TOK Essay – The First Steps: Identifying Knowledge Issues


Flying sparks
Some prescribed TOK essay titles may require you to find a knowledge issue or a problem of knowledge which relates to the title. Sometimes there are several hidden issues. How can you find them? This edition should motivate you to play with ideas to find a possible hidden knowledge issue.

The identification of a problem of knowledge in the prescribed TOK essay title is probably one of the most important first steps. But it may also be one of the most difficult tasks. What is the problem of knowledge that is implied in the title? How can one identify it? It may not always be necessary to identify an implied problem of knowledge in the prescribed title, but it may be helpful in structuring the essay.

“[Mathematics] is a creative art because mathematicians create beautiful new concepts; it is a creative art because mathematicians live, act, and think like artists; and it is a creative art because mathematicians regard it so” (Paul Richard Halmos)

– To what extent can this view of art, beauty and creativity be applied to other areas of knowledge?

This is a hypothetical TOK prescribed title that I invented for the purpose of this podcast. In this edition we will analyze the title and try to brainstorm some knowledge issues that could relate to this topic. There are several ways in approaching the essay. One possible approach is to play around with the prescribed title a bit and to use the title as an inspiration to find different knowledge issues. This is what I attempted to do. I brainstormed a range of different issues that came into my mind. This way you start to get a feel for the title and hopefully will understand it better. Be careful! Not all of the knowledge issues that one brainstorms are directly relevant for answering the question! Be selective!

I came up with the following list of knowledge issues, some of them more relevant than others:

  • How do we know what art is?
  • Is beauty a necessity for something to be considered art?
  • Is creativity necessary for something to be art?
  • Is something art only because a person considers it art?
  • Could it not be that school math is different to the higher math done at university? School math is not very creative, or is it?
  • Do mathematicians really live, act and think like artists? How do artists live act and think? Do all artists live act and think the same way?
  • Can the concpet of creativity be applied to ethics? Is a “beautiful” ethical solution to a complex ethical problem also art?
  • A computer that draws a beautiful painting – is this art? It is beautiful but not creative, so is it art?
  • How do we know if beauty is enough for something to be considered art? An ugly painting – is this not art?
  • When/how do scientists work creatively?
  • Does the word “creativity” mean something different in the different areas of knowledge? Does creativity in math mean something different than creativity in arts? Does creativity in arts mean something different than creativity in the sciences? Could this not be a problem of language? Does the word creativity have different meanings?
  • To what extent can abstract concepts be beautiful? Things that can not be seen – can they be beautiful? Can it be that beauty means something different in math compared to arts? Can theories be beautiful?
  • What makes a beautiful theory different from a non-beautiful theory?

My problem of knowledge: Could it be that the words creativity and beauty may mean different things in the different areas of knowledge?
My strategy: In this essay I am going to show how the concepts art, beauty and creativity apply to science, history, ethics and how it is similar or different to beauty and creativity in arts and math.

2 Responses to TOK Essay – The First Steps: Identifying Knowledge Issues

  1. K

    this is so helpful! omgsh thanks! because i was thinking about what knowledge issues i could talk about but i felt like it would take away from my actual answering of the essay question! but i see know that it is supposed to reinforce the answering of it! thanks so much! also should questions like these be introduced in the intro then dealt with in each paragraph?

  2. Alpana

    Thank you for the mental exercise and teaching idea that you site has given me today.

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