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 Nov 2020

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ToK Essay prescribed Titles (May 2013): Question 3

"The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility." Evaluate this claim.

'Morals, ipods and psycopaths.'

Suppose you had sufficient evidence to give you good reason to believe – to know – that your neighbour is a terrorist; should you report her activities?

Common sense would tell us to ring the terrorist hotline immediately and protect ourselves and others in the neighbourhood from potential annihilation.

Utilitarians would tell us that we should consider the consequences and report the neighbour according to the principle that we’d be serving the greater good by sacrificing one individual.

Deontologists, such as Kant (a very complex case!), argue that the consequences of my action wouldn’t matter; it’s the intent that counts.  I have to ask myself: what would happen if everyone in the world did this, all the time? And would that be the kind of world I’d like to live in? Presumably we’d all live in utter terror and not step out of our front doors and lots of innocent people would die.  I don’t want to live in a world like that; therefore, I am compelled to report my neighbour.

Using a more sceptical argument, following Hume’s law, one can show that no amount of REASONED argument can get us from the premise ‘My neighbour is a terrorist’ to the conclusion ‘Therefore, I ought to report her to the authorities.’

Where does this leave us?  Look again at the question – there are so many Knowledge Issues embedded within it.  Perhaps we have to explore the idea of ‘responsibility’ more closely.  What’s the difference between ethical ‘responsibility’ and ethical ‘accountability’?  And where does our sense of ethical responsibility come from?  Are we born with it or do we learn it?  According to some religious belief systems we are born with Original Sin which explains where our sense of right or wrong comes from.  Not everyone is satisfied with this explanation.

So how do ipods feature in this reflection?  Consider the analogy of your playlist of songs with the network of beliefs which make up your moral cosmos.  Both are subjectively chosen and both are filtered by personal and cultural bias; often shaped by your parents’ tastes/beliefs and the fashions/beliefs of the society you live in.  Okay.  Our playlists are also shaped by the various published best sellers charts and by expert musical reviews, while our moral beliefs are also influenced by ethical documents such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
When you share your playlist with another person, one of three things can happen (of course, this narrows the possibilities): he can love your playlist so much that he adds some of the songs to his and so there’s some growth in musical taste; he can hate your playlist and never want to talk to you again because of your vile musical taste, so there’s some conflict and tension in your relationship; or he can shrug his shoulders with utter indifference and carry on listening to his own ipod, so there’s a kind of switching off to outside influences.  Now in this simplified analogy, the same things seem to happen when different sets of moral belief come together – sometimes within small communities, though usually between large nations.

It’s my responsibility to update my playlist as I experience a wider range of musical influences – how I adapt and choose the songs I add will be determined by a variety of personal and cultural factors (can you identify specific ones?).  And so it’s my responsibility to adjust my moral cosmos to the realities which I experience – the more I wake up to the world around me – the more knowledge I have of it – the greater is my responsibility to update my moral beliefs. Presumably, a psychopath-terrorist would be unable to adjust her moral cosmos either because she has switched off emotionally or has a distorted sense of reality.

Can you think of the problems of this anology?

Monday, September 24, 2012

TOK Websites

This is one of the most comprehensive TOK resource sites on the internet, full of categorised links to articles, clips and other content - all of this relevant to your various TOK studies.  Particularly useful are the links to other TOK Teacher Blogs & Websites.

But we have to commend Mr Ferlazzo's site for being constantly udated with new material as well as giving an insight into the challenging, though intellectually inspiring, TOK experience provide for his students!

Well worth spending the time to browse...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The Arts/Economics

November : Q1 Can we have beliefs/knowledge independent of culture? Q4 What counts as knowledge in the arts ?

Click on the link to hear a clip of Rebecca Ferguson’s song ‘Nothing’s real but love’:

Let’s just look at the chorus lines a little more closely:

“No money, no house, no car, is like love...
It don't fill you up
It won't build you up
It won't fill you up
It's not love!

And nothing's real but love

No money, no house, no car, is like love...”

A fairly commonplace sentiment and quite overused in pop songs over the last decades, so at the risk of taking things too literally, just what does Ms Ferguson proclaim to know? That love is more valuable, more real, than material things? That love gives meaning to all those other things? Whose love? What sort of love? More ‘real’ or ‘valuable’ in what sense? In the best tradition of knowledge claims, the lyrics raise a greater number of knowledge issues than provide answers.

Now let’s juxtapose beside the song an extract from another literary work of art – a counter point to the sentiment that love is of greater value than money. It’s Francisco’s ‘money speech’ in the novel Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. You can listen to the extract here:

Here’s a corresponding sequence of lines:

“…To love a thing is to know and love its nature. To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men. It's the person who would sell his soul for a nickel, who is the loudest in proclaiming his hatred of money – and he has good reason to hate it. The lovers of money are willing to work for it. They know they are able to deserve it.” ( (August, 2012) )

There’s a complete reversal of the song lyric Implied by these statements about money, in both are embedded cultural ideas from which we cannot escape.  Can you formulate these in the form of searching knowledge issues?

A more interesting question is this: which belief do you find more compelling? Or, where does each belief lie in the scale of Believing Bullshit?

Thursday, August 23, 2012


The Arts

November 2012 Q4: What counts as knowledge in the arts?

Click on the image to view a film by David Hathaway entitled ‘The Rape of Europe’. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, start at about 58 minutes, where Hathaway summarises the earlier part of the film and makes his final point.

The purpose of the film is to explain the collapse of Europe and, it soon becomes clear, that the perspective from which this explanation is given is religious. Hathaway is introduced early on as an ‘International Evangelist.’ Now don’t let this put you off, because it’s not so much what he says that’s interesting for TOK, but HOW he says it.

Hathaway uses a combination of biblical references and, importantly for Q4, a series of art objects, as ‘evidence’ to support his explanations for Europe’s demise. It’s sometimes hard to get beyond his impressionistic interpretation of the symbolism of these art works and to get hold of the central arguments, but the gist of Hathaway’s film is to defend the belief that everything that’s happening in Europe is part of a predetermined course of events leading to the second coming of Christ.

So how does he do this?

The film is divided into three parts. Each part focuses on tracing the connections between biblical references, art works and the modern re-invention of the symbolism associated with them.

Part 1: Explores the following two images:

Bruegel’s ‘Tower of Babel’

EU Parliament building, Strasbourg.
 The warning: Against European unionists who are invoking demonic symbolism with which to brainwash the population against Christian belief.

Part 2: Explores these two images:

'The Rape of Europa', Titian

‘Europa riding Zeus’ statue outside Council of Members in Brussels.
The warning: Against Muslims who worship a false god and are actively promoting the downfall of Christian belief.

Part 3: Explores these two artefacts:

The Altar of Pergamon, a sacrificial altar for satanic worship.

The Gate of Istar, supposedly a gateway to hell built in Babylon, renowned as the ‘Seat of Satan’
The warning: Against Germany whose leaders are planning, and in fact have always aimed, to overhaul Christian belief.

The overall connections: Babel & Babylon & the biblical resonance of the ideas associated with these.

We don’t know where this film would lie on the scale of Believing Bullshit (see previous post), but try to trace the strategies Hathaway uses to defend his beliefs. “Pressing your buttons” and "Piling up the anecdotes" are certainly two of them...

Finally, Hathaway’s film isn’t the only place where these connections between art and modern politics abound. Many websites seem to be devoted to tracing them and weaving a complex web of conspiracy theories around an interpretation of the symbolism associated with the art works.

It just goes to show how art can be used (and abused) to present someone’s version of ‘knowledge’.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TOK Essay: Prescribed Titles November 2012 Questions 2 & 6

This is not a book review, but perhaps the best thing we’ve read this summer – at least as regards TOK – is Stephen Law’s book, Believing Bullshit: How not to get sucked into an intellectual black hole, Prometheus Books, New York, 2012, 271p.

Law explores eight strategies used by people to defend their beliefs at all costs – usually at the expense of a particularly sound rational explanation. The book has one of the most lucid descriptions of the scientific method we have come across (pp37-8) and explores in detail the notion of the testing/refuting of statements of belief.

In fact, two entire chapters (Chapter 1: ‘Playing the Mystery Card’ and Chapter 2: ‘ “But it Fits!” and The Blunderbuss’), seem to be tailor made for Questions 2 and 6 of the Prescribed Titles for November 2012. In the first chapter, Law explores arguments used to justify belief in the traditional Christian conception of God and a strong counter argument in the form of the evidential problem of evil. In the second chapter, he examines the beliefs of Young Earth Creationists with numerous interesting passages on notions such as falsification, bias and, what is especially useful for your essay, the use of evidence/data in the confirmation of theories.

Law argues (pp75-8) that in order for a theory to be strongly confirmed by evidence/data, it must satisfy at least THREE conditions: it must make PREDICTIONS that are:

• Clear and precise
• Surprising
• true

It’s well worth spending the time on these chapters as part of your research into TOK Questions 2 & 6 of the November 2012 list.

Good luck – you still have two months to the deadline and this book should help guide you through.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

ToK Essay: Prescribed Titles Nov 2012/May 2013

So now the Prescribed Titles for Southern and Northern hemisphere students have been split - it's SIX questions for each set of essays.  The deadlines will remain as usual - November for Southern henisphere schools and May for Norther hemisphere schools - but we don't know yet whether the questions will be the SAME.

It doesn't matter.  What matters is what you do and. most especially, HOW you approach your essay preparation and writing.

Below you'll find some handy hints courtesy of to help you get your head around some of the problems that face students when writing their TOK Essays.

Some problems to avoid in your TOK essays 2012-2013

A series of snippets of advice on how to improve your TOK essays

Clich├ęd examples

These are examples that are over-used and well worn and usually don’t help to advance your argument.

They end up being over-described and largely stated as if understood without any real support for an argument or exploration of knowledge issues.

Examples to avoid by Areas Of Knowledge:

History: the holocaust (and World War 2 in general); Adolf Hitler; Stalin

N Science: flat earth theory; heliocentric theory; model of the atom

Maths: 2 + 2 = 4 (or other alternatives)

Arts: Picasso’s Guernica; Mona Lisa

Ethics: trolley problem (or its variations)

H Science: Piraha tribe’s lack of number vocab; Sapir-Whorf

Try to draw your examples from relevant personal experiences/reading and from REAL LIFE CURRENT AFFAIRS in different fields of knowledge.

For more handy hints like this on essay technique call on

You can talk to someone directly through SKYPE or email them with your essay at

Monday, April 9, 2012

TOK Websites

Some interesting advice being given here - very important advice and very brief - which could help to refine your essay writing technique no end.

These sort of hints can make all the difference between borderline grades - one mark can make the difference between a Grade D and Grade C.

And, even though it pains us to think so, if you heed the simple advice, it could save you from the dreaded Grade E which means you may not get your Diploma.

Keep working hard!