurs through us. This is possible because our “experience” is through space and time as pure intuitions and the possibility of the objects themselves require space and time to be “objective”.

This long writing on intuition as a way of knowing is but an impertinent precis of one of the great texts belonging to our Shared Knowledge: Critique of Pure Reason. Its primary focus has been on the metaphysics within that text and Kant’s revolution in the history and thinking of metaphysics that he carries out there. We remain within the thrall of Kant’s thinking, though unthinkingly. 


The Assault on Truth: Real Life Situations (RLS)Observations

“It is tempting to explain the plurality of good answers to knowledge questions in terms of a type of truth relativism: “it is just a matter of perspective”. A more likely explanation is that different interpretations of key ideas account for the different conclusions or that the weighting of different factors in the argument differ.”–TOK Guide, 2015

Real Life Situation

In the politics of the USA under the governance of the Trump regime (and its latest machinations since its arrival in 2016)  one sees what appears to be and may be called an “assault on truth”; it is the politics of the gutter. Many of those who wish to retain power demonstrate an “intentional ignorance” with regard to the shenanigans that America is engaged in domestically and in its foreign policy abroad. This assault on truth is not a modern phenomenon nor simply a Western one, nor is it simply an American phenomenon. It is not merely the comportments and posings of human beings who are seen to be on the ‘left’ or on the ‘right’. And again, this assault is not merely shown in the promotion of falsehoods which may defy common sense. Rather it is an indication of what happens, and what is happening to, human being-in-the-world as the technological society totters towards its apogee.

In the West, the assault on truth has been present in our “shared knowledge” (History) since the time of Socrates’ life and death struggle with the Sophists and the poets. In that struggle Socrates lost and was put to death. The current assault on truth is grounded in, and finds its origins in, what has come to be interpreted as truth and its understanding as well as its relation to knowledge and common sense or “practical reason” (applied reason). The separation of theory and practice began with Aristotle when he asserted that the highest life was the bios theoretikos, the life of the philosopher as he understood it, and the theoretical life proposed by Aristotle made the philosopher the “umpire” who decided the many political interests that different groups within the community propounded. The philosopher was the superior statesman and this led to the many denigrations of the philosophical life as that of “living in an ivory tower”.

This current assault illustrates how the theoretical and the practical, the theory and practice, pure reason and practical reason, the ethics (freedom) as actions are interwoven and interconnected. When one reads many of the “perspectivists” views of truth (and our quote from the TOK Guide illustrates the confusion that currently prevails with regard to “truth”), one sees in them a misunderstanding of the writings of the German philosopher Nietzsche (among the best of them) or some of the flimsy interpretations of truth, knowledge and “reality” among the pragmatists that currently dominate the academia and the powerful of our societies. As Nietzsche demonstrated and predicted, positivism will inevitably devolve into nihilism.

This writing will attempt to explore what can be called the phenomenon of this assault on truth, its possible causes and its implications. It will begin with brief summaries of the historical background of  the predominant theories of truth (correspondence, coherence, pragmatic) and attempt an analysis of why truth is now under assault both in the world of academia and in the societies of which we are members; that is, it will glance at our theory and practice, our ethics and our politics, and illustrate the inadequacies of the common views of truth which are most prevalent today. To do so, it will make statements regarding what the essence of truth is and in doing so must necessarily make statements of what we conceive the essence of knowledge to be.

Historical Background and Key Concepts

Key Concepts: Truth as aletheia (unhiddenness, unconcealment), correspondence theory of truth, coherence theory of truth, pragmatic theory of truth, freedom

TOK Personal and shared knowledge

Truth as Aletheia (Uncoveredness, unhiddenness):

For the ancient Greeks such as Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato truth was aletheia, an “unveiling”, or an “uncoveredness”, and “unhiddenness” that reveals some thing and gives us our knowledge of what that some thing is by showing us what that some thing is in its presence before us. It rested primarily on sense perception as a way of knowing. “Throwing light” on something prevails in all theories of truth from the time of the ancient Greeks to the quotation above from the TOK guide: the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth all retain a grounding in truth as an unveiling, a revealing and a lighting up of some kind which provides “enlightenment” for human beings. It is the varying degrees of this “lighting up” that has led to the “perspectival” views expressed by many today. This “lighting up” comes about through what we have called our ways of knowing. It is through our ways of knowing that we experience what we call “truth”, our “freedom”, and the essence of what it means to be a human being or what it is about us as human beings that distinguishes us from all other living beings. Truth, knowledge and freedom are inextricably linked.

“Truth” has always been associated with “light”, not in a metaphorical or abstract sense but in a literal sense. It might be compared to those times when you switch on the light the moment you enter your hotel room when you are travelling and what was in darkness is then revealed to you. You will notice that there is no abstraction in this example: it is simply one of our experiences of the world we live in. We know what a hotel room is and should be in advance and we have expectations about it prior to the revealing of it.

This hotel room example illustrates “truth” as an ontological state, how the world about us is revealed to us in our living in it through our ways of knowing and, in the revealing, becomes what we have called our knowledge of our world. This ontology, this being-in-the-world, is coupled with our “metaphysics”, what we think the things are or should be that are ready-to-hand for us in our experiences of our world. The “revealing” creates our mood: we will either be pleased with our hotel room or we will not. We are pleased with the world in which we dwell or we are not. It need not be the best of all possible hotel rooms, an ideal hotel room, but whether or not it meets our needs will determine how we will evaluate it when we logon to Trip Adviser.

How we “feel” about the world around us is given to us in our experiences of that world, but our experience of the world is prior to our feeling response to it. That is, emotion as a way of knowing the world is posterior to our experience of the world as it is illuminated for us. After the initial revealing, what we believe is revealed will determine our mood towards it. To use a musical analogy, we may view our world in A Major or C Minor and this determines our “attunement” towards it; our experiences of the world will be determined by the need for harmony within the “key” that we have come to view the world. The point of the hotel room example is to show that truth as aletheia is not confined to our explicit assertions or propositions regarding things nor to our discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgements, beliefs and representations that we arrive at through our ways of knowing. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by our moods as by our ways of knowing and understanding. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of our thoughts and utterances. Truth is not a human creation or construct; it is given to us and our partaking in it is part of our human nature. Truth itself is not related to “perspectivism” as it is commonly understood for “perspectivism” sees us as the center of this world which is contrary to our knowledge from our sciences and our.religions.

Truth as understood by the Greeks also relates to a human being as one “who does not hide or forget”. It is a person of candor and frankness, someone who does not dissemble or lie when being with others. It is the person who is “free” to be the person that they are. Truth is a product of our world; and falsehood is the product of human being in the world. The world does not lie; it hides.

The best example that we have in English of “truth as light” and how it affects human behaviour when truth is not so  is Shakespeare’s  Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth says of her husband that “he is too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way”, she is saying something about truth and its relation to what human beings are. She recognizes that to achieve the kingship, Macbeth will have to cease to be human in some essential manner; he must cease to be himself. He must become “unnatural” in order to carry out the act of murder i.e. he must become something less than human; and so she prays to the spirits of darkness to make her unnatural so that she may “pour her spirits” into Macbeth’s ear so that he will be capable of hearing what she believes must be done i.e. she must “poison” his mind and soul. Lady Macbeth recognizes that her husband is “not without ambition/ But without the illness should attend it”. She needs to make him “ill” if he is going to carry out the murder. We have a saying in English that when we are ill we “are not ourselves today” meaning that we are less than what we usually are as a human being.

The deterioration in Macbeth’s humanity is shown in his initial soliloquy entitled “If it t’were done when ’tis done…”. Macbeth is unable to bring the word “murder” to speech, to consciousness, to light and so he uses the pronoun “it” to refer to the killing of King Duncan. Shakespeare, through Macbeth, introduces a new word into the English language, “assassination”, because Macbeth himself is unable to say what the thing is that he is about to do: “murder”. The word is embedded in the lines: “If the assassination/  Could trammel up the consequence/ And catch with his surcease success…” The lines contain sibilance, that “hissing” sound, to indicate that what is being said is evil; that is the truth and reality of what Macbeth does not want to see. Macbeth will not allow the thing which he is about to do to come to light for what it is. He will, if you like, remain “intentionally ignorant” of what the thing is or deny the light as light. For Shakespeare, good and evil are not constructs of the human mind–they are not “values” that human beings will and create in their actions. They are truth and they are essential to our being as human beings. The root of all sin is the sin against the light or not recognizing the light as light. The denial of truth destroys something essential to our humanity.

Macbeth’s tragedy is not due to his ambition and the “illness” that he must receive in order to act in a way that will achieve that ambition, but to his lack of self-knowledge: he does not know who he is; and this lack of self-knowledge is a feature of all tragic heroes. He lacks that most essential light for knowing who he really, truly is. He is a great soldier, courageous and brave, the saviour of his country; but he is not a king for he does not have the qualities that make for a king; he has the qualities that make for a great soldier. Under Macbeth’s rule, Scotland becomes a tyranny and Macbeth himself becomes a monster and both the man and the country are destroyed and must be renewed at the end of the play. It would appear that lack of self-knowledge for human beings causes them to create wastelands, the nihil. Macbeth’s soliloquy :” Out, out, brief candle./ Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/ And then is heard no more. It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth’s judgement of life is that of a man who has violated the principles of life; it is not Shakespeare’s judgement of life. It is the judgement of a man who has lost his humanity because he has chosen darkness and obfuscation rather than the light. The root of all sin is the sin against the light or not recognizing the light as light.

Motifs of light and dark, fair and foul, appearance and semblance, illness and health run throughout the play and reinforce its central theme regarding truth and its relation to human beings and their actions. Lady Macbeth’s prayer to be made “unnatural” may be said to be the opposite of Socrates’ prayer at the end of the dialogue Phaedrus which runs: “Dear Pan, and all you other gods who live here, grant that I may become beautiful within, and that whatever outward things I have may be in harmony with the spirit inside me. May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich, and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs. — Is there anything else that we can ask for, Phaedrus? For me, that prayer is enough.” Socrates’ prayer for the unity and harmony of the inner and outer being of human being and world indicates that what is “natural” is something that human beings must strive for, and that “striving for” is not an easy journey.

The adherence to truth as a “lighting up” can still be seen in the quote from the TOK Guide above where the “unveiling” is to be found in the conclusions and the “factors” and their “weighting” that have been brought forward from the propositions asserted regarding our knowledge of some thing. What we call “knowledge” is inextricably linked to what we call truth and what we believe the truth to be.  The “factors” and their “weighting” (the evidence and its “value”) are arrived at through how much they illuminate the thing that is under examination and discussion. When we “evaluate” performances, whether they be essays or oral presentations, we do so in the understanding of how much they illuminate the object or thing that is under discussion. A norm or standard has been pre-established and we illustrate this norm through exemplars and reward our A’s and E’s accordingly.

The Correspondence and Coherence Theories of Truth

Historical Background

“Truth as correspondence” and “truth as coherence” find their origins in the thinking of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. They are what is understood as the logos. Following Aristotle, these concepts of truth have had three historical phases: 1. their origins in Aristotle; 2. their interpretation by the Latins and the early, medieval Christians; 3. their interpretations by the moderns beginning with Descartes and followed through in the writings of Leibniz and Kant which culminated in the distinction and separation of “subject” and “object”, what could be said to be the opposite direction from that indicated in Socrates’ prayer. Some brief words on these three stages will be mentioned shortly. In examining the historical backgrounds of our accounts of truth, we need to look at how the three phases of what is called truth came about.

First, truth has been considered historically as the “actual” or “the real”, “reality” or what we now call the world of “facts”. We distinguish “true gold” from “false gold”, for instance: “false gold” is not actual; it is a “semblance” of “real” gold. But “false gold”, too, is something actual, something real. Genuine gold is, then, that actual gold the actuality of which accords with what, always and in advance, we “properly” mean by “gold.” Hence, what is in “accord” is what is “as it should be”; in the play Macbeth illness is what is not in accord. Notice that there is no distinction between “fact” and “value” here. We call “true” our statements about the things when the statement is in accord with the matter about which the statement is made. We call this a “true proposition”. Accordingly, the correspondence of a matter with what is supposed in advance regarding it (such as “genuine gold”) and, on the other hand, the accordance of what is meant in the statement with the matter is what has been considered the true historically . (See the connection with the hotel example above.)

The greatest difference between Aristotle’s accounts of truth as correspondence and coherence and the Latin/Medieval accounts is that Aristotle viewed Nature as a permanent thing: for Aristotle, Nature always was and always will be; it is sempiternal. Nature is One and is whole. With the arrival of Christianity, the Latin/Medieval account of Nature sees it as a created thing; rocks and living organisms are things that have been created by God at some point in time. For both Aristotle and the Latins, the effort of thought was to have the mind give an account of the thing where the thing “corresponded” or was in accord with the image or representation, the idea, that was conceived in the mind. An idea or proposition would be true when it correctly refers to what is or what is conceived as reality. The emphasis is on the correctness of the account.

The Christian theological belief of the Medieval period, regarding what is actual and whether it is actual, considered a matter/thing as created,  and that the matter or thing is only insofar as it corresponds to the idea preconceived in the mind of God and thus measured up to this ideal (is “correct”) and in this sense is “true”. The human intellect too as a created thing, as a capacity bestowed upon man by God, must satisfy its ideal, that is that human being is the animal rationale and that there is correctness in human beings’ thinking. Human being measures up to the ideal only by accomplishing in its propositions the correspondence of what is thought to the matter/thing which in its turn must be in conformity with the ideal which is reason conceived as “logic”. If all beings are “created”, the possibility of the truth of human knowledge is grounded in the fact that the matter and the proposition measure up to the ideal in the same way and are fitted to each other on the basis of the unity of the divine plan of creation or the world order of creation which is “reasonable”.

The theologically conceived order of creation is later replaced by the idea that the capacity of all objects to be planned by means of a worldly reason (the principle of reason), the reasoning/logic of human beings, which supplies the law for itself was the “ideal” for human being. The principle of reason is something which is self-evident and thus also claims that its procedures are immediately intelligible (what is considered “logical”). It is here where human beings become the center of created things and where “humanism” has its beginnings. This occurs during the period that we call the Renaissance. The disappearance of God is a next logical step as He is no longer needed in this “human centered” world of human reason and calculation.


The correspondence theory of truth uses deductive reasoning proceeding from the general principles to the things to arrive at its “truths” regarding the “facts” as they are contained in its propositions. The coherence theory of truth moves from the empirical observations of perceived “facts” and, through inductive reasoning, attempts to arrive at the general principles of reason to attempt to provide a perceived explanation or account for the “facts”. Each of these is captured in your two assessments for TOK: your essay is to use deductive reasoning to arrive at specific examples (or “facts”) and your exhibition is to use inductive reasoning to move from a specific “fact” to a general principle regarding that fact. Each approach (methodology) to “truth” relies on logic which in turn relies on the principle of reason. The principle of reason (a 17th century definition first coined by the philosopher Leibniz) states that “Nothing is without reason” or “Nothing is for which a sufficient reason cannot be given”.

Leibniz (1646-1716) created both his finite mathematics (calculus) and also what we today call the “insurance industry”. These two creations are not so far apart as they may seem at first glance. Human beings require “certainty” and “security” as well as permanence with regard to their knowledge of the things and their being. Leibniz was competing with Isaac Newton and his infinitesimal calculus regarding the language that would best be used to ground and give an account of Newton’s discoveries regarding Nature. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which succeeded and which are still being studied today because they are most useful in calculating and commandeering the things of the world.

Leibniz’ effort was to mechanize deductive reasoning and its logic in his mathematics through which he hoped to build a “machine” that would generate all and only truths (notice the connection with the Medieval idea of truth): “How much better will it be to bring under mathematical laws human reasoning which is the most excellent and useful thing we have.” Doing this would enable the mind to “be freed from having to think directly of things themselves, and yet everything will turn out correct.” Leibniz was a contemporary of Newton and their efforts resulted in how human beings currently view the nature of the world we live in. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which determined the algorithms of today’s computer programmers and the language of many practitioners of the natural and human sciences.

This endeavour to mechanize thought by Leibniz captures what essentially happens in modern physical science which must report its findings in mathematical language. It is what allows the man in Moscow, Idaho and the woman in Moscow, Russia to arrive at conclusions regarding the nature of things without any specific object being directly under observation. The “machines” that Leibniz hoped to create are the beings that human beings themselves have now become. The AI machines that are currently being sought after will use the same reason and logic that created them. The “open region” which will give the “space” and allow for the existence of AI machines must first be preceded by the “viewing”, the ways of knowing, of the human beings who will create the open region that will allow the realization, or the space, for these AI machines. This viewing and the machines that will result from it will be a commandeering and commanding viewing, and this viewing has long been accomplished in the history of human being.

Returning to the origins of this viewing, according to Aristotle truth is the accordance (homoiosis) of a statement (logos) with a matter (pragma). A mathematical theory is also a statement regarding things or a matter. With regard to the correctness of the truths of propositions, some account must also be taken of error or falsity. Both the true and the false go hand in hand. Errors and false statements about things occur in the synthetic judgements we make about things, or in the predicates that we assign and relate to the things that are being discussed. Error is the product of human beings, not nature. These errors rest, as such, in the statements that we make about things. But how can statements about things be related to the things in the first place? Certainly, an account of something is not composed of the same elements as the thing of which it is an account. This question led the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to his great endeavour to answer the question “are synthetic judgements apriori possible”; that is, are the synthetic judgements of reason possible without the experience of the thing or matter with which they are concerned or connected? Notice how Kant’s effort followed Leibniz’s effort regarding the mind and its relation to things/matter. Both found their solutions in the language of mathematics and its symbolic logic which does not require the experience of the things themselves in order to be “correct”.

In order for a statement to relate to a thing or matter (pragma), the thing must be “present” in some way prior to any statement being made about it. But notice that in the example above regarding the two researchers in different Moscows, the thing is not “present” in any way that we conceive of  “presence”. But the thing becomes present as an idea in the mind. The thing is not an “object” that we would think of in any normal sense of reference to that word. The things are “present” in the open region that human beings themselves have opened up. These things as they are presented to us are given to us. Our ways of knowing are based on our relatedness to the thing/material and these ways of knowing pre-determine what our relatedness to the thing or our approaches to the thing are going to be. This relatedness in turn pre-determines the nature of the propositional statements which are made about the matter or thing in question.

For example, we do not enter a Group One class with the same view of a tree that we would have in a Group Four class: the tree is present to us in a different way but it, nevertheless, remains a tree. In our AOKs, some thing, the tree for example, must first be opened up as such and such and in such and such a way. The manner of the openness will determine the kinds of statements that can be made about the thing. All performances and their achievements, all actions and calculations, keep within an open region within which things and matters, with regard to what they are and how they are, can properly be present and take their stand and become capable of being talked about. The thing must first be defined and classified. A statement is correct (or true) only within the boundaries and standards (norms)  established within the openness of the viewing and a thing or matter can only correspond when this openness has been established. But if the correctness of statements is only possible through the openness of the viewing, what makes correctness possible must be prior to the correspondence as the essence of what truth is.

Pragmatic Theory of Truth

The third theory of truth, the pragmatic theory of truth, came to prominence in the writings and conclusions of three Americans: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Their writings were influenced by the British empiricists J. S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham as well as Charles Darwin, for the most part. In the writings of the Americans, the emphasis was on the pragma or the material substance (Nature) that was arrived at through “sense perception as a way of knowing” or what has been called empiricism. The pragmatic theory of truth primarily focuses on the “useful” as what was “true” and it was an attempt to overcome what they believed were the conclusions of the previous metaphysics and philosophy in order to replace those accounts for the why, the how and the what of things that were experienced with a “scientific account” or an account that was explainable in terms of science and the scientific method of inquiry. This misunderstanding of what metaphysics is/was in the history of the West has led to many of the contradictions present in this theory of truth.

The Pragmatic Theory of Truth holds that the “usefulness” of a proposition determines its truth. “Usefulness” is measured by whether or not the truth “works” and provides some “value” to the viewer and to the community of which he or she is a member. The Americans, Peirce and James, were the pragmatic theory of truth’s principal advocates but its origins can be found in the writings of the Englishmen Jeremy Bentham and his “utilitarianism” and in J. S. Mill’s material philosophy by way of the logic of Aristotle and its historical interpretation (or misinterpretation).

For the pragmatists, utility is the essential mark of truth and utility relates to “pragma” or the “matter at hand”. A pragmatic theory of truth is present in such TOK phrases as “the production of knowledge” or “the measurement” of some result to determine its success in relation to an “ideal” desired. The pragmatic theory of truth strongly relies on belief as a way of knowing, beliefs that lead to the best, most efficient results, or the best justifications of our actions (“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”), or that promote “success” or what is considered to be “valued” as the best outcome.

William James’s version of the pragmatic theory is that “the ‘true’ is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only the expedient in our way of behaving.” For James, “truth” is a matter of convenience whether in theory or in practice; it is the end that determines all. This becomes the principle of ethical action: truth is a “value” which is justified by its effectiveness when the applied concepts to actual practice “work”, and these ends are determined by our “convenience”. James said that “all true processes must lead to the face of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere”. For James, “if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, then it is ‘true.’ ” Such a statement is the modern equivalent of the Medieval theologians’  questioning of how many angels could fit upon the head of a pin, and one need not wonder at the current mess that is present in American politics when one looks at what passes for philosophy there. The good end, the good result, will justify any means, and this principle of action has led to many of the great disasters that have marked the 20th and 21st centuries. It can, perhaps, best be captured in a quote from the scientist Robert Oppenheimer who said: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”  “Just do it” is an apt slogan for our age and one of the “principles” which has created its “moral compass” or lack thereof. It is what is today called “ideology” which may be said to be “the imagined existence (or idea/ideal) of things as it relates to the real conditions of existence”.

The pragmatic theory of truth operates where technology as a way of knowing and the principle of reason prevail. Charles Peirce wrote: “This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality.” “Faith”, for Peirce, is “opinion” and it is the opinion of whichever class rules in a society at any particular time. This is quite distinct from the Platonic definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”. The pragmatists argue against the allegory of the Cave of Plato because they believe that there is nothing beyond the Cave that can be known or loved.

There appears to be very little room for freedom in Peirce’s conception of thought and reality, and one can see how the world of “alternative facts” could easily emerge given whatever opinion of the community predominates at the time (through political choices, for example), whatever has been decided upon or deified regardless of whether that community believes that it has arrived at its ends through democratic or fascistic means, whether the community’s choices are rational or irrational. What is decisive is the determinative ethos of the day. Decision is what is most important. It is the opinions of the Cave (to remember Plato’s allegory) which prevail, and the light shone on the things of the cave by the keepers of the fire is that which has been agreed to by the cave-dwellers as the light. For the pragmatists, this light has been shone by scientific research. But as we have seen, science is at a crisis at this point in its history.

John Dewey agrees with Peirce on what can be considered truth: “The best definition of truth from the logical standpoint which is known to me is that by Peirce: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real.” For Dewey, truth is the belief best exhibited by the scientists in their inquiries into the nature of what is.

“Truth” comes to be replaced by “ideology”. It is the view that prevails when one accepts Darwin’s account of the being of beings and what “fittedness” has come to mean in modern societies. As the American philosopher Sally Haslanger has said: “The function of ideology is to stabilize and perpetuate dominance through masking or illusion.” It is these masks and illusions that have come to dominate our ethics and our politics in the form of mass movements and ideologies. It is this lack of self-knowledge which illustrates our age as a tragic age.

The “belief” element in the pragmatic theory of truth has led to the position of  “alternative facts” where, for the sake of convenience or “usefulness”, the “matter” or the “pragma” being discussed is disputed in its nature. “Usefulness” rests on the proposition’s ability to “empower” someone and this “empowerment” is a matter of convenience for the individual and the community; if it is not convenient, it can easily be cast aside. For example, it may be “useful” to someone to have a belief in a god for psychological reasons while it may not be useful to another to have such a belief. The utility to the individual and the community is the prime determiner of the truth of the thing. This is a common critique of the pragmatic theory of truth for this standpoint is a violation of the principle of contradiction and, therefore, a violation of the principle of reason: a thing cannot be both itself and its opposite at the same time. But this is not to deny the fact that in the pragmatic theory of truth the principle of reason, whether realized through algebraic calculation or through the definitions of algorithms, still prevails. The critique of the pragmatic theory of truth states that, ultimately, the pragmatic theory of truth is irrational. The madness can only be deep in a society which holds forth its opposite, when rationality is coupled with idolatry and the blasphemy of thinking that the god’s will is scrutable. The rational and the irrational belong together.

One can see an example of where ideology overrules science in the recent rejections of the notion of “climate change” by certain individuals and groups. Because the scientific findings or “facts” are not “convenient” to certain individuals or groups within the community (fossil fuel promoters for example), the scientific facts are rejected for the sake of the benefits of their short term gains or “empowerment”. Al Gore’s film entitled An Inconvenient Truth is aptly named. But at the bottom of the climate change deniers’ view is a much more worrisome and deadly viewing of the world, and that viewing is nihilism.

Freedom in the Age of the Dimming Truth

Truth, knowledge and freedom are interconnected, and how we conceive them determines how we conceive of ourselves as human beings.

How do the things that we know come to presence for us? To presence here means to let the thing stand opposed to us as object. When the thing is placed in this way, the thing that stands opposed must traverse that open region of opposedness and yet must maintain its stand as a thing and show itself as something standing opposed. This appearing of the thing in the open region of opposedness takes place within the open region, the openness of which is not first created by the presencing of the thing but rather is entered into and taken over as a domain of relatedness or what we have come to call an area of knowledge, how we have come to define the things. The relation of the presentative statement (the proposition) to the thing, what we say about the thing, is accomplished through that way of knowing which originally and always comes to prevail as our comportment toward the thing. We have already indicated that, today, this comportment is Reason or a type of reason that is distinguished by “logic” and the concepts that are derived from logic. But all of our ways of knowing and our comportments towards the things are distinguished by the fact that, standing in the open region, they adhere to something already opened up as such. What is opened up in this way was experienced early in Western thinking by the Greeks as “what is present” and for a long time has been named “being.” What, then, is the relation of freedom to knowledge and to truth?

Freedom is not to be understood as human caprice, nor does it rest on or in what is considered to be “convenient” within the social contexts predominating at any time. The essence of freedom is truth; and truth’s essence is freedom. Paradoxically, both involve an “owingness” and an “indebtedness“; and at times what is owed and what we are indebted to is not “convenient” for us in any way. This is what the Greeks referred to as “justice”; it is what we are “fitted for” as full human beings. To make a simple statement about it: we “owe” it to our children to leave the earth as a habitable planet for them and so we must take action against climate change and the threat of nuclear war. This “owingness” is an example of our indebtedness to the “otherness”  that is other human beings (and potential human beings) as individuals and as a species, and to the earth and what is upon it, since the earth is “good” for us and to us in some way even if we believe only for our survival as a species.

To understand our human freedom it is necessary to rethink the ordinary concept of truth that is given in the correctness of statements arrived at through logic and reason and to think it back to what was originally meant by truth for the Greeks. Today, to engage oneself with the unconcealment of beings in the open region is not to lose oneself in them, not to search and create more “novelty” in our experiences of beings and in our discourses about them; rather, our engagement should be a withdrawal in the face of beings in order that they might reveal themselves with respect to what and how they are  in order for the presentative correspondence (that which brings the things to “presence”) can take its standard from them, not from ourselves. This letting-be of beings, the things that are, our comportment toward them, exposes itself to beings as such and transposes or changes all comportments or ways of knowing that we stand in within the open region. Letting-be, i. e., freedom, is intrinsically exposing, an opening and opening up of our world and speaking about beings and our comportment towards them. Considered in regard to the essence of truth, the essence of freedom manifests itself as our exposure to the unconcealment of the beings themselves as we find them in our areas of knowledge.

Freedom is not merely what our common sense is content to allow, our freedom of choices based on whims in whatever direction whatsoever. It is not the mere absence of constraints or restraints on our choosing with respect to what we can and cannot do, our supposed ethical actions. It is not what is conceived when “the open society and its enemies” is spoken about.

If we look at what is written here and relate it back to the thinking of Aristotle as the origin of the understanding of the notions of truth as correspondence and coherence, we can say that “logic” is not the origin of the notion of “truth” but a precursor or prelude to what was understood, by the Greeks, as “truth”. “Logic” is a comportment or mode of being in the world, one possible among many.

This is what primarily distinguishes Aristotle from Plato. “Science” for Aristotle was both “theoretical” and “practical”: theoretical science was composed of physics (natural science), mathematics and metaphysics; practical science was composed of ethics, economics and political science in the narrower sense of how we understand that term. Science’s foundation was based on the science of science: logic. The victory of science over metaphysics that occurs in the 17th century with Newton’s overturning of Aristotle’s physics through the logic of modern mathematics led to a “metaphysically neutral” physics. This “metaphysically neutral” physics is what allows the woman in Moscow, Russia and the man in Moscow, Idaho to conceive of their ideas regarding the what and the how of things interdependently. This interdependence became the opinion regarding the nature of things that is the foundation of the “pragmatic” theory of truth and the overcoming of the interconnection between “truth” and ethical or political action. Ethics and prudence as the height of political action are “values”, not facts. This belief in the “neutrality” of truth will predominate as we move towards the global society that is the end goal of the technological world-view.

This separation of science from metaphysics, occurring in the 17th century, led to what we call the “fact-value” distinction which in turn led to the creation and separation of an economics which was distinct from ethical actions, and for a sociology that did not distinguish between which hierarchies of associations are worthy to be studied i.e. whether political associations are higher than non-political associations and therefore more worthy of study.

What distinguishes Aristotle from the moderns is that for Aristotle human actions have principles of their own which are not derived from the theoretical or physical sciences. Today, of course, the principles of human actions that are in any way to be conceived of as “knowledge” of those actions are based on the discoveries of the bio-sciences. The “lower” determines what truth is considered to be and not the “higher”, and this viewing has brought about a “vulgarity” in our politics in the 20th and 21st centuries not seen in centuries prior. Fascism as a political phenomenon is a  modern political phenomenon. The theories of the bio-sciences are the manner of viewing which rests on a dogmatic atheism which presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical or as “objective” rather than “subjective”.

Human actions were seen by Aristotle to be guided by prudence which must constantly be defended from theoretical attacks (which is the goal of this particular blog) and these defenses must be based on theory of some kind; the theory in itself is not the ground of prudence. Prudence presupposes an awareness of political things (ethical things) based on pre-scientific observations and thoughts. Prudence is based on the idea that there is a common good for societies that can be perceived and understood. The common good in its fullness is the good society and what is required for the good society. By teaching and promoting the equality of literally all desires through our views of “freedom” with the rationale of the “fact/value” distinction, we teach that there is nothing of which a human being ought to be ashamed; by destroying the possibility of self-contempt,  we destroy with the best of intentions the possibility of self-respect. By teaching the equality of all values, by denying that there are things which are intrinsically high and others which are intrinsically low, as well as by denying that there is an essential difference between human beings and brutes, we have unwittingly contributed to the victory of the gutter.

May 2019 Prescribed 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 you provide another perspective to the ones given to you in the titles and from your 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.

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.


The May 2019 Prescribed Titles

1. “The quality of knowledge is best measured by how many people accept it.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The knowledge questions that arise from within title #1 are in its use of the concepts of “quality”, “knowledge”, “measured”, “how many people”, and “accept”. Reflection shows us that these are all related to “value” determinations of what “knowledge” is and how its “quality” may be measured. The “quality of knowledge”, historically, has been measured by its “usefulness” towards the achievement of the ends that human beings have determined and have in mind. 

For example, in the IB itself the “quality of knowledge” which has been determined to be the most “useful” is that given to us through the sciences. Views of which subjects are chosen by students and their parents illustrate this. This may be contrasted with the quality and value of knowledge which may be gotten through the Arts. Our acceptance of the value of the knowledge to be gained in the sciences is seen in our societies’ rewarding of positions of money and power to those who have knowledge in these areas.

Knowledge that arises from the sciences and the mastering of this knowledge is what is held as “valuable” today and has been held as valuable for the past two hundred years or so . This “usefulness” is due to the fact that this “knowledge” “empowers” us in meeting our ends which, at bottom, are the controlling and commandeering of beings/things towards what is determined to be “useful” for us. Whether this be in the health sciences or the social sciences, this “empowerment” to achieve “useful ends” in the aim of the hard work that is required to master these areas of knowledge. Our “production of knowledge” is the desire to control “chance” and necessity and the power that arises through this control and mastery. The world and its resources viewed as “disposable” to our ends is our “empowerment”, and the value of this “empowerment” is recognized by our communities through our “shared knowledge” in the construction of what our curriculums will be in our education and in the awarding of the variety of positions of power within our communities for those who have mastered those curriculums or those who have gained the theoretical and practical knowledge that is to be found through those curriculums or our “shared knowledge”.

In order for something to be considered “knowledge”, an account must be rendered of what that “something” is. In TOK, we call this account our WOKs or our ways of knowing. Our ways of knowing are our renderings of the accounts of things: the ‘what’, the ‘why’, and the ‘how’ of some thing. That which we call “personal knowledge”, knowledge which may, perhaps, be most important to us as individuals, is quite “useless” without its being rendered or given over to others. We render this knowledge in our accounts of things through language, reason, emotion, etc.

What is the knowledge that allows or drives an individual to chose to become a member of Medicins Sans Frontieres rather than choosing the more ‘powerful’ other options which are available to that individual, for instance? Clearly, this is a ‘knowledge’ of some thing which the majority do not accept, but is it the knowledge of the art of medicine itself or the knowledge that brings one to make such a choice the knowledge that is most important? And which knowledge has more ‘quality’? One can see here the ‘value’ estimations which we use when we think of what knowledge is and these value estimations are part of the “shared knowledge” that we have in our possession and that has been given over to us.

The account of the knowledge of things held to be most “robust” or “useful” for us is that which is given through the mathematical in the form of algebraic calculation. This account of the knowledge of things is the “language as a way of knowing” that allows us to “measure” things whether through statistics (“how many people”) or through some other calculation that renders the “reasons” for things being as they are and allows us to make judgements about them (their ‘truth’). The rendering of reasons is based on the principle of reason as a way of knowing (“nothing is without reason” or “nothing is without a reason or a cause”). The rendering of reasons is what we call “evidence”. Such a rendering of the account of things is shown, for example, in the algorithms which dominate our sciences and information technologies and communications in today’s world. This rendering of accounts through the principle of reason may be metaphorically compared to a fish and its surrounding by water: the fish is entirely unaware of the water which surrounds it but that water nevertheless sustains its life. So, too, the rendering of our accounts of things through the principle of reason is “useful” for sustaining our lives.

In contrast to the quality of knowledge found in the sciences is the quality of knowledge found in the Arts. In advanced technological societies, the Arts are what we do in our leisure time and thus are relegated to being of secondary importance. This is quite distinct from the place of the Arts in other societies at other times and places in the histories of the West and the East. The knowledge to be gained through and from the Arts is secondary to that knowledge which we gain through the sciences because of our reliance on the rendering of accounts through the principle of reason. The empowering that is to be gained through the Arts is held to be of less value than that which can be gained through the calculative sciences since we consider the ‘truth’ of the Arts to be ‘subjective’ personal knowledge and not the concrete objective knowledge given to us through our employment of the scientific method. The Arts are seen as “valuable” through their ability to create for us “aesthetic experiences” deepening our personal knowledge, and our views of the arts are primarily through sense perception as a way of knowing.

2. “The production of knowledge  is always a collaborative task and never solely a product of the individual.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #2 allows you to explore the relationship between ‘personal’ and ‘shared’ knowledge and its impact on the Areas of Knowledge. It also allows you to explore the relationship between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ and whether these two concepts are separable or not. “Collaboration” as the workings of “shared knowledge” in the present through the past might also allow some exploration of memory as a way of knowing and its relation to the AOKs. Remember that memory is both a personal WOK as well as a collective WOK.

A collaborative task is only possible where the vision of the members of the collaboration are unified, and this unification comes about through an acceptance of the “truth” of the original viewing or the “theory”. To paraphrase the philosopher Hegel,  “A single mind is enough for a million hands” and this involves that the truth of the viewing must be accepted in advance before any progress towards an outcome or “product” can take place.

The use of the terms “always” and “never” bring about some points of contention in this title as these “value judgements” always do. These visions or viewings of the collaborators may be unified by the end in view, the goal of the collaboration such as the ‘bottom line’ in business or corporate enterprises (the need to bring about results), or by the view driving the tasks that are being conducted, how one is to best achieve improvements in the ‘bottom line’ in the most efficient manner. You are using such a ‘view’ in reading this blog in the hope that it will help you to achieve the best result possible in your goal of writing the essay within the collaboration that is called an “IB education”. Astrophysicists, for example, collaborate on exploring the meaning of the data given to them by recent revelations brought about by the findings of the new telescopes in outer space. Their viewing of this data, how this data will be viewed, has already been pre-determined for them.

When we speak of the “production of knowledge” or knowledge as a “product” we are looking at knowledge as the outcome of a “making” or a “manufacturing” so that it will come to stand before us as an “object”. It is a process involving the use of materials and ideas that will “bring forth” (from the Latin producere) some thing that will be of “use” or of some “value” for us. We might call this process “experiment” in the sciences, and in the other writings in this blog it is referred to as “technology as a way of knowing” involving logos as the “knowing” and techne as the “making”. When this knowing and making involves many individuals, it may be contrasted with the “knowing” of the single individual who discovers or invents the “theory” that provides the viewing for the many. The single individual also works in a “collaboration” of a kind with the “shared knowledge” that has been given over to him or her. The discoveries of modern physics are not possible without the initial discoveries of Newton.

In the Arts, the relation of the individual to the tradition or of  the individual’s personal to the shared knowledge of the community of which he or she is a member is a possibility for exploration and discussion. While many “products” of the Arts are spoken of as “productions” (i.e. theatre, film, dance), and must certainly be seen as collaborations, many artistic works are clearly the products of single individuals (i.e. novels, paintings, etc.), but these individuals must work within a collaboration with the tradition and their audience in order for their works to communicate with the societies around them. The question of what “knowledge” is and what knowledge is “produced” in the Arts can also provide some fruitful areas for exploration.

3. Do good explanations have to be true?

Title #3 asks us to consider what makes for a “good explanation” and whether or not “truth” is necessary when giving an account of some thing. The rendering of an account of something is related to language and reason as ways of knowing primarily, and the account may be rendered through words or through numbers and symbols. An “explanation” provides an account of the “what”, the “how” and the “why” some thing is as it is and encompasses all phenomena.

Any attempt to render an explanation of something involves some “knowledge” of some kind of that thing, and to have knowledge of some thing involves having made some judgement regarding the “truth” of the “what” (definition), the “how’ or the “why” of the thing beforehand. One cannot begin an “explanation” without first having some notion of “truth” regarding the thing that one is trying to explain. This prior “knowledge” of some thing is what we call “understanding” and we “understand” something when we believe we have the “reasons” for its being as it is. When someone in authority says to you “You better have a good explanation for this” when you have made a mistake of some kind, they are looking for your account of the what, the contexts (the how) and the consequences for the error which you may have made. “Explanations” require “evidence” which corresponds to the reality of what is present. When the explanation and the evidence do not correspond with the reality (the correspondence theory of truth), what is given in the account of the thing is mere fantasy. There are many examples that you can find and use to discuss this point.

This title can be approached by looking at it from discussions of at least two WOKs or ways of knowing or how the ways of knowing account for the explanations that occur in two AOKs or areas of knowledge. Discussions of language as a WOK and reason as a WOK would be fruitful in approaching the title. Any account of things in the Natural Sciences must be given in “numbers” or in “symbols” for we believe that it is through calculation that we can be “certain” of what some thing is and we are able to make accurate predictive calculations of how and why it will behave in the way it does through these calculations. These calculations give us mastery and control over the thing even though they may lack an “explanation” for the “why” and the “what” of the thing.

For an explanation to be considered “good”, belief as a way of knowing might also be considered since “belief” deals with the phenomena of “facts” and what we believe those “facts” to be or how we account for those facts. Today, much silly ink is being spouted regarding “alternative facts”, but the fact is that the alternatives being spoken about are, really, the accounts of or for the facts or the “explanations” of the facts. These accounts may be true or false. When they are “true”, they bring the thing being spoken about “to light” so that it can be seen for what it is; when they are “false”, the account covers or hides the thing. Disputes over how things are accounted for have been with human beings since the beginning: the contest between Socrates and the Sophists in ancient Greece is one example of this ongoing discussion in the history of the West. The current persistent attack on truth in politics bodes ill for the future of human beings as human beings are the animals that require truth in order to be human beings (if Plato, Aristotle and others in both the West and the East are to be believed).

Your essay might consider the importance of “truth” and its relation to “good explanations”. There are three predominant theories of truth present today: the correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth, and the pragmatic theory of truth. These theories of truth arise from an interpretation (whether correct or not) of the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s logic. The principle of reason as a way of knowing is what is operative in Aristotle’s account of things. When the thing being studied corresponds to the ideas in the mind then the “truth” of the thing is present and with it knowledge and understanding of the thing.  The “be-cause” is answered. When we make errors regarding a thing, these errors are the results of mistakes in the synthesis of our accounts of the categories of the things (i.e. its color, size, location, etc., the “coherence” of the synthesis of our accounts) not the presence of the thing itself that is being considered (or what we consider a “fact” to be). Our account of gravity, for instance, is incomplete but not “untrue”. Elements of truth are present in it to account for our knowledge and understanding of it and, thus, our “explanations” of it. Without “truth” we have no knowledge or understanding of the things that we are addressing and cannot “give over” to others an account of the thing, and it is this giving or handing over of the accounts that is essential. It is, if you like, what you are attempting to do in your essay.

4. “Disinterestedness is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

“Disinterestedness” is the key concept in title #4 and warrants some careful reflection. Is “disinterestedness” possible given the conditions of the existence of human beings and the existence of their world? We would like to think that the “scientific method”, for instance, has a “disinterestedness” that must be inherent in it in order to avoid the errors that might arise from emotions or biases in order for its results to be “objective”. Is “objectivity” possible is one knowledge question that arises from this position. Two AOKs where this can be examined and explored are the Natural and the Human Sciences. Given the cost of research in the sciences, is it possible for those engaged in it to be “disinterested”? Isn’t most research today in the natural and human sciences “vested interests”? How does the concept of “disinterestedness” relate to our concepts of personal and shared knowledge? Do the majority of students who study the sciences in the IB do so out of a “disinterestedness” in terms of what they hope to learn and in their pursuit of knowledge? In our age of “empowerment”, is “disinterestedness” just another name for “indifference” as long as the thing being interrogated is under our command and control?

The historical background of the notion of “disinterestedness” begins with Aristotle’s unique coining of the term “bios theoretikos” or the “theoretical life”. This mode of being in the world was the goal of the philosopher for Aristotle. It was later understood by the Latins and the monks of the early Christian Church to be the “contemplative” life as opposed to the life of engagement in caritas or charity. This conflict in many of its permutations is still present with us today when we consider the “usefulness” of what we discover and why we study what we study and to what ends the results will be used.

Our own view of the importance of “disinterestedness” in the pursuit of knowledge is the result of the emphasis we place on Cartesianism, the separation of subject and object, in our approach to how we view (the theoretical) the world. This separation was grounded in the great writings of the German philosopher Kant in his critiques of pure reason, practical reason and judgement. We are still living out the works of Kant, and his thinking is being eroded by the later thinking of Darwin and Nietzsche . For Descartes, in order for some thing “to be”, then that thing must be “represented” by the mind of the subject. 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. This manner of thinking that we call “conceptual thinking”, determines beforehand the nature of our ways of knowing: reason, imagination, language, etc. Descartes’s view was that whenever I think about anything I also think that I think. In the representing, that which is represented and the representer are always co-represented at the same time. What we call “humanism” finds its grounding in the thinking of Descartes.

The findings of Kant and his thinking have been brought into question by the discoveries of modern physics in the 20th century. For example, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg has stated: “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.”  The language that Heisenberg is referring to here is mathematics, and the answers to the questions that we pose are in the certainty of  our calculations regarding the outcomes or results which gives us the ability to predict the behaviours of the objects that are under study and, thus, give us control  over them so that they may be applied to our ends. But it is not “nature” that is being “known” here. Is this end of our knowledge, the mastery of nature in the sciences, really “disinterested”? What is the purpose of this “mastery”? How does this relate to the Human Sciences where the object of study is human beings and the development of techniques for their mastery and control? These are just some of the  knowledge questions that might be used when choosing examples to explore this title.

5. “The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them.” Discuss this claim.

When we speak about the “production” of some thing such as “knowledge”, we are speaking about knowledge as a “project”, an entity or thing that relates to our conceptual, representational thinking and the “correspondence theory of truth” of what we call our “shared knowledge” in our TOK language. To “produce” something means to bring it forth out of hiding whether that something is a peach in an orchard and is the product of Nature (and thus relates to our word “produce” when referring to things such as fruits and vegetables) or the latest tech gadget from Apple which is the “produce” of human beings. “Production” is a “bringing forth”. “Production” is related to the Greek word techne which is the “knowing” and the “know how” that guides our relations to the things that are produced by Nature and to Nature itself as well as our knowing that is related to the things produced or made by human beings. It is a kind of “knowing” that allows for the “making” of such things as hand phones and computers and we call this knowing and making “technology”.

“Conclusions” relate to our judgements of what some thing is. Our judgements are the definitions that we give to things thus providing the limits to the things so that we may classify them as such and such a thing and place them in our Areas of Knowledge. For example, while we accept the existence of atoms, we have no appropriate models to “represent” them given the “evidence” that we have regarding their nature and behaviour. Atoms are symbolic entities represented by an algebraic formula, and their physical “existence” is “skipped over” in order that we may “produce” knowledge based on the conclusions that we have already arrived at regarding the atom’s nature and what it is. In this skipping over, we “go beyond” the issue of our lack of knowledge of what the thing such as an atom might be. The Rutherford model that is sometimes used to describe an atom is simply a piece of fantasy and does not relate to the reality of the atom.

Because the mathematics of atoms or of anything else works in producing the outcomes that we desire, we do not care what the nature of the atom really is as long as we are able to produce reliable results or conclusions and can make use of those results or conclusions. This is the crisis of modern science when we consider that the word “science” means “knowledge”. Science does not and cannot reflect or question its own beginnings because this would stop it from “producing” the kind of knowledge that we are speaking about here. Science cannot conduct an experiment to provide the evidence that shows what science itself is; that is, it cannot give an “account” of itself scientifically. “Evidence” is what we call the “account of something”. It is the answer to the question of “why” and begins with “be-cause”. It is the rendering of reasons.

We have much greater knowledge of the things which we have “produced” or made than we do of the things that we have not produced or made or the things that are the products of Nature. The results or accounts of science must be reported in the language of mathematics for this is the only language adequate for the thinking that allows the space for the “production” of this type of knowledge to occur. When we speak of this kind of knowledge it must be acknowledged that it is a knowledge that operates within a limited horizon regarding its understanding of “what”, “why” and “how” things are, but again, this does not really matter to us as long as we can make “use” of the results that are gathered. Again, this is the crisis of science in our era.

In the Arts one can discuss our general lack of knowledge regarding the mysteries of imagination, language, the work of art and Art itself. To produce or bring forth the work of art whether as a “production” or an object of art does not require that we know or are certain of what “art” is, or what “language” is, or what the “imagination” is. The work “speaks for itself” and is its own account. We may discuss whether something is or is not art or whether a production is “good” or “bad” but these are secondary to the work itself. The artist is originated by the work of art. The point is not simply that no one is an artist until he or she creates a work, but that the artist is not in control of his or her own creativity. Art is a sort of impersonal force that uses the artist for its own purposes and in this way the artist must accept “conclusions” (the work) over which they have no or limited “control” or “evidence”. This may be the reason why artists find it so difficult to account for their art; they simply do not know.

The aesthetic view of art so prevalent today stems from the human-centred metaphysic of modernity or what we call humanism, and coheres with the conception of beings as what is ‘objectively representable’. My own states, the way I feel in the presence of something, determines my view of everything I encounter. Art is thus “subjective”. Hence art has become a device for the provision of ‘experience and part of our “personal knowledge”. This view is abetted by the view that a work of art is a thing, a crafted thing, with aesthetic value superimposed on it by us. Despite the Greek use of techne for both ‘craft’ and ‘art’ (since techne means bringing forth beings through “know how”), this “production” is present both in human beings and in Nature. The “ends”, the conclusions, are accepted even though we have no “knowledge” of the whats, the hows and the whys of the things.

6. “One way to assure the health of a discipline is to nurture contrasting perspectives.” Discuss this claim.

Using the metaphor of “health” when speaking about a “discipline” indicates that the discipline is considered a “living being” or a living thing. We do not speak of the “health” of rocks, for instance. To be capable of living implies, concurrently, the capability of dying so the “knowledge” that is present in the discipline is not permanent but historical.

The statement implies an historical approach to knowledge. This statement is very much a “modern” viewpoint or “perspective”. The great thinker of perspectivism in the West was Friedrich Nietzsche. Plato, by contrast, saw knowledge as being contained in the Ideas and in the beholding of the Ideas and was thus “permanent” or eternal. Title #6 implies that the “methodology”, the “discipline” of any area of knowledge for how the things within that area of knowledge are to be beheld and accounted for, is contained in the “perspective” or the “viewing”, the theory and the concepts resulting from the theory, which drives the methodology forward. “Contrasting perspectives” are not from within the “viewing” itself, the “theory”, but in the accounts that result from this viewing. The viewing is but one possible way of viewing; many others are possible.

We see various accounts in the various disciplines in the experiments that are performed by scientists, for instance, or in the papers that are required to be written by the learned professors in their academic disciplines. Some of these accounts are quite silly and I’m sure that many of you will be able to find ample examples of these academic inanities for your papers. Some are merely “putting old wine into new wine skins” where concepts and ideas that were much better thought out by our predecessors in our shared knowledge are renamed to give them, what the unthinking moderns believe is some modern relevance.

Thinking involves asking questions. A question is distinct from a knowledge problem. A knowledge problem (such as the freewill problem) is an objectified timeless entity, extracted by philosophers from the works of Plato, Kant, etc. It is something studied in the Group 3 course on philosophy and its history of philosophical ideas. A question is a concrete, situated event and it is something you are asked to do in both your oral presentations and in your essays through arriving at the questions in the examples that you have chosen. Questions, unlike problems, are not restricted to a traditional menu or historical account that has become part of our shared knowledge. Does the “health” of a discipline imply the kind of thinking that is within it and the kinds of questions which are asked in that discipline? Is the horizon of the thinking within a discipline quite limited in the possibilities of its “various perspectives”? Does science “think” and is it capable of thinking? Is there any perspective in the arts that goes beyond the viewing of the arts as an “aesthetic experience” i.e. art as an object?

In exploring title #6, using the knowledge framework to explore the key concepts of the AOKs chosen and the WOKs within those AOKs might be a fruitful approach. Arriving at some statements regarding the “health” of an AOK, and providing an account for the making of those statements could result in a good paper.