#3 Essay May 2016: The Knower’s Perspective essential ?

The above title is not the exact title of this essay, students should ensure that they get the exact title of the essay from their teacher. (I can’t write the exact title here as IB may issue me with a DRM Takedown Notice if I do).

Here’s a link to a brief Prezi giving my main thoughts / overview of the essay.

My first thought on looking at this title is “what does knowledge look like without a knower’s perspective ?”. I mean, is that even possible ? surely knowledge is ‘something that is known’, and therfore it must be known by someone, that someone must hold a knower’s perspective. It seems that the very concept of knowledge without a knower’s perspective is an oxymoron. However, I guess that if we dig a little deeper we could engage in a debate about knowledge being external reality to be discovered vs knowledge being a constructed internal reality. This could be linked to a rationalist vs empiricist type of debate.

My second thought about this essay concerns the word ‘pursuit’ in the title. If it seems obvious that all knowledge must have a knower’s perspective then maybe the actual debate in this essay is in exploring the idea of ‘pursuing’ knowledge. This debate could centre around the idea that knowledge can be ‘discovered’ as serendipity (a sort of intuitive process) or knowledge can be purposefully constructed – this will vary in nature according to the WoK and AoKs being explored. It is, approximately this approach that I will take in this explanation. However, I must put a very strong cautionary warning on this post – my approach is not necessarily the ‘correct’ approach, other approaches may be ‘more correct’ than mine.

The Knower’s Perspective:

A starting point for understanding the knower’s perspective is Personal Knowledge. Students could look at the detailed definition of Personal Knowledge from the 2015 IB ToK Guide, to get a detailed understanding of what constitutes the knower’s perspective, and how the knower’s perspective constitutes part of this aspect of knowledge. This definition could then be applied to a real life situation.

However, it may then be interesting to argue that the knower’s perspective (as part of personal knowledge) is very much shaped by shared knowledge – the very concept of the perspective is, in part, defined by a shared knowledge / shared set of understandings.

Real Life Example of the interaction of shared and personal knowledge in the knower’s perspective:

If this is a Man by Primo Levi (1947) is Primo Levi’s account of surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp during the holocaust of the second world war (I strongly recommend that all DP students read this book). In the text Levi gives us his personal experience of being arrested in Turin, being transported to Auschwitz, and then surviving in Auschwitz – this is very much personal knowledge and the knower’s perspective. However, Levi’s personal knowledge and perspective is informed by a range of aspects of shared knowledge. For example: he partly understands his experience in political terms – the Nazis have a political agenda etc. He manages to survive in Auschwitz partly because of his (personal) specialist knowledge of shared knowledge (you will have to read the book to further understand this).

To further develop the discussion around PK & SK students could look at the term ‘pursuit’ through this lens. Pursuing knowledge in a SK context could be using the methodology of experimental (natural and human) sciences, or through a disciplined process of study joining creativity with reason in the Arts, or through accountability of moral institutions in Ethics. It could be argued that it is in the discussion of how these shared knowledge areas meet with personal knowledge that we find the an understanding of the process of pursuit of knowledge. This could be seen through the prism of WoKs.

A real life example of looking at ‘pursuit of knowledge’ in terms of PK & SK:

Artist Joan Miro studied at both Business School and Art School, developing an understanding of Human Sciences and The Arts using reason, creativity, perception, imagination etc in a Shared Knowledge context. In the 1920’s he used this understanding, and his own emotions and imagination to develop a Surrealist style which became archetypal of the genre in later years – this is an example of Personal Knowledge interacting with Shared Knowledge. At the beginning of the second world war he interpreted the macro-political themes of Europe (Shared Knowledge) in terms of astral constellations (shared knowledge) to create his own works of Celestial Constellations – he used his own interpretation (personal knowledge) to pursue the creation of shared knowledge forms.

Returning to the original question, I find it rather difficult to argue the counterclaim (ie that knowledge can be created without a knower’s perspective). As such I think that another possible way through this essay may be to look at the possibility of a value free or neutral theory of knowledge. This is premised on the idea that we can develop knowledge which is unbiased, or we can minimise the influence of the knower’s perspective. As such the question is being interpreted through the lens of Objectivity. A knowledge question which would arise from such an approach may be:

  • Is it possible to have a value-free Theory of Knowledge ?, or
  • can Ways of Knowing interact to form an objective Way of Knowing ?

Philosophers, and others, have been considering this possibility for ‘a very long time’. I have written a fairly brief precis of some of the key ideas in this post linked here for students who may be interested in taking this approach to the essay. Suffice to say here, that if we approach essay #3 through the prism of ‘objectivity’ then  students could be engaging in a discussion around empiricism vs rationalism. Both ‘isms’ have quite specific understandings of what constitutes objective knowledge. These understandings are closely linked to the Knowledge Framework’s of each AoK – again I would recommend a close look at the Knowledge Frameworks in the ToK Guide, particularly at the methodology and underlying assumptions sections.

Finally, if students do choose this essay it has great opportunities for links with their IB subjects, and their personal knowledge development in their lives.

Enjoy your ToK Writing !



10 thoughts on “#3 Essay May 2016: The Knower’s Perspective essential ?

    1. the sort of KI’s I’d be interested in concern whether more than one person has to know something for it be known ? or how serendipity plays a role in knowledge construction, or how knowledge is produced in contrast or opposition to the knower’s perspective.

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