Essay Titles explained (May 2015)

Update: For detailed thoughts on all essays click here. You will find links to a detailed explanation of each essay, and possible ways of answering the question.

ToK Essay Titles May 2015

These are just my initial thoughts, and interpretation of the questions. ToK essay titles can be interpreted in many different ways, as with everything there are only better-worse answers, not right-wrong answers. Please feel free to add your own interpretations of these questions in the comments box.

I have written detailed thoughts on:

Essay 1 here.

Essay 2 here

Essay 3 here.

Essay 4 here

Essay 5 here.

Essay 6 here


I haven’t added any of the specific ToK Essay Components (related to assessment criteria)  which is needed in every response. I have listed these at the end of this document, and will come back to these at a later date. Students should be reminded that they need to get the structural components of their chosen essay clear before they start writing.

  1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

This question interested me as the very nature of neutral inquiry needs to be considered in this response. The writer needs to consider the very nature of neutrality, whether we can achieve a position of impartiality.

I assume that the starting point of this question is considering the apparent neutrality of the hypothetico-deductive method of scientific investigation, maybe applying this to Natural Sciences as an AoK. This could then be effectively contrasted with Indigenous or Religious Knowledge Systems.

Students could look at Karl Popper’s theory of falsification, and Kuhn’s work on paradigms.

Useful links:

2. “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Obviously the essay is about Ways of Knowing, This essay could be interpreted in a number of ways. The first way is to contrast ‘internal WoKs’ (Intuition, Emotion & Faith) with ‘external Wok’s’ (those based on reason).

Another way of approaching this might be to look at various wok’s and see whetehr they constitute ‘passive observation’ or ‘active experiment’. This essay would be looking at whether active experiment/passive observation are useful ways of framing WoK’s.

3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

This essay can be broken down into 2 subquestions (which are more straightforward):

  1. i) Do the AoK’s really exist ?
  2. ii) Are the Wok’s compatible ?

Students could use Kuhn’s work on paradigms as a starting point. There is an implicit need within this question to discuss whether belief systems are compatible. This quickly leads us to the absolutism vs relativism debate, there’s lots of ground for drawing examples from Language as a WoK (Sapir Whorf springs immediately to mind), and Indigenous / Religious Knowledge Systems as AoK’s.

4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.

Students could approach this essay by discussing how knowledge is produced in 2 AoKs. The obvious ones might be Natural Sciences and Ethics. In each there would be room for discussion of various ways of knowing. The starting point might be to contrast imagination/intuition with the more obviously communal knowledge production processes such as reason or  language. There is definitely scope for an interesting discussion on whether specific woks are more personal or more shared (eg perception).

5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

A great essay for those interested in the psychology-biology-anthropology-archeology area of the world. I interpret this essay as a discussion around the extent to which the WoK’s are ‘instinctive’, that is the extent to which the wok’s are biologically based (a sort of hereditary predisposition). Immediately I can see interesting discussions around language (Chomsky LAD vs Pinker’s Language Instinct), also obvious discussion around perception (Gregory vs Gibson / Constructivist vs Ecological Theory). There’s some wonderful exploration of intuition and imagination here, Evolutionary Psychologists will be in their intellectual playground !

6. “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The most open ended question here, imo. Being open-ended is both a strength and potentially laden with pit-falls, it makes the question easier to answer and harder to be sure of hitting the correct mark. Therefore, students who choose this question should ensure extra careful reference to the assessment criteria / mark scheme to ensure that they fulfill the criteria, even then I think that there may be a greater risk of the examiner interpreting the question in a different way to you than there is with the other questions.

The knowledge issue here could be the point of knowledge, however I think that better candidates will pick up on the specific wording ‘personal lives’, and make the knowledge issue about the nature of experience (for most people experience seems internal but needs to be verified externally for it to be labelled as reality).

Essay Components.

Ideally ToK essays should have the following:

  1. Clear Knowledge Question. Explanation of how the question is interpreted.
  2. References to Areas of Knowledge & Ways of Knowing which allow for exploration of the question.
  3. Clearly identified Knowledge Issues, which are explored.
  4. Exemplification through the use of real life situations.
  5. Consideration of  perspectives and implications.
  6. Identification of claims and counterclaims which draw upon evidence.


35 thoughts on “Essay Titles explained (May 2015)

  1. Thank you. The post aided me immensely in being able to have a feel of each question. Your explanation made me consider a question I would not have otherwise.

      1. Thanks for sharing! I think I can start now after reading your post. Do you mind sharing your email so I contact you for your opinion when I’m in a tough spot?

      2. No worries, I’m glad that you found the post useful, that’s what I’m here for. I’ll mail you directly.
        Thanks for the feedback, it’s much appreciated. Best of luck in your upcoming exams.

      3. Hi Daniel, I’m currently working on my ToK Essay on topic 6 and I was wondering if you could help me out.

  2. Hi, your explanation of the titles is really helipful 🙂 I was wondering if you could also do a detailed explanation on title number 6? Thank you in advance.

      1. Your post is very helpful! Would you mind doing a detailed explanation for question 6? I am really interested in that question, but I am a little afraid that I might tap into those traps of the question, since it is so open.

  3. I thank you very much Mr. Trump! This page has really helped a few of my friends and I acquire better understanding of each of the questions! Please provide me your email for further contact.

  4. Very helpful, thank you! I’ll be sure to share this with my peers.

    I can’t help but question the relevance of your website’s header, though. Dramatical murder…?

  5. This explanation really helped me! Since my first draft for the essay needs to be done during our term break (We will submit it the first week back) so I don’t have my teacher for guidance. Do you mind if I ask you some questions and to show my work to see if I’m in the right track by speaking to you via email? It’s totally fine if you do 🙂

  6. This have been so so helpful. Thank you so much. Im sure everyone is appreciating this. Could you also do detailed thoughrs on Essay 4 and 6. I would be immensely thankful.

    1. Hi Leila, the links to my thoughts on all of the essay titles are in the link “Essays” in the menu at the top of the page. They’re just my thoughts, not right answers, but I’m glad that you found it helpful.

  7. Thank you so much for your help!!! I really appreciate it 🙂

    Ok so I have to ask, why did you choose that picture for the heading picture of this particular page?

  8. I’m a student of the May 2016 batch and I found your explanations really helpful! It would be great if you could do the same for our (May 2016) ToK essay questions.

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