TOK prescribed titles May 2011

Rocks the shore

Careful: This is for the past May 2011 session! Here are some (possible) guiding questions to help you deal with the TOK Essay titles.

I have compiled a list of questions which should help students analyze their chosen prescribed title question (Nov 2010, and May 2011 session). The presented questions are meant as a source of inspiration. Some of you may think that simply answering these questions is enough for passing the TOK essay. Trust me, it’s not enough. And don’t say that you didn’t know. The purpose of these questions is to get you thinking about the prescribed title. I’m not saying that the questions are directly relevant for your particular approach to your chosen title question. I have to be honest with you: For many of these questions I myself do not even know an answer and maybe some questions do not even have a single, clear answer. Some of the questions may not even be relevant for your approach to the prescribed title! If you already have an approach to your prescribed title, then do not let these questions distract you. You must read these questions critically and reflect on them.

1. Consider the extent to which knowledge issues in ethics are similar to those in at least one other area of knowledge.

  • What are possible KI in ethics? We are not talking about real-life situations here (these would be the examples). First make a list of possible knowledge issues in ethics.
  • What other area of knowledge do you want to use? What are possible knowledge issues in this area?
  • What role(s) does ethics play in arts? In science? In the human sciences? In Math? Give examples and show how these KI are similar.
  • How are these KI different from each other?
  • Remember, the title asks for the “extent” of a similarity. It does not ask if they are similar, it asks how much they are similar. How are you going to measure and determine this “extent”? In other words, how do you know to what extent they are similar? What does “similar” mean in this context?

2. How important are the opinions of experts in the search for knowledge?

  • Who is an expert? How do you know if you are talking to an expert?
  • What role does society play in determining who an expert is?
  • What does “importance” mean in this context?
  • Can you give examples how opinions of experts help or hinder the search of knowledge? Give specific examples relating to the different areas of knowledge. For example, how do experts in the area of science help/hinder the search for knowledge in science?
  • What are possible consequences if you listen too much or too little to the opinion of experts?

3. “Doubt is the key to knowledge” (Persian Proverb). To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?

  • Which areas of knowledge are you talking about?
  • Careful: the question asks “to what extent”. This not a yes/no type of question. How are you going to “measure” this extent?
  • Can you give examples on how doubt helps or hinders in the search for knowledge?
  • Do not forget to compare similarities and differences of the different areas of knowledge.
  • How does Sir Karl Popper’s Critical Rationalism relate to this topic?
  • How can doubting too much or too little help or hinder the search for knowledge?
  • Can it be, that doubting can be beneficial for some areas of knowledge but harmful for others?

4. To what extent do we need evidence to support our beliefs in different areas of knowledge?

  • Which AOKs are you talking about?
  • Can you give examples of “belief” in the different areas? What role does belief play in arts, math, human sciences, history, natural science, ethics, etc.? How would a
    “belief” look like in math or the sciences, for example?
  • How does “evidence” look like in the different areas? How does evidence look like in math, history, ethics…… Are there similarities and differences? What are the similarities and differences?
  • How would you say that “evidence” and “justifications” are similar or different?
  • What does the word “need” refer to? “Need” for what?
  • According to Plato, knowledge is justified true belief. How does this relate to the title?

5. To what extent are the various areas of knowledge defined by their methodologies rather than their content?

  • Which AOK are you talking about?
  • Can you give examples of methodologies and content in the different areas? For example, how would a “methodology” look like in the area of ethics?
  • The title asks for the “extent”. This is not an either/or type of question. How would you assess the extent? How can this “extent” be measured? Does it have to be measured?
  • How do the concepts of procedural (“knowing how”) and declarative knowledge (“knowing that”) relate to this prescribed title?

6. “There are no absolute distinctions between what is true and what is false”. Discuss this claim.

  • What areas of knowledge are you talking about here? Relate the essay to different AOKs.
  • Be careful: this is not an either/or type of question. So do not simply say that you agree or disagree, but rather try to give a balanced account. The prescribed titles specifically asks you to discuss the issue. Give examples for and against the claim, but do not forget to analyze! Simply listing examples is not a discussion.
  • How do the different views of truth relate to this title (relative, absolute pragmatic, etc. truth)?
  • Can you give example of the different AOKs where you would agree with this claim, and examples where you would disagree?
  • Be careful again: Do not generalize. Many students make it too simple and say something like “For ethics this claim is correct, but not for science.” Differentiate more. Can you come up with examples in Ethics where the claim is more valid and where it is less valid? And for science?

7. How can we recognise when we have made progress in the search for knowledge? Consider two contrasting areas of knowledge.

  • What areas of knowledge do you address here?
  • How is the concept of “progress” defined differently for these areas? What are the similarities in the definition? How does progress in ethics, math, science, arts, human sciences… look like?
  • Is it possible that we may think that we have made a progress, but in reality have not? How do we know? Can you give examples?

8. “Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth” (Pablo Picasso). Evaluate this claim in relation to a specific art form (for example, visual arts, literature, theatre).

  • Which art form are you referring to?
  • How can one lie with art? To what extent can art be considered a “lie”? How can pictures (for visual arts) lie? How can literature “lie”, or theatre? Examples?
  • How do we know that we are closer to the truth?
  • Does the word “lie” have a different meaning in the arts than in everyday language?
  • While this question is focussed on arts, it does not mean that you must completely exclude other areas of knowledge. Make sure that your essay draws from different examples. Yes you are allowed to/should compare the art form to other AOK, but make sure that you stay focused on arts.
  • How does sense perception relate to this title?

9. Discuss the roles of language and reason in history.

  • Well, first of all you need to find out the roles before you can discuss them!
  • This prescribed title asks you specifically about history. Remember that you still can/should compare history to other areas of knowledge, but do not leave the history focus!
  • One possibility: Give examples of how language and reason contributes/hinder in the search for knowledge in history.

10. A model is a simplified representation of some aspect of the world. In what ways may models help or hinder the search for knowledge?

  • Consider models in the different areas of knowledge (models in math, science etc.). How do these models help and hinder? Can the same model do both under different circumstances?
  • Advantages and disadvantages of models in the different AOKs
  • How do models in ethics look like? Think of constructed (not real life) ethical dilemmas. To what extent are these a model of a real-life ethical dilemma?
  • Math as a model building “language”?
  • Do not forget that this is a TOK question. It’s all too easy to drift away and spend many words on explaining what a model is. ITGS and Computer Science students should be careful here, that they do not interpret the title question exclusively as “computer models”. Arts students/technical design should be careful that they do not interpret the question only as “physical models” of buildings and other objects etc. Math students should be careful, that Math is only one way of many to construct models.

11 Responses to TOK prescribed titles May 2011



  2. ib student from sweden

    this is really good. thank you. but can you also make one for these.
    1.“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts” (Arthur Conan Doyle). Consider the extent to which this statement may be true in two or more areas of knowledge?

    2. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” (Albert Einstein) Do you agree?

    3. “Habit is stronger than reason.” To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?

    please send a email to me if u have done it. thank u very much. 🙂

  3. Ib student from India

    This was so helpful!! thank you so much! 😀

  4. admin

    Be aware, that these are the titles of the previous IB session (May 2011)!

  5. IB Student, Colchester

    Thank you much! 😀 Very, very helpful.

  6. IB Student from Kenya

    Thank you… Helped a lot..

  7. IB Student from GA

    Thank you!

  8. Pacific Northwest TOK student

    Yay! Way to get me thinkin. I think I am going to change to topic 2! 🙂

  9. IB student from Norway

    This helps a lot! Thanks for sharing :))))

  10. Paul

    Great to see this material again this year.

  11. TOK Prescribed Titles 2011 « TOK @ ISBerne

    […] TOK Prescribed Titles 2011 […]

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