Essay 1

“In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

This question can be taken in a number of directions. Essentially it requires a discussion on the relationship between different ways of knowledge and how they combine and feed into each other to form new knowledge in a given domain (AOK). Unlike some of the other questions it does not ask “to what extent do you agree with this statement”. Rather it invites you to discuss the knowledge claim made in the quote. This gives a certain amount of freedom – but as my Mum used to say “With freedom comes responsibility”.

So ….. more than with the other essays it is important to define the direction you want to take and to have a clear thesis and be totally transparent about this from the word ‘go’. It may be that you wish to say to what extent you agree with the statement in the title. It maybe that you do not agree with the assertion. Whatever position and line you want to take, be clear about this from the outset.

So you will need to decide which two AOKs you want to focus on and then within them which WOKs you will discuss.

Firstly though it would be good to revisit the ‘Gaining Knowledge’ section of the Oxford TOK course companion (page 30). It is largely true that if an AOK ‘gains knowledge’ the type of knowledge is classified as shared. Such knowledge is usually agreed and largely accepted as truth by a larger group of people at a certain time or place. Please read the section called “First distinction: personal knowledge, shared knowledge” on page 33 of the course companion.

There is a very interesting debate about the way rationalism (reason) and empiricism (sense perception) interact in the Natural Sciences. Also the question of which, if any, predominates in the process of gaining knowledge in Science? See resources below.

What about the relationship between emotion and reason within ethics?

A more general lecture on the affective (emotional) and cognitive (rational) processes.

So you need to ask the following questions….

  • How do WOKs combine and overlap within certain disciplines?
  • How does each WOK complement each other in these situations?
  • The map is not the territory – so to what extent is classifying the ways of knowing a truly accurate way of describing what happens in reality. Is there really such a separation between say reason and perception?

Which WOKs and why?

It would make sense to focus on the natural sciences and the way that the scientific method combines sense perception with reason. In the same way religious knowledge combines faith and emotion as ways of knowing.

Ideas and resources

IBO TOK talks about the focal issue of this question …

“Ways of knowing do not operate in isolation Ways of knowing should not be viewed in isolation. They interact in various ways in the construction of knowledge and the formation of knowledge claims. For example, even a simple claim such as “this table is blue” involves a number of ways of knowing coming together. I need language to be able to understand the terms “table” and “blue”. I need a conceptual system based on reason to realize that a table is something that has the possibility of being blue. I need sense perception to recognize that what I see is a table and that the colour of the table is blue. In this way, the individual ways of knowing are woven together into more elaborate structures in order to generate knowledge in the areas of knowledge”