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Theory-based TOK Syllabus


Straw roof
I’ve compiled a list of theoretical TOK topics which may help teachers in preparing their course. The list of topics may also prove useful for providing a theoretical basis for the essay or presentation. The list is quite different from the IB TOK guide and focuses mainly on epistemological theory.

I would like to share with you a TOK syllabus (lesson plan) of a somewhat different kind. I’ve made a list of epistemological topics that fit to the different Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge covered in the course. In my view, TOK should not be taught too theoretically. It is a critical thinking course, and by merely covering philosophical/epistemological topics you do not promote critical thinking. Nevertheless, I consider a theoretical basis helpful and useful for a variety of reasons.

  • As a basis for discussion: The topics can be woven in into the course to provide a more solid foundation for classroom discussion.
  • For the TOK Essay and presentation: Students can include theoretical components into the TOK essay to support their arguments. There is the danger, however, that some students merely summarize these concepts without reflection and this must be avoided.
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What are Knowledge Issues or Problems of Knowledge?


Desert grass
Here I’ll show you (yet again!) how to identify Knowledge Issues or Problems of Knowledge (KI/POK) for the TOK Presentation. It’s not easy to define what KI/POKs are, because the terms are so broad and can include many different aspects.

The TOK essay and presentation require you, the TOK student, to identify knowledge issues / problems of knowledge. And this is often not an easy thing to do, and it shouldn’t be – after all you get points for identifying them. In this post, I’ll refer to Knowledge Issues and Problems of Knowledge as KI/POK. Both of these terms mean the same thing.

Possible reasons why it is difficult to identify knowledge issues

From my experience, a difficulty can be found on several levels:

  • The terms “knowledge issue” or “problems of knowledge” are rather broad and there is no single, easy definition. And if there is a definition, then this definition itself my cause confusion. Essentially many people do not know what they should be looking for in a KI/POK. The TOK Guide from the IB states that Knowledge Issues include “everything that can be approached from a TOK point of view.” Now what is a “TOK point of view”? Essentially KI/POKs (and thus TOK itself) address all these aspects where we ask ourselves “How do I know?”, “Can I be certain?”, “What are my assumptions?”, “Am I biased?”. The motto of TOK is: “It depends how you see it.” KI/POKs address these aspects.
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Newspaper Articles – Does Size Matter?


 

Metal door and key hole
How does the optical appearance of a newspaper article, the size of the headlines, the size of the pictures, influence its perception of its content by the readers? How does the context in which a newspaper article appears influence its perception by the readers?

I like to keep myself informed and I therefore like to read newspapers. Now with the internet being so widespread, I do not buy newspapers anymore, but rather visit my favorite newspapers online. Usually I start out with the computer news to keep myself updated on new products and developments, followed by science (deep in my heart I am a scientist, after all!) and politics and economics. The sports section I usually skip, I have to admit to you that I am not very competent in this particular area of knowledge. But I do read the sports section during the Olympics.
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Of Ghost Traps and Wrist Watches


 

Vitamin C under the microscope
Ghost traps are very useful devices – they can be used to catch evil spirits. What? You say that this does not make sense because ghosts do not exist? You say that ghosts are a product of our imagination? Well… do you believe in time? Could it not be that time is a product of our imagination as well?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a cultural exhibition. There were all sorts of interesting exhibits, ranging from art work to the local food… and of course there were also rooms filled with religious objects, handicrafts, clothing etc. I also remember the nice photographs of the landscape that were on display. For the purpose of this episode, the country is of no importance. We were a small group of approximately 10 visitors and we had one tour guide for the museum.
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Three Different Types of Truth


 

Chess board
Here I will explain the differences between the Correspondence Theory of truth, the Coherence Theory and the Pragmatic Theory.

What is truth? This is an interesting but also difficult question to answer. It is possible to distinguish several different definitions or approaches of truth. Here are three of them.

  • Correspondence Theory of Truth: This theory states that a statement (a “proposition”) is true if it corresponds to (or reflects) reality. If somebody states “It is raining” (the proposition) then it is true only if it is really raining outside (reality). The interesting question is now: “What is reality”? We know that senses can deceive us. So how is reality really like? And of course we have to assume that something like reality really does exist and is not simply a product of our mind.
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Different types of knowledge


 

Camp fire
What are the differences between declarative and procedural knowledge? Declarative knowledge is the knowledge of facts, procedural knowledge is the knowledge on “how to” do something. For example: I know that 5+5=10 (declarative) and I know how to calculate (procedural).

Knowledge, according to Plato, is justified true belief. But this definition does not cover all types of knowledge. You know how to read, for example. This type of knowledge is not based on belief, justification or truth. In this edition we will discuss two different types of knowledge:

  • Declarative Knowledge: This includes the knowledge of facts. Some examples could include the knowledge that 5+5=10, the knowledge that the radius of the earth is about 6500km, the knowledge that ice is less dense than liquid water. Declarative knowledge can easily be communicated from person to person.
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What is Knowledge?


 

Old wooden wheel
Plato defined knowledge as “Justified true belief”. For a person to know something he/she has to believe it, has to be able to justify it and it has to be true. This is explained here.

The tree criteria needed for a person to know something are:

  • Lack of justification: “I know that aliens exist” – there is no way that you can provide a justification for this claim. Therefore you can not know it.
  • Lack of belief: “I know that the world is round but I don’t believe it.” – this is a contradictory statement. For you to know something you have to believe in it. But not every belief is knowledge!
  • Lack of truth: I know that a circle has 3 corners. – You can not know things that are evidently not true.

Four possible ways to justify one’s belief are:

  • Memory
  • Authority
  • Logics
  • Empirical evidence
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Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.

- Confucius -
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