Sunday, November 16, 2014
ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2015): Question 5
5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
How many times has someone told you to ‘trust your instincts’? And when you do trust them, how many times have you felt disappointed about the outcome? This title is built around a central human tension between our need to trust our instincts and the unreliability of them. Instincts are closely connected to our emotions and impulses and rooted in our subjective experiences of the world. Some would argue they are remnants of our evolutionary ancestors and tie us to our animalistic origins. We’ve outgrown our instinct, the argument goes, since our bigger brains allow us to override our primal instincts by means of reason and language and perception which are the basis of our more objective experiences of the world. But as we know, even reason, language and perception aren’t completely infallible when it comes to knowledge building, so the central tension of trusting instincts remains in the subjective-objective dichotomy built into our very nature. Conceptually, we need both the subjective and objective approach: the former allows us to build personal knowledge, while the latter enables us to shape this into shared knowledge by means of collaboration.
Nowhere is this tension more apparent than in Star Trek, dramatized in the interactions between Dr McCoy (instinct and emotion) and Mr Spock (reason and logic) with the Captain as a bridge between both, which Michael Shermer explores in terms of what he calls ‘The Captain Kirk Principle’.
It’s often when we’re faced with moral dilemmas that the tension between instinct and reason surfaces and raises the knowledge question: how do we know which course of action to take? Should we follow our instincts or reason? In the later Next Generation series of Star Trek, the tension is explored through the concept of ‘the Prime Directive’, in which Captain Picard is forever faced with the ethical dilemma of interfering with an indigenous population when he knows that it might be faced with genocide or mass destruction. A common argument for ethical NON-intervention is the ‘natural order’ argument – let nature take its course. What implications does this have? What are the counter arguments? Another argument is the ‘cause and consequence argument’: if we didn’t intervene in a situation, the outcome would be so bad that this justifies action to intervene – this is another version of the ‘precautionary principle’. However, all these arguments are based on reason and logic and presuppose that in any given moral situation we have the TIME to think out the problem. As we know from experience, we often DON’T have time and have to make a spontaneous judgment. Is this the place for instinct?
We explore a possible response to this knowledge question in a review of the recent movie Star Trek: Into Darkness...