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 2019

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...

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