Essay 3

“The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?

Again this invites us to contrast and compare personal with shared knowledge. It asks us to consider what drives the production of shared knowledge – is it the  agency of pioneering individuals or the incremental outcomes of collaboration? (or a mixture of both?).

  • To what extent does Personal Knowledge drive and form Shared Knowledge?

The IBO TOK guide has something to say on this issue….

Links between shared and personal knowledge Clearly there are links and interactions between shared knowledge and personal knowledge. These are discussed in more depth in the knowledge framework.

Consider the example of a scientist such as Albert Einstein who has contributed much to modern physics. Clearly, he had some personal qualities that enabled him to see further than some of his peers. He had personal knowledge, a way of looking at things perhaps, that he was able to use to propel his exploration of the difficult questions that characterized the physics of the early 20th century. But his insights had to go through a thorough process of review before being accepted as part of the shared body of knowledge that is the discipline of physics.

There were disciplinary-specific methods that placed demands on Einstein’s thought. For example, his ideas had to be logically consistent, had to conform to previous experimental findings and had to go through a process of peer review. They also had to provide predictions that could be independently tested and verified (for example, the predictions made about the visibility of stars normally obscured by the sun in the solar eclipse of 1919). Only then could Einstein’s vision become an accepted part of physics. This illustrates how personal knowledge leads to advances in shared knowledge.

The reverse process can and does occur. Shared knowledge can have a big effect on our personal view of the world. Not only do the familiar areas of knowledge impinge on our personal experiences—someone studying economics might regard everyday shopping in a different light as a result of studying economics— but shared knowledge as membership of our cultural, ethnic, gender and other groups might influence our world view. This is what we call perspective. Membership of such groups provides a horizon against which the significance of the events of our lives is measured. Acknowledgment of such perspectives is an important goal of the TOK course.

From an individual perspective, shared knowledge often appears in the form of an authority—a source of knowledge whose justification is not immediately available to the individual. An example here is the authority of medical science to the patient who is not trained in medicine.”

You may want to consider the Great Man Theory or watch the three short films entitled “Everything is a remix” which argues against the myth of the genius and asserts that the process of innovating inherently involves plagiarism.

At times in human history there are trailblazers; iconic figures whose thinking radically alters shared knowledge. Let’s list a few Rosa Parks, John Snow, Picasso, Einstein, John Locke, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Charles Darwin (in the news), Karl Marx, Confucious. But could they really have achieved what they did without relying on the groundwork of their predecessors or the efforts of their peers? We attribute the monumental success of apple products to the individual efforts of Steve Jobs, but is this really the truth?

Sometimes though individuals are prone to cognitive bias or fallacies. Individuals views are coloured by their culture, their experiences and the views of their immediate family.

The need to define which AOKs

It would be a good idea (as with all the essays) to define the parameters of your essay. The titles are so broad that you need to limit the focus down and explain in your introduction how and why you intend to do this.

Perhaps you could do a comparative study of the extent to which the knower’s perspective is important in different AOKs.

  • Consider the necessity of the knowers perspective in the pursuit of knowledge in Maths compared to say, The Arts. Arguably the the importance of the individual perspective is more prevalent in the process of developing knowledge in the arts than it is in Maths or Science. But this generalization is ripe for scrutiny! Is it always so or are there any interesting exceptions you could point to?
  • Does the question depend on what WOK the knower is using? For instance is the knowers perspective more or less important in the pursuit of scientific knowledge than in The Arts?
  • Is there a different answer depending on which AOK we study? Is the knowers perspective more valid when they use reason rather than intuition in the pursuit of knowledge?
  • What do we actually mean by the word perspective? Is such a perspective formed by experience, genetics, culture and or tradition?
  • Does the essay title require us to look at the comparative benefits of subjectivity and objectivity?

The following questions could be raised about the Knower’s Perspective:

Knower’s Perspective Questions raised
Assumptions To what extent is the knower aware of their own assumptions?

Does the knower’s assumptions influence the language in which they express their ideas?

Values What are the knower’s views on how the world and people should be?

What guidelines (moral, religious etc..) does the knower have?

What are the knower’s goals for learning?

Claims What processes does the knower employ to examine knowledge claims?

Does there exist a neutral position from which to make judgments about competing claims? – link to May 2015 Essay Title

Validation What methods are used in the validation of knowledge? – this can be approached from each area of knowledge

Resources and ideas

Cognitive bias