This blogpost is a set of thoughts regarding Prescribed Title 5, Nov 2015, “”No knowledge can be produced by a single way of knowing.”.Discuss.” It is not intended to be a model essay plan, nor a set of completed thoughts. It is neither the best, nor the only, answer. This post is just intended to help students start their thinking about this question, and to help initiate discussions between ToK Teachers and their students.
Possible Knowledge Questions:
1. Are identified Areas of Knowing actually amalgams of various Ways of Knowing ?
2. What is the evidence that knowledge is only achieved after experience ?
3. How could we build a hierarchy of Ways of Knowing?
4. How does competing knowledge interact to shape behaviour?
5. If a knower rejects knowledge does s/he still know that which is rejected?
6. Are events which are intuitively predicted merely a case of confirmation bias when they occur in reality ?
There are innumerable KQ’s that you could base your essay around, those included here are just examples of the sort of knowledge questions that you can develop, you should use your own KQ rather than copy one of mine – you will do better if you use your own KQ. If you need more help in devising your knowledge question please click here.
A way into this PT is to imagine moments when what you knew was at odds with those things that were evidently presented. The most obvious examples are drawn from intuitive knowledge (which I will return to later), emotional experiences, perceptual experiences, cultural contrasts or for some people, faith based experiences. The first examples which come to mind for me are contrasting cultural experiences. I grew up in the UK, I now live in Asia, I sometimes encounter situations which I experience as being overly polite. My rational (reasoned knowledge) interpretation of such situations is that the behaviours that I experience in these situations are just cultural contrasts (AOK Human Sciences, or Indigenous Knowledge Systems. WoKs Perception or Reason), however my internal experience is nonetheless discordant. As such, for me this essay is about how we define knowledge. You may interpret the essay in any other way. I stress that my interpretation is not the only interpretation that should be used. I write it here only as an example of an approach to the PT.
The form of this essay is probably going to depend upon the definitions of ‘knowledge’ and ‘ways of knowing’ that you use. The extent to which those definitions are open will determine the extent to which you are able to develop extensive counterclaims in the essay. Obviously, the two concepts (knowledge and ‘way of knowing’) are directly mutually inclusive terms – the very outcome of a way of knowing is knowledge. Therefore I would probably start the essay with a discussion concerning what it means to be a knower – I would argue that knowledge is a deeply personal experience, and can neither be standardised nor extrapolated. I might draw from Religious Knowledge Systems to exemplify the personalised nature of knowledge, and from Indigenous Knowledge Systems to demonstrate the problematic nature of generalisation of knowledge. We could then set up some interesting discussions around dissonant knowledge systems – that is knowledge systems which cause difficulties for the individual knower. Examples of these could include people who behave according to a knowledge system that they disagree with (an example is to be found in my post Priests who don’t believe in God). This line of argument would then need to be closely linked back to the original question, this could be done by arguing that knowledge in individual and shared spaces may not only contrast, but could be oppositional, as such it’s cause could be unitary, or amalgamative. In turn this could be used to support or contest the PT. This is a debate about causal inference.
Of course, you could decide to take an opposite approach. You could argue that experience can only be labelled as knowledge if it is verified by others. This line of argument would lead you into a discussion of whether shared ways of knowing are required for experiences to be labelled as knowing. Real life examples are myriad, but I will exemplify from my experience: after watching an EPL football game, in which Man City played, I intuitively knew that Man City would win the league. During subsequent discussion with my friend, she verified my intuition through use of statistics. Manchester City did eventually go on to win the league! At what point did I know that Man City would win the league ? Was it at my first instance of intuition, or the statistical verification of my friend, or at the end of the season when they lifted the cup ? This brings us to the second big question of the essay (imo): What does it mean to be a knower?
Emotion as a WoK.
Let’s return to the original PT, and look at developing counterclaims, that is arguing that forms of knowledge exist which have been formed from a single WoK. An obvious line to follow here is to explore Emotional experiences. Such experiences can be all encompassing, and overcome the rational (Reason), and maybe perceptive, experience. Again, students can draw upon a multitude of real life examples, and could certainly use this as an opportunity to draw upon their own life experiences. Experiences which evoked fear, happiness, grief or despair could be used to illustrate the counterclaim here. Such examples would be even stronger if the knowledge gained was contrasted with other, rejected, forms of knowledge. For example feeling envy towards another student who achieved a higher test score even though reason tells us that emotion can be personally destructive, intuition may tell us that the other student deserved the higher score, and faith based knowledge may tell us that feelings of envy are ethically wrong. Following this line of argument raises the key question for this essay ‘how do we define knowledge?’ is it just cognitive awareness, or does it require internal accordance, or ultimately do we have to inherently experience phenomena in order to know it?
The debate about the constitution of knowledge would consider whether knowledge is belief, truth, fact, experience etc This was probably the first lesson that many ToK students had, it is still fundamental to the course, and possibly to answering this essay question. If students follow this line of debate then examples could be drawn from life experience, psychological research, or classical philosophy of Descartes, Hulme, Nietzsche etc.
Intuitive knowledge offers students a great opportunity to draw upon personal experiences – we’ve all experienced ‘intuitive insights’, a way into this essay may be to start with such an experience.
The most obvious counterclaim to the PT, for me, comes from the WoK intuition. This is a personal preference, you should feel free to explore your own preferred WoKs in counterclaim. Intuitive knowledge is, by it’s very nature, often discordant with other ways of knowing. This could take us back to the discussion concerning the defining features of knowledge. However, we could extend the discussion to look at why intuitive knowledge can sometimes feel like ‘stronger knowledge’ than reasoned or perceptual knowledge. Such a discussion would probably involve exploring whether intuition actually exists as a unitary way of knowing, or whether it draws upon other forms of knowledge such as memory, kinesthetics etc – I wrote a post on the relationship between intuition and neurology last year which could be helpful. Alternatively there could be discussion of evolutionary psychological explanations of phenomena such as attraction (which is often thought to be intuitive).
In order to build the other side of the argument (namely that intuition does constitute a coherent & unitary way of knowing) students could draw upon examples of intuitive knowledge from Indigenous Knowledge systems, for example Confucian notions of Intuition. Further, one could consider the role of intuition in the Natural Sciences, there are numerous articles which contend that intuition is often a significant stage in the scientific method – for example, this article on Intuition and problem solving in Physics.
Language as a WoK.
This Prescribed Title is at the heart of a significant debate in the nexus between Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics. This debate is whether our ability to perceive and comprehend a phenomenon is dependent upon the language we have in reference to that phenomenon. This debate has become known as Linguistic Relativity, or the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis (which is actually a misinterpreted mistake as the researchers never worked together). I won’t go through the details of the debate here, students can research this area if they are interested in it. I will briefly explain how this debate could be applied to the PT.
It could be argued that the Sapir Whorf view contests the quote in the PT. As such we would be saying that language is the single way of knowing, and that all knowledge rests upon it. Students taking this line of argument could explore the degrees of strength to which this determinist relationship is articulated.
On the other hand it could be argued that Sapir Whorf view supports the PT as language develops in response to a need for communication regarding external stimuli. As such all the other WoKs are needed to bring meaning to our experiences, this meaning is created in language.
There is a lot of research, and theory, available regarding this debate from which students can draw.
I have briefly looked at how the PT could be approached using 3 WoKs as lenses, the other WoKs are all equally useful lenses through which to explore the PT. If you are answering this PT you should pick WoKs which interest you, and from which you can draw out interesting and illuminating examples which, in turn, you can use to answer your KQ. There is no stipulation on the number of WoKs to which you should refer. Remember to consider all sides of the PT, and to come to some sort of a conclusion regarding your PT.
Enjoy your writing, and please feel free to share your ideas in the comments box below. Communication is healthy !