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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2014): Question 1

Ethical judgements limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences. Discuss.
The controversy surrounding the commissioning, design and construction of the Martin Luther King Memorial is well known (click picture above to go to article).  But it didn’t limit the Chinese artist who finally completed the piece from using his knowledge of sculpting and architecture to engage with the knowledge embedded in King’s own words and transform them into a physical embodiment of the leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the US.  What you think of the result is personal and subjective; but it is certainly a good example of how art and artists are able to transcend the tangles people get into over values.
Here are some of the arguments involved in the ethical controversy with the underlying assumptions they hold (can you make a counter argument?):
1/ Cultural bias: the commission should have gone to a black artist – assumption: a black artist would know intuitively ‘from the inside’ the impact of King’s achievement.
2/ Ideological bias: the final work reflects too much the political ‘cult of personality’ associated with the Soviet and Chinese regimes and therefore taints the spiritual message of King’s words with a political (communist) agenda – assumption: religion is free and detached of political influences & that King’s approach was not political.
3/ Artistic chauvinism: social realist genre of the artwork projects the wrong values like those associated with negative propaganda and dictatorial authority – assumption: any other genre of art is value free or projects ‘better’ values.
4/ Economic sovereignty: this is largely implied. Why outsource work and materials for a project that could just as well be paid for using North America labour and resources?  Assumption: it’s better for the economic growth (and national pride?) to keep things ‘in house’, so to speak.
Whatever the arguments and counter claims about the quality of the art work itself, perhaps the most powerful statement it makes is in the symbolic placement of the monument in a direct eye line between the Washington memorial (to celebrate the end of slavery in the US) and the Jefferson memorial (to celebrate the central tenet of the US Constitution: ‘life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness’.  Now that’s an imaginative construction of knowledge.
When you consider that Lei Yixin speaks no English and read the speeches in translation, it adds to the power of the creative process: our ethical values may confine and constrict the artist, but the imagination of the human spirit always finds a way to express itself.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2014): Question 4

 “That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.

Some KIs implicit in this Q are related to the idea of CHANGE and PROGRESS and EVIDENCE: to what extent does knowledge change with time? How far can we agree that an increase in knowledge is progressive?  In what ways does the emergence of better evidence give us good reason to discard knowledge?
Examples abound:
Arts: the rejection of the Modernist approach to creating art in favour of the Post-Modernist approach
H Science (Economics): the discarding of classical (monetary) v neo-classical (Keynesian) economic theory opposition in favour of the new 'Austrian school' approach to theory
History: the discovery of new skull fossils helping to modify the knowledge of human evolution
Maths: the transition from flat plane Euclidean geometry to curved plane non-Euclidean geometries
Ethics: the gradual transition from religious value systems to humanist ones
Religion: the Protestant re-interpretation of man’s relationship to God and rejection of the traditional Catholic interpretation
Indigenous knowledge systems: using insights of modern medicine to reject/enhance traditional Ayurvedic practices
But the one area, students will undoubtedly explore here will be N Sciences and the notion of ‘paradigm shifts’.  So let’s take a closer look at the notion of CHANGE or PROGRESS involved in scientific knowledge.  There are two possible views of progress of scientific knowledge:
1/ traditional view that scientific knowledge progresses in a LINEAR, CUMULATIVE manner
The example usually given is the transition from the medieval superstitious view of the universe to Newton’s mechanistic view of it: Newton himself explained this in terms of his famous quote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.
Implicit in this way of thinking is the belief in scientific realism: the idea that scientific theories must describe the truth of nature as exactly as possible; that truths of nature are just waiting to be discovered and described coherently by scientists; that new, better theory doesn’t negate or contradict the old theory, but subsumes it and is a better description of nature than the previous theory. The ultimate goal of science becomes the search for truth, better predictive power of theory and the subsequent control over nature that this gives.
2/ paradigmatic view that scientific knowledge progresses in a REVOLUTIONARY manner
Implicit in this way of thinking is a fundamental scepticism about scientific realism. Instead, we are asked to think in terms of the idea that science is a puzzle solving activity; it doesn’t seek to describe truth, but to engage with piecing together how the natural world works within a context of cultural, social and economic and scientific constraints that form the working ‘paradigm’ or set way of doing science at the time.  This ‘normal’ science, Kuhn argues, progresses in a cumulative way; but ‘revolutionary’ science challenges this approach.  At first there is resistance from the ‘normal’ scientific community to the prospect of change.  However, in Kuhn’s model, new scientific knowledge, or a revolution, occurs when a new theory solves puzzles better than the old theory, NOT because it’s a more accurate representation of reality, but because new knowledge replaces incompatible knowledge.
And of course, THIS is how you’d explain that old chestnut of a TOK example: the transition from the geocentric to heliocentric view of the universe.
Just remember: Kuhn’s argument about the nature of scientific progress in knowledge is a counter-claim to the traditional scientific realist argument about linear, cumulative scientific progress in knowledge.  Make sure relevant examples support the respective arguments...