“Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.”

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

May 2015

I have given a short explanation of all May 2015 essay titles here. This post is a more detailed exploration of the title above, which is my favourite essay in May 2015 choices (just because it’s my favourite doesn’t mean it’s the easiest, or that you should choose this one. It’s just my favourite because of my interests).

I have outlined 2 possible ways to answer this question. These are just my interpretations of how to answer this question, these are not the only ways in which to answer the question – you may find a better way than me.

Possible Knowledge Questions.

1. In which ways is it possible to identify what a human instinctive judgment is ?

2. How can we establish that an instinctive judgment operates as a response to the environment when that judgment may have been inherited from a response to an earlier, different, environment ?

3. How do we avoid confirmation bias when identifying instinctive judgments ? (‘within_____’ specify AoK, or ‘through_____’ specify WoK)

4. How do we know whether judgments are a combination of various WoKs ?

5. Is it possible separate the internalised experience of emotion/intuition/imagination (choose a WoK) from the external environment ?

6. Do instinctive judgments limit the divergent, lateral and creative potential of the individual ?

These are just a few trigger KQ’s, the potential list of KQ’s is nearly endless. Students should not write an answer to these KQ’s (they’re just the ones which interest me), but students should look at the KQ’s which arise from their own thinking about this question.

Possible Answer No. 1

One way of looking at the question maybe to consider Instinctive Judgements as aiding some ways of knowing whilst being a check on others. I would very roughly divide it as:

  • Reason & Language as a check on IJ
  • Imagination, faith, intuition & emotion aid/enrich  IJ.
  • Sense perception & memory are both a check and an aid on IJ.


Define IJ. – Maybe use bio/psych/philosophical definitions of IJ. Show how IJ is distinctive to other ways of knowing. Spend time at this stage. How you define instinctive judgment will be absolutely key to how you write your essay, the tighter your definition the easier to consider a range of views in your essay.

Reason & Language as a check on IJ:


Explore hypothetico-deductive method of scientific investigation as an objective, impartial and neutral process. You could include discussion of epistemology as a value free process, Ayn Rand provides good critique here.


Students could use concept of Linguistic Relativity (& Sapir Whorf Hypothesis) to explain that language shapes thought, and that language is a product of environmental experience. Therefore language could impinge upon instinctive judgement if the environmental experience runs counter to those instinctive judgements. The use of empirical, or even anecdotal, evidence may be useful here.

Imagination, Faith, Intuition & Emotion aid/enrich IJ:

Imagination: Students could use an evolutionary argument that imagination is an inherited cognitive response to the future potential threats (e.g. Lakoff & Johnson on development of schema). To approach imagination from the evolutionary approach would see it as a product, or extension, of instinctive judgement. A contrast would draw upon the argument that imagination is a more environmental response which is developed through learning & experience (try this link here as a starting point)

Faith: Thomas Aquinas is so pertinent to this question. Essentially Aquinas argues that the internal truth of faith exceeds human reason. As such it is often argued that faith is a type of ‘instinctive judgement’, therefore, it could be argued that Faith, as a Wok, is enriched by instinctive judgements.

Nicholas Wade, in his book The Faith Instinct, argues that Faith is a hard wired, innate, inherited response.

Evidence against Faith as an aid to IJ (ie to argue in favour of the question) could come from a range of structuralist sociological perspectives. Alternatively, students could contrast certain religious faith based behaviours with humanist philosophy / psychological evidence.

Intuition: Most definitions of instinctive judgement would include intuition to a certain degree. Most defintions & research on intuition will include a degree of ‘instinctive judgment’ (depending upon your def of ‘instinctive judgment’). As such an argument that intuition is an aid to instinctive judgement will not be difficult to make. However, students may want to write a supplementary-argument around the premise that increasing evidence shows that intuition is shown to have an underlying neurological basis. The student could then explore how neurology links with ‘instinctive judgement’.

Emotion: Most psychologists believe that the basis of emotions is a set of survival instincts, Goleman argues that emotions developed as the sensory perceptual system developed, and that the emotions are the ‘sensory format’ of the pre-sensory survival instinct. Students could argue that instinctive judgements are a product of such survival instincts (clear link to intuition here as well), as such Emotion is an aid to instinctive judgement.

Sense Perception and Memory as both an aid and a check on instinctive judgement.

Ethological / Ecological Psychological theories argue that sense perception is a product of the physical environment – see work by Gibson. As Instinctive Judgements could be taken as inherited innate responses then it could be argued that sense perception aids/enriches instinctive judgements. However, Constructivist Cognitive Psychologists, such as Richard Gregory, argue that perception is influenced by cultural expectation and experience. As such perception can be seen to be overcoming, or at least mediating, biological influence. If Instinctive Judgement is defined as an evolutionary (quais biological) response, then from a constructivist POV it could be argued that sense perception is a check on instinctive judgment.

Possible Answer No. 2

  1. Definitions of instinctive judgments.

Spend time at this stage. How you define instinctive judgment will be absolutely key to how you write your essay, the tighter your definition the easier to consider a range of views in your essay.

The answer could take ‘Instinctive judgement’ as referring to Intuition. To do this you would need to set up intuition against the other WoKs at the start of the essay. You would then need a solid justification for interpreting ‘instinctive judgement’ as intuition. Some may want to touch on Thomas Aquinas definition of intuition.

Another approach might be:

Explore the concept of ‘instinctive judgement’ through the prism of selected AoK – possibly using natural science and human sciences. To consider ‘instinctive judgement’ beyond these AoK’s could be considered a diversion from the question.

Define Instinctive Judgement – Nat Sciences- looks at instincts as biologically based stimulus-response mechanisms with survival advantages. Human Sciences – Evolutionary Psychologists have developed concept of instinct to cover behaviours such as kin selection, parenting, altruism, jealousy, social appraisal, conformity etc etc (the list is near endless). An interesting discussion could be had on whether instinctive judgements are more innate or more learned, which could be linked back to the question re. WoK’s.

Body of essay.

In the following structure I consider ‘Ways of Knowing’ primarily in terms of Reason and Sensory Perception.

Instinctive judgments are complementary to ways of knowing (arguing against the question).

Look at how scientific method / evidence is shaped by IJ (e.g. the early stages of hypothetico-deductive method involve observation, which is caused by attention, which could be said to be mainly instinctive).

Look at how scientific results can be interpreted in terms of IJ – e.g. Rosenthal’s Maze Rats

Aristotle: Intuition is an internal, inherent, truth which can be neither challenged nor evidenced. To challenge evidence becomes an infinite process of asking ‘how you know that’, a sort of endless cycle.

Moral Facts or Moral Common Sense – Henry Sidgwick. Moral Common Sense is deemed an intuitive knowledge which is superior to reason or  analysis. This could lead to a discussion about intuitive sense of morality (e.g. why do we believe in an inherent right to life?, as an extension –  this intuition is often challenged and changed by reasoned morality – e.g. war, healthcare spending priorities etc).

Instinctive Judgements are a check on WoK (argue for question).

An obvious starting point would be the scientific logical investigation of falsifiability by Karl Popper (maybe make use of Kant).

How & why are scientific discoveries really found ? Is it actually through the cold rational process of the hypothetico deductive method, or is it through serendipity, accident, and maybe instinctive judgement ? Students could bring in a range of examples here: for example invention of saccharin, Wilson Greatbatch’s invention of the pacemaker etc. This could be contrasted with structured research which clearly follows hypothetico-deductive method. A middle muddle way through this could be to look at the research confusion recently at CERN.

This would neatly lead into a discussion on Kuhn.

Thomas Kuhn – Paradigm Shifts. The key part of the discussion on paradigm shift would be regarding how & why paradigm shifts occur. Are PS the result of instinctive judgement or the discovery of a new set of counterveiling results through rational observation?

Psychology of Perception explains how we come to ‘know about the world’ – the main theories are based around IJ forming the basis of perception:

Gisbon’s Direct Ecological Theory – perception is direct.

Gestalt Perceptual Theory – perception is based upon a visual framework which categorises & closes.

Ambitious ToK students may like to argue that even constructivist models (such as Richard Gregory’s theory) support IJ as a complementary WoK (e.g. construction is based on instinctive responses learned from the environment). However, others may prefer to hold the Constructivist Models in order to argue in favour of the question.

This content is neither exclusive nor exhaustive, there are many other ideas/concept/evidence that you could cite. This is only an example, intended to get you started and to inspire you to search out new & more interesting content than that I have cited.

I’m sure that you have better ways of answering this question – please feel free to post your thoughts, ideas and comments below !


Intuition a special way of knowing

Chomsky on rationality in science

This is 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 !


69 thoughts on ““Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.”

  1. Thank you for your post! Could you possibly do one like this for PT #4? The one about shared and personal knowledge? Thanks once again!

      1. I am not sure how to define “instinctive judgment”. Can I just say “instinctive judgment” is equivalent to intuition?

  2. this was really helpful as i am confused between which essay topic should i choose; can you help me by doing the same analysis as this for question no. 6

    1. Hi Lila, it really is up to you how you choose to interpret the word “check”, and your interpretation will determine the answer that you write. I interpret “check” as meaning a constraint, or limitation, and as such the answer that I’ve outlined follows this definition. I know that some people are defining check as meaning confirmation. It really is your decision. Good luck !

  3. Thank you so much! This was really helpful! Do you mind explaining more on the your possible answer for the 4th possible KQ in this PT? My KQ is somewhat like that, and I’m quite confused on what WOKs should I use in tackling a KQ which similar to that one. I’d really appreciate it if you’d take the time to answer my question.

    Thanks once again!

    1. The KQs are really just starters for thinking, just possible ways to trigger your own KQs. If you are confused about your own KQ I would suggest starting your thinking process again. Your KQ has to make sense to you before you start writing your response.

  4. Hey! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this with such beautiful clarity. Just wanted to ask, when you talk about the knowledge questions, they seem to me more like knowledge issues, like the limitations of being able to make a coherent argument. I only say this because due to the new rubric, the knowledge question is what your whole essay answers, however the answers to these questions don’t seem to cover how ways of knowing act as a barrier, they just refer to the issue of being able to answer that. So my question is, are these knowledge issues or knowledge questions – as if they are knowledge questions I don’t see how they get at the idea of how ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgements. I apologise if what I just said made little sense.

    1. Jho you must answer the question as it is set by the IB, if you change the question you will lose a lot of marks. If you still don’t understand the question after reading my extensive explanation here then I suggest that you see your ToK teacher fairly urgently.

    1. Jho, I’ve given some KQs as examples of suggestions here, the function of those suggestions is so that you write your own KQs. I suggest you write your own KQs, if you are unable to do this then you need to see your ToK teacher as a matter of urgency.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am so much more interested in the essay topic because of how you approached it! Thanks for showing me a different perspective to the seemingly monotonous side of TOK.

    1. Hi Sierra,

      Natural Sciences are an Area of Knowledge, not a Way of Knowing. The AoK’s are: mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, history, religious knowledge systems, indigenous knowledge systems, the arts and ethic. The WoK’s are sense perception, reason, emotion, faith, imagination, intuition, memory, and language.

  6. Hello Mr Trump! I’d just like to thank you for making these notes. I was panicking at the very idea of the essay, but this post really helped me get a clear understanding of how to approach it.
    Best wishes,

  7. Hello Mr. Trump, thank you very much for providing such a great guide for us ToK students! Your site has helped me and my classmates immensely! However, I was wondering if you could offer advice on how to integrate AOK into my essay. I’m writing on #5 and I think I have approached this similar to your possible answer 1 in that I’m breaking down each WOK in relation to intuition. I’m confused because unlike the other essay titles, this one is more narrowed towards WOK and I’m just wondering how I can somehow incorporate AOK?

    1. Hi,

      you could think of instinctive judgements within a particular AoK eg moments of epiphany within Religious based knowledge systems, or synergistic realisation within The Arts, or apparent use of ‘hunches’ within the sciences, or indeed intuition within human sciences. You could then look at whether there are alternative explanations for these moments of insight, the alternative explanation constitutes a counterclaim.

      I hope that helps, and good luck with your essay !

    1. Hi, it’s a knowledge claim rather than a ‘fact’ or a given process. It all depends on how you define imagination and instinctive judgment. However, if you take an evolutionary biological approach to instinctive judgment, and a more cognitive approach to imagination you start to formulate many instances where imagination could over-ride instinctive judgment. For example when a person is confronted their instinctive judgment maybe to act aggressively, however they may imagination a peaceful way to resolve the conflict, they may imagine becoming friends with the aggressor. As such they act in a peaceful manner. In this instance their imagination has overcome their instinctive judgment.

  8. Daniel, hi. Some of the links dont work. For example the Sapir-whorfs hypothesis thing. Or the link related to the Thomas Aquinas things which says” more info here” there is no link.Please correct the links ASAP.
    And thank you for your fantastic website

    1. Yes, many thanks for indicating that. I had to take some of the links out because WordPress did not the websites that I was linking to. I will edit the necessary text. I hope that the speed of my response is to your satisfaction.

  9. Daniel, thanks for the notes! They’re great and well appreciated. I had a query about a statement in the notes and would love it if you posted or emailed an explanation.

    “Are instinctive judgments the adaptive response for an environment which has already been changed by the very same evolutionary process ?”

    The part that troubles me is ‘an environment which has already been changed by the very same evolutionary process.’

    1. Hi Joel, yes you’re right – that sentence is very badly worded, near gobbledygook ! I will rephrase it. I was attempting to refer to the direction of causation implied within classical Darwinism (changes in environment leads to specific genetic mutations being selected). I was starting to think about Lamarck’s work on epigenetics. As I understand Lamarck’s theory (I am no expert), he argued that genetic tags could act as modifiers, and whilst these tags may initially occur due to environmental circumstances, they can be passed on to future offspring independent of the environment of those offspring. As such, apparently ‘instinctive judgments’ may not be positive adaptive responses to a changed environment of the offspring.

      I think the relevant KQ should read something along the lines of:

      How can we establish that an instinctive judgment operates as a response to the environment when that judgment may have been inherited from a response to an earlier, different, environment ?

      Many thanks for pointing this error out !

    1. Hi, if you want me to read your essay I very much recommend to all students that they consult with their ToK Teacher when it comes to reading essays in advance of submission. Your ToK teacher knows you, and as such they are best placed to give appropriate and insightful advice.

    1. That’s a very interesting question ! I wonder whether imagination and instinctive judgement / intuition are inter-related, or even possibly have shared schematic frameworks….,

  10. Hi Daniel! I can’t express how helpful these notes were with the deadline approaching so fast! I have made a brief mind map of my essay. I would be really grateful if you could have a look at it! Thank you so much!

    1. Aman, I would very much encourage you to share your mind-map with your ToK Teacher, they are best placed to advise you, and to help you with the development of your essay.

  11. Hi, this has really been a huge help. I really enjoyed this question and so i wanted to do my essay on it. I was just having a lot of problems coming up with solid knowledge issues and I still am. Yours are really helpful but I am trying to come up with one without copying on of yours. Can you please email me to help, i would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

  12. Daniel, I answered this essay by exploring the origins of IJ, and what are the roles of WoKs in producing our IJ.

    Just to ask, do you think that there is a sequential/hierarchical organisation of the all WoKs? Can we say that ‘Reason’ controls other WoKs such as ‘Faith’ and ‘Conscience’?

    And can we argue that specific WoKs in specific AoKs are a check on other WoKs to come up with a split second judgment?

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