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

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.