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 November 2018

Friday, April 2, 2010

Theory of Knowledge

Knowledge, belief and opinion

On the one hand, people will say everybody is allowed to have opinions on anything they want and all opinions are right or true...for you. You can’t argue with anyone’s opinion can you? What’s the point? Well, perhaps to try to change the opinion? To persuade someone to think like you do? Now there could be various reasons why you’d want to do this.

On the other hand, you can argue about what people know, can’t you? How so? The common denominator is belief – the ideas in our heads that shape our thoughts and feelings about everything and, ultimately, have an impact on our actions. Some of these beliefs are acquired actively by sifting through evidence and by rational decision-making, others might be acquired passively through our parents, our culture or the media and remain with us without having the support of any evidence, though quite why that should be the case is often difficult to comprehend.

The key points to make are:
  1. That unsupported beliefs remain subjectively true and have no value outside an individual’s or group’s perspective or system of beliefs – eg. humans have immortal souls – people might actually agree to believe this, but it still remains in the realm of subjectivity in spite of the consensus (this is why sometimes they appear as absolute truth).
  2. Beliefs substantiated by evidence and acquired through tried and tested means take us into the realm of objectivity – eg. John Smith carried out the burglary on the bank – eye-witnesses might have different perspectives on this, but detectives piece together the evidence and come to an agreement about the event giving rational grounds for doing so. The important thing to remember is that even objective truths can be susceptible to revision and change – we might always find evidence to disprove our beliefs and reject our theories or change our theories and adjust them to describe the facts more accurately. Thus, objective truths are provisional and never 100% certain...
So let’s just list our assumptions:
  • There’s no ‘absolute truth’ if by this we mean beliefs that are unchanging and ever-present.
  • There is no ‘absolute truth’ if by this we mean truths that have 100% proof.
  • Truths are subjective, if they are not supported by factual evidence, even if many people believe in them and agree on the truth.
  • Truths are objective, if they are supported by factual evidence and rational argument and testing through a process which provides a framework for general agreement.
  • The kind of evidence we require is not from any authority figure, but through an inter-subjectively testable process.

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