Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2018

Saturday, September 2, 2017

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles May 2018

Here are the May 2018 TOK Essay prompts courtesy of Larry Ferlazzo and IB TOK Essay Tutor:

1. “The fields of study of academic disciplines can overlap, but adopting interdisciplinary approaches to the production of knowledge leads only to confusion.” Discuss this claim.

2. “We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases” (adapted from JW von Goethe). Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

3. “Without the assumption of the existence of uniformities there can be no knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

4. “Suspension of disbelief” is an essential feature of theatre. Is it essential in other areas of knowledge? Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.

5. “The quality of knowledge produced by an academic discipline is directly proportional to the duration of historical development of that discipline.” Explore this claim with reference to two disciplines.

6. “Robust knowledge requires both consensus and disagreement.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Some of them are not easy to decode, so all the best with them!

Friday, March 3, 2017

TOK Prescribed Essay TItles (November 2017)

Here are the TOK titles for the November 2017 exam session courtesy of

1. Is the value of knowledge related to how easy it is to access? Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “Every theory destabilizes as much as it solidifies our view of the world” (Nathan Jurgenson). Discuss.

3. “Over time, knowledge has become more accurate.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

4. Areas of knowledge have methods for testing and supporting knowledge claims. How can we know that these methods themselves are reliable? Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.

5. “The simplest explanation is the best explanation.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

6. “The production of knowledge seems to require creativity at every stage of the process.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

All the best with your work on these!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

ToK Prescribed Essay TItle (May2017)

Here are the titles for May 2017 courtesy of

1. “It is only knowledge produced with difficulty that we truly value.”
To what extent do you agree with this statement?

2. “Facts are needed to establish theories but theories are needed to make sense of facts.”
Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge
3. Should key events in the historical development of areas of knowledge always be
judged by the standards of their time?

4. “In the production of knowledge, traditions of areas of knowledge offer correctives
for ways of knowing.”  To what extent do you agree with this statement?

5. Given access to the same facts, how is it possible that there can be disagreement
between experts in a discipline?  Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.

6. “Humans are pattern  seeking animals and we are adept at finding patterns
whether they exist or not” (adapted from Michael Shermer).  Discuss knowledge
questions raised by this idea in two areas of knowledge.

Good luck to you all!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (November 2016)

Here are the TOK Essay Titles for November 2016 courtesy of (awaiting further verification from other sources...)

1. "The acquisition of knowledge is more a matter of recognition than of judgement." Evaluate this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. "Is the availability of more data always helpful in the production of knowledge?" Explore this question with reference to two areas of knowledge.

3. "Conflicting knowledge claims always involve a difference in perspective." Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.

4. "Error is as valuable as accuracy in the production of knowledge." To what extent is this the case in two areas of knowledge?

5. "Metaphor makes no contribution to knowledge but is essential for understanding." Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

6. " Ways of knowing operate differently in personal and shared knowledge." Assess this claim.

Good luck to all of you submitting n September 2016!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

ToK Prescribed Essay Title (May2016): Question 2

“Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection.” How useful is this metaphor?


‘It’s gone viral!’ is a common enough expression in the 21st century world of digital mania, in which ideas and experiences are disseminated, verified and shared through various social media.  But can we apply the same metaphor to ‘knowledge’?  A virus is many things: uncomfortable, potentially fatal and, above all, contagious.  If we graft the metaphor of natural selection onto the metaphoric use of the idea of a virus, what insights can we generate?

Very simply put, a virus needs a ‘vector’ or host and like any reproductive organism, it uses the host to replicate itself.  The contagious part ensures that the cycle of replication continues…

But what makes the virus resistant and ensures its survival? Like with any organic species, it must have a ‘survival value’, a trait or quality that is selected for by nature that allows it to adapt to its changing environment.  In the case of a viral cell, it appears this trait is its ‘ability’ both to merge so fully with its host cell and to mutate so quickly, that it often resists detection by our immune system or other lines of defence like drugs.

What of knowledge then? It can be uncomfortable and potentially fatal, but contagious?  It seems odd to describe knowledge as something that infects us, but surely the mechanism that ensures the survival of some knowledge at the expense of other knowledge works in the same ‘evolutionary’ manner.

Consider creation myths about the origins of the universe.  They were once infectious and are now more dormant and exist in the form of entertaining stories for most of us and we resist them in favour of scientific explanations of the ‘Big Bang’.  A stronger, though more clichéd example (resist using it, even though it clarifies the point here!), is the development from ‘flat earth theory’ to ‘sphere earth theory’.  So what makes the spherical earth and Big Bang theories survive?  One possible response is that its central ideas are compatible with the available empirical evidence: the survival value of such scientific theories lies in their internal logical consistency, the strength of their predictive power and, of course, the cogency of the correlation between the theories and the data.

Where does this leave knowledge that is not so easily adaptable to evidence? Religious knowledge is notoriously ‘viral’: great numbers of people are drawn together by religious ideas and values either for good or evil.  Religious knowledge, like Jesus’ instruction to ‘turn the other cheek’, has survived for millennia and still has an impact on our personal lives.  Such knowledge is based less on available evidence than it is on deep rooted moral intuitions about what is right or wrong, so its ‘survival value’ must be in something else (emotion?) Has religious knowledge ‘evolved’ in any way? People pray and meditate in the same way as they’ve always done; their religious texts, on which they base much of their personal behaviour and value systems, never have bits added to them or taken away, so what exactly changes in religious knowledge? What makes it adapt to its modern environment?  One response is linked to the notion of how historical knowledge is constructed: it’s our interpretations of religious ideas and values that change and evolve…

Where does the metaphor of natural selection lose its explanatory force?  There is a counter claim: evolutionary development of a species or knowledge implies a linear progress – new knowledge is built from previous knowledge.  But we know that sometimes, knowledge breaks completely from what has gone on before and is ‘revolutionary’ – new knowledge arrives in the form of paradigm shifts (another cliché in waiting, so please find a fresher example!)…

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ToK Essay Prescribed Titles (May 2016)

The new ToK Essay titles have been published for students who will be examined in May 2016 - the deadline is March 2016:

1. “In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of Knowledge.

2. “Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection.” How useful is this metaphor?

3. “The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?

4. “Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.

5. To what extent do the concepts that we use shape the conclusions that we reach?

6. “In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity.” Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

Good luck and watch this space for some guidance on how to approach the titles...

Monday, July 13, 2015

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (November 2015): Question 1

“The main reason knowledge is produced is to solve problems.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The production of scientific knowledge to help solve crimes has its roots in the 19th Century. Consider these two real life examples, one of which has been consigned to the realm of pseudo-science and the other which has evolved significantly as part of the area of forensic science.

William Herschel and Henry Faulds’ work on fingerprinting to help identify people was developed into a science by Francis Galton.  Galton’s used a form of mathematical analysis to produce the verifiable knowledge that that fingerprints do not change over the course of an individual's lifetime, and no two fingerprints are exactly the same.  Based on this knowledge, he devised a method of categorising fingerprints based on patterns of loops, whorls or arches as a way of identifying people. This scientific knowledge was adopted by Scotland Yard in 1894 to complement their approach to solving a range of crimes by using fingerprints as empirical evidence.  Today, DNA fingerprinting is part and parcel of the forensic approach to crime solving, whose discovery can be explored as one of those curious ‘eureka’ moments in the history of science.

On the other hand, compare the earlier work of Cesare Lombardo, whose interest in psychology shaped his researches into the criminal mind.  Lombardo’s central theory came to be known as ‘characterology’: simply put, the physical features of a person’s face and head give clues about the likelihood of their mental state (or criminal behaviour.)  So for example, unusually oversized ears, the short distance between a person’s pupils or having long hands was a mark of criminal psychopathology. Why?  Lombardo theorised that they were ‘atavisms’: regressive, physical traits that resembled traits of humans in earlier stages of development and which could spontaneously appear down the line of evolutionary development.  So innovative did this ‘scientific’ approach seem that Lombroso was invited to give evidence at trials to solve ongoing criminal cases. However, his knowledge was later discredited as being more pseudo-scientific than anything else.  Firstly, we now know that some of Lombroso’s ‘atavistic’ traits involve the work of extremely rare genes: eg. ‘werewolf syndrome’ where a person can be covered completely in bodily hair.  Secondly, apart from its link to the discredited theory of phrenology, Lombroso believed that not only could a person be born a criminal, but also that a criminal was under-evolved: a violent beast or savage akin to our primitive ancestors.  This had, of course, great social implications: if we want a society with less criminality, why not genetically engineer people with the right kind (ie. Non-criminal) of facial features?

So you see, in the field of criminology, new scientific knowledge is specifically produced to solve crimes, but the application of it doesn’t always lead to success.  One of the key concepts to apply in this analysis is the distinction between shared and personal knowledge.  Which part of the distinction applies to which example and HOW?...