KNOWLEDGE CLAIMS

A knowledge claim something that the claimant believes to be true, but is open to discussion and debate.  

First order claims are made about the world.  The tools of TOK can be used to examine the basis of first order claims. Second order claims are made about knowledge itself.  

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1563) The Tower of Babel. Oil on panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1563) The Tower of Babel. Oil on panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS 

Knowledge Questions are rigorous inquiry questions about knowledge itself.  They are carefully formulated to assess the validity of a Second Order Knowledge Claims.  A good Knowledge Question is crafted deliberately to be open and contentious. A good quality Knowledge Question is succinct and grammatical, uses TOK vocabulary, and will always merit discussion and evaluation rather than a single, definitive response.


KNOWLEDGE QUESTION EXAMPLES—2nd ORDER

  • To what extent do we need art technique or art history training in order to appreciate an artwork?
  • What is the relationship between hands-on experimental work and theory in the natural sciences?
  • What do we mean by elegance in mathematical proof?
  • How should we approach academic history written under the auspices a totalitarian regime?
  • What is the role of intention in making ethical decisions?

In TOK—especially in formal Essays and Presentations—recognizing and formulating good quality Knowledge Questions is the order of the day. The various arguments and counterarguments made in response to Knowledge Questions should be justified by cogent, real-world examples. In this way the reader (or observer) will journey back and forth across an imaginary line between the second order conceptual world and the first order real world. 


QUESTIONS ABOUT REAL-LIFE SITUATIONS—FIRST ORDER

  • In economics, how do supply and demand determine the price of a commodity?
  • Why was the lock-and-key model for enzyme activity superseded by the induced-fit model?
  • What metaphors in William Blake's Auguries of Innocence evoke the positive value of freedom?
  • Was the siege of Stalingrad the turning point of the Second World War? 
Jacques-Louis David (1787) The Death of Socrates. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Jacques-Louis David (1787) The Death of Socrates. Oil on Canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

TOK and PHILOSOPHY 

TOK is not traditional text-based philosophy. Nor is it Epistemology with a major emphasis on the useful ,but ultimately slippery and paradoxical, notion of Justified True Belief. 

TOK Knowledge Questions are big questions; but they are not too big. Anchored in the real world they stop short of wild metaphysical speculation. Ever so often timeless philosophical riddles emerge naturally in TOK classes. It can be fun; even awe inspiring to allow students a first pass or brief encounter with them. This is more than playing tennis with the net down; as long as dizzy, aimless discussion is avoided; or better—elevated.

One way of framing the biggest (from the Western perspective: “Pre-Socratic”) metaphysical questions is to acknowledge that they are way beyond the scope of 100 hours of TOK. Their resolution may be forever beyond the grasp of mere human intellect and ingenuity. Another way is to designate (and perhaps sanitize) them as the subject matter of certain Areas of Knowledge—Philosophy (as a Human Science), Religious Knowledge Systems and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. 
 

ENORMOUS PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? 
  • What is the nature of time? 
  • Does the universe have an ultimate purpose or meaning?
  • Is there God?