What is Theory of Knowledge?Edit
The main question in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is 'How does one know?' The course encourages one to think critically about the subjects they are studying rather than passively accepting what one is taught. Critical thinking involves such things as asking good questions, using language with care and precision, supporting one's ideas with evidence, arguing coherently, and making sound judgments. However, one is encouraged to think critically in every subject that one studies. TOK is designed to help reflect on further developing skills acquired in class.
Knowers and knowingEdit
Since TOK is concerned with the question 'How does one know?', one naturally needs to spend some time talking about the nature of knowledge. Among the questions that will be asked includes; What is knowledge? How does knowledge differ from belief? What is the difference between knowledge, information, and wisdom? Should one seek the truth at any price, or are there some things it would be better not to know?
Ways of knowingEdit
In TOK, it can be said that there are four main ways of acquiring knowledge about the world; perception, language, reason, and emotion. Take any thing that you claim to know and ask yourself how you know and you can trace it back to one of these four sources; either you saw it, or you heart it, or you read it, or you reasoned it out, or you have a gut-feeling that it is true. Despite their value, none of these ways of knowing is infallible. In fact, they are all double-edged in the sense that they can be both a source of knowledge and an obstacle to it. For example, many of the knowledge claims are based on perception, but our senses sometimes deceive us. Much of our knowledge is communicated to us 'second-hand' by other people, but the language they use may mislead us. We price ourselves on being rational animals, but we often make errors in our reasoning and jump too quickly to conclusions. Finally, we sometimes appeal to feeling and intuitions to justify our knowledge claims, but they are not infallible guides to the truth.
Areas of KnowledgeEdit
TOK explorers various Areas of Knowledge (AOK); mathematics, the natural sciences, the social sciences, history, the arts, ethics, and religion. In each area of knowledge the fundamental question is raised; 'How does one know?', and a consideration of the role played by perception, language, reason, and emotion in the subject in question is evaluated. Some of the 'big questions' are also touched upon, which lie on the frontier of knowledge, and include;
- Why is mathematics so useful?
- Does science prove things?
- What makes human beings different?
- Can the past be known?
- Do we have free will?
- Are there any universal values?
- Is everyone selfish?
- What is the purpose of art?
- Does life have a meaning?
A consideration of the similarities and differences between the above areas of knowledge and a raise of various interdisciplinary questions that will help make one think about how different subjects are related to one another and to develop a more coherent and inclusive picture of the world.
We live in a strange and perplexing world. Despite the explosive growth of knowledge in recent decades, we are confronted by a bewildering array of contradictory beliefs. We are told that astronomers have made great progress in understanding the universe in which we live, yet many people still belief in astrology. Scientists claim that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, yet some insist that dinosaurs and human beings lived simultaneously. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, but it is rumoured in some quarters that the landings were faked by NASA. A work of art is hailed as a masterpiece by some critics and dismissed as junk by others. Millions of people believe in God yet atheists insist that 'God is dead.' Faced with such a confusion of different opinions, how are we to make sense of things and develop a coherent picture of reality?
Given one's school education, one might think of knowledge as a relatively unproblematic commodity consisting of various facts found in textbooks that have been proved to be true. But things are not as simple as that. After all, if one has attended a school one hundred or even five hundred years ago, one would have learnt a different set of 'truths.' This suggests that knowledge is not static, but has a history and changes over time. Yesterday's revolution in thought becomes today's common sense, and today's common sense may go on to become tomorrows' superstition. So what guarantee is there that our current understanding of things is correct? Despite the intellectual progress of the last five hundred years, future generations may look back on our much-vaunted achievements and dismiss our science as crude, our arts as naive, and our ethics as barbaric.
When one considers themselves from the perspective of the vast reaches of time and space, further doubts arise. According to cosmologists, the universe has been in existence for about 15 billion (15,000,000,000) years. If one imagines that huge amount of time compressed into one year running from January to December, then the earliest human beings do not appear on the scene until around 10:30 p.m. on the 31st of December, fire was only domesticated at 11:46 p.m., and the whole recorded history occupies only the last ten seconds of the cosmic year. Since we have been trying to make sense of the world in a systematic way for only a minute fraction of time, there is no guarantee that we have got it right. Furthermore, it turns out that in cosmic terms we are also pretty small. According to astronomers, there are ten times more starts int he night sky than grains of sand in all the world's deserts and beaches. Yet we flatter ourselves that we have discovered t he laws that apply to all times and all places. Since we are familiar with only a minute fraction of the universe, this seems like a huge leap of faith. Perhaps it will turn out that some of the deeper truths in life, the universe, and everything are simply beyond human comprehension.
Having looked at the problem of knowledge, we now need to say something about the nature of knowledge. The word 'knowledge' is what might be described as a thick concept in what is not exhausted by a short definition and can only be understood through experience and reflection. All of this is simply a reflection on the meaning of the word 'knowledge.' Having said that, a definition can still give us a useful preliminary hook for thinking about the meaning of a word. So we shall begin by exploring a definition of knowledge as justified true belief. But it is important to keep in mind that this should be the starting point for reflection rather than its finishing point.