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 2018

Monday, July 13, 2015

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (November 2015): Question 1

“The main reason knowledge is produced is to solve problems.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?


The production of scientific knowledge to help solve crimes has its roots in the 19th Century. Consider these two real life examples, one of which has been consigned to the realm of pseudo-science and the other which has evolved significantly as part of the area of forensic science.

William Herschel and Henry Faulds’ work on fingerprinting to help identify people was developed into a science by Francis Galton.  Galton’s used a form of mathematical analysis to produce the verifiable knowledge that that fingerprints do not change over the course of an individual's lifetime, and no two fingerprints are exactly the same.  Based on this knowledge, he devised a method of categorising fingerprints based on patterns of loops, whorls or arches as a way of identifying people. This scientific knowledge was adopted by Scotland Yard in 1894 to complement their approach to solving a range of crimes by using fingerprints as empirical evidence.  Today, DNA fingerprinting is part and parcel of the forensic approach to crime solving, whose discovery can be explored as one of those curious ‘eureka’ moments in the history of science.

On the other hand, compare the earlier work of Cesare Lombardo, whose interest in psychology shaped his researches into the criminal mind.  Lombardo’s central theory came to be known as ‘characterology’: simply put, the physical features of a person’s face and head give clues about the likelihood of their mental state (or criminal behaviour.)  So for example, unusually oversized ears, the short distance between a person’s pupils or having long hands was a mark of criminal psychopathology. Why?  Lombardo theorised that they were ‘atavisms’: regressive, physical traits that resembled traits of humans in earlier stages of development and which could spontaneously appear down the line of evolutionary development.  So innovative did this ‘scientific’ approach seem that Lombroso was invited to give evidence at trials to solve ongoing criminal cases. However, his knowledge was later discredited as being more pseudo-scientific than anything else.  Firstly, we now know that some of Lombroso’s ‘atavistic’ traits involve the work of extremely rare genes: eg. ‘werewolf syndrome’ where a person can be covered completely in bodily hair.  Secondly, apart from its link to the discredited theory of phrenology, Lombroso believed that not only could a person be born a criminal, but also that a criminal was under-evolved: a violent beast or savage akin to our primitive ancestors.  This had, of course, great social implications: if we want a society with less criminality, why not genetically engineer people with the right kind (ie. Non-criminal) of facial features?

So you see, in the field of criminology, new scientific knowledge is specifically produced to solve crimes, but the application of it doesn’t always lead to success.  One of the key concepts to apply in this analysis is the distinction between shared and personal knowledge.  Which part of the distinction applies to which example and HOW?...

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