Being Knowledgeable

One of the ten attributes of the ideal learner in the IB Learner Profile is to be knowledgeable. Maybe of all of them this is the one which seems most clearly to connect to TOK, although many would argue that all attributes have a special connection with TOK or even that it is in and through TOK that the Learner Profile attributes are most fully realised. Be that as it may, one could also say that for many students, teachers ...

The Right to Know?

It is often said that knowledge is power and there is no doubt that in many cases those in possession of a particular piece of knowledge will have the advantage, for good or ill, over those who do not. Governments and rulers of all ilk and political leanings, as well as powerful corporations, have had and now enjoy a privileged position in terms of having access to certain facts. This privilege has often been justified in paternalistic terms, we know ...

Indigenous Knowledge for Sale

One of the most common ways in which the value of something is assessed is how much someone is prepared to pay for it. This is sometimes described as the Price-Value Bias, the more we pay for something the more we assume it’s actual value or worth. Indigenous peoples of course have operated on a quite different mindset for the majority of their history. Something’s worth would generally be assessed primarily in terms of its practical or symbolic benefits to ...

Religious Knowledge?

The very notion of Religious Knowledge is, for many, an oxymoron (a combination of mutually contradictory terms) or at best a category mistake (something described in terms of a conceptual category it does not belong to). Be that as it may, the IB introduced Religious Knowledge Systems into the new TOK syllabus in 2014 and it deserves serious attention for at least two reasons. In my experience the academic exploration of religion in schools is far too often neglected, distorted ...

Natural Assumptions?

Arguably, every piece of knowledge that has ever been produced has been based on an assumption or a set of assumptions. No knowledge can be produced in a vacuum, which means that the search for knowledge always has a starting point that will generally provide the kind of questions being asked as well as the parameters of that search. One of the most important tasks for TOK students is to identify the assumptions which underpin the production of knowledge in ...

Morality: Absolute or Relative?

In the modern study of Ethics one debate has dominated almost all the others, it is the question of whether morals are discovered or invented, in other words whether moral values exist independently of us, whether they are entirely a product of the human mind, or whether there can be a set of moral values universally accepted. In TOK, this is an issue which you will encounter in different forms and in different places. TOK requires us to address the ...

The Economists of Good and Evil?

In 2009 a book about economics appeared in the Czech language which soon became an international best seller and challenged many of the assumptions which underpin modern economics as both an academic subject and as a science of official policy. The book was Tomas Sedlacek’s The Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street (Eng. Ed. OUP, 2011). In it, Sedlacek does what every TOK student should do when exploring any discipline, namely ...

Scientific Morality?

Can Science provide a better basis for morality than other forms of human knowledge such as religion, psychology or philosophy? A look at the history of moral philosophy shows that by and large every significant contribution to ethics has come primarily from philosophers or theologians. It is not until the late twentieth/early twenty first century that some scientists have proposed that science can be a better basis for ethics, in other words that the answer to the question “how can ...

Knowing You: A (very) Short Story

Ethel was sitting at her favourite table in her favourite café, she was half sipping her coffee whilst half reading the newspaper she held in front of her. Her gaze was in fact turned towards someone with a tray and looking for somewhere to sit in the crowded venue. From observing the latter’s dress and demeanour she deduced that she was a well to do person probably from a local wealthy family and with a very comfortable life, someone not ...

Knowing me…

The next two blogs will focus on the nature of two aspects of personal knowledge, namely, knowledge of oneself and knowledge of others. What the psychologist Howard Gardner described as Intrapersonal and Interpersonal knowledge. Of course, the entreaty to ‘know thyself’ is an ancient one, it can be found first in Egypt and then at the heart of Socratic philosophy as well as, among others, in the writings of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tze. The latter wrote, “mastering others is ...