Essay #4 May 2016 – application & value of knowledge

This is the essay about whether there is a need for application of knowledge in order for that knowledge to be valuable. I can’t write the exact title here as IB have copyrighted it – students should ensure that they get the exact title from their teacher.

This is a great essay question – it gives students wide scope to use a range  of examples and to develop perspectives. There are a multitude of approaches available for this essay – I will only look at a couple here, but many other approaches are possible & acceptable.

On first reading the title the word ‘valuable’ jumps out – offering lots of opportunity for critical analysis:

Valuable for what ? valuable to whom ? When is it valuable ? How do we measure value ? Is value relative or absolutist ? Is it valuable in a particular AoK but less so in another ? Who judges value ? of personal or of shared value ? what are the underlying assumptions of value ? These questions could continue….,

As we consider ‘value’ then the process of ‘application’ (in the title) becomes more important. We can ask similar questions regarding application:

How / who / when is knowledge applied (by) ? In which situations is knowledge applied ? Is application uniform and universal, or is it more specific, relative and varied ?

My first interpretation of this essay title is in terms of Shared Knowledge and Personal Knowledge structure. It could be argued that application of knowledge in a a shared context is essentially denotive. In this approach the process of application (as referred to in the title) is ‘sharing’ of knowledge. That is that the denotation of a shared meaning is the very definition of Shared Knowledge, without collective dentotation we don’t have an overt shared knowledge system. This, of course, is only one way of understanding the process of application, the IB ToK Guide makes a very specific reference to ‘application’ in Shared Knowledge systems:

Shared knowledge changes and evolves over time because of the continued applications of the methods of inquiry—all those processes covered by the knowledge framework. Applying the methodology belonging to an area of knowledge has the effect of changing what we know.

IBO, Tok Guide, 2015

On the other hand, when we refer to personal knowledge we are usually referring to a more conative aspect of knowledge. This is a form of knowledge application which results primarily in behaviour rather than shared understandings. By recognising the conative aspect of knowledge we start to understand the relationship between different ways of knowing in relation to personal knowledge. We obtain knowledge, at a personal level, through various ways of knowing, as that knowledge means different things to us in terms of emotions, reason and behaviour. It could be argued that ‘application’ of the knowledge, at the personal level, is it’s translation into behaviour. Such an argument could also be generalised to Language, and Memory as WoKs.

In the quote, from The ToK Guide, above it is the application of methods which changes knowledge. If we are to treat knowledge discovery and understanding as inter-related processes then it is in the method of discovery that we can judge the value of the use of knowledge. This argument rests very much in the sphere of academic and practical research processes. For example an understanding of certain mathematical models may be of limited value in the abstract, but when applied to epidemiological research are of immense value.

The temptation with this essay is to discuss usefulness when referring to the term ‘valuable’ in the title. Utility is not necessarily the same as valuable. Students could explore the concept of utility through the lenses of AoKs or WoKs. However, the essay is probably best formed through a discussion of the concept of value through the lenses of various WoKs. What is valuable in terms of emotion, reason, language or memory as ways of knowing ? Is memory based knowledge more ‘valuable’ when it serves emotion or when it serves reason ? Is language most valuable when it serves memory, reason or emotion. Is any language valuable when it serves only one WoK ? I’m sure that you can start to see the potential for breadth of discussion in this debate.

However, the discussion is further developed when we consider whether something which is not useful can actually be valuable ? As such, we could take cultural artefacts and consider both their relative used and value, for example is a piece of art useful or valuable ? Or a contrasting approach – how do we understand the relative use and value of an emotion ?, and are the two domains interlinked ?

Finally, let’s return to the concept of ‘application’. Knowledge can be applied by different people in different ways. There could be a formalised / shared knowledge application e.g the way in which pilots apply knowledge of avionics. On the other hand there is an individualised / personalised application of knowledge, this could be seen in behaviours such as fear of flying, or conversely a particular like of flying.

To further extend the concept of application – it could be looked at through the various lenses of the WoKs/AoKs. Knowledge applied according to one particular WoK may be valuable in ways that it would not be valuable if applied through the lens of a different WoK. For example knowledge of how to boil water may be highly valuable in AoK Natural Sciences but not in Ethics. Or, a WoK based example: knowledge of how to boil water may be highly valuable when applied to knowledge gained through sensory perception, but less valuable when applied to knowledge gained through faith.

To further develop the concept of application we could consider it in terms of the methodology of the Knowledge Framework of the AoKs. Let’s take experiential emotional knowledge, in terms of the formal methodology of the Natural Sciences it would be of limited use. We could contrast that with the methodology of the The Arts, and say that in this context experiential emotional knowledge is of great value. However, such an answer is far too superficial, and cliched. If we look below the surface it is clear that scientists use experiential emotional knowledge in their research (it could be argued that inductive reasoning involves intuitive thought), further the creative processes of The Arts often involved a reasoning framework within which experiential emotional knowledge may be of limited value.

Overall – this is a great essay, with wonderful scope for discussions and use of examples. Enjoy those discussions of what makes something valuable !



18 thoughts on “Essay #4 May 2016 – application & value of knowledge

  1. Dear Mr.,
    After reading your comments on the topic at hand, I feel more confused than when I started. Before I came across your website, I thought that the prescribed title merely dealt with the application and knowledge, and had nothing to do with WoKs. Now while I see how WoKs are related, shouldn’t the claim and counter claims of the essay be focused on claims such as “Knowledge on its own is often not adequate in completing a lot of real-life tasks.” ?

    I hope I’m not losing you here. Let me simply rephrase: I understand where you’re coming from in terms of exploring the concept of “value” and personal vs shared knowledge and so on, but how am I supposed to incorporate WoKs in my claims?

    Originally, I wanted to work with AoKs: natural sciences and religion, where an example for religion is that application by a man of religion can spread goodness (valuable), or a different application by another “man of religion” could be based on extremist faith and result in the spreading of propaganda and the need to kill infidels (destructive).

    Would my example and similar examples work? Can a claim explore value in regards to one WoK and the counter claims be different interpretations of value in regards to other WoKs? Thanks a lot!!!

    1. Hi Jonathon, I do apologise that my post just served to further confuse you. I do usually say that my suggestion is just one of many ways of going about the essay – please do not feel that your proposed structure should be altered in any way. Your own ideas area always the best for you to develop.

      I think that your examples are very good – well thought through.

  2. can i talk about ethics and how the bible and Quran tell us stories and lessons from the past generations. however this knowledge is only applied if we wanted to and depending on the community we live in. just because we dont apply it doesn’t mean it irrelevant and must be diminished. but the counter point is that Most things cant be applied as they don’t relate to our life today as they never mention for example smoking or drugs but they bring up harming our own bodies. but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. also some knowledge isnt diminished because it isnt applied but due to memory people loose notion of some knowledge helping it be more diminished and un used in the world

    1. Religious knowledge would be a good RLS to test this essay question, however you need to be careful defining Religious knowledge as Ethics. Certainly you could make the argument that RKS contain a specific brand of ethics, but KA Ethics is far broader than Religion. Anyway, this is beside the point – yes, you certainly could look at whether RK needs to be applied to have value.

  3. Hello,

    As a current TOK student I am understandably interested in your methods of treating this topic. However, I would like to ask one thing: how does the shared/personal knowledge dichotomy come into play with this title? Is it because this is how value can be generated?

    Also, it seems as though the argument then degenerates into an ‘all knowledge is valuable because application is such a broad term’ line. Is this the case?

    J v M

    1. You can take the question in any direction that you see fit, my suggestions are just personal thoughts. They are certainly not the right, nor only, answer. Enjoy your ToK writing.

      1. Thank you very much! I understand completely your reluctance to influence my writing 😀

        That being said, would you endorse an approach that considered the ‘demand’ for knowledge as an indicator of value? Analysed through the AOKs of Maths and the Arts?

  4. Hello,

    In dealing with this topic can I use the concept of applied and non applied value instead of personal and shared knowledge?

    1. Hi, the idea of “applied and non-applied value” sounds very interesting, I’m not really sure what these terms mean, but if you are able to construct an argument using those terms then this would seem useful. By ‘non-applied value’ , I assume that you mean that some knowledge can be useful, even if it is not applied. This would very much depend on your definition of ‘applied’. If we were to take applied as meaning having physical utility, then sure – non-applied knowledge could have aesthetic and emotional value.

  5. i am having a huge problem relating my areas of knowledge; imagination and sense perception with my areas of knowledge; mathematics and human sciences. help please!

    1. Imagination in Mathematics – see Fermat’s Theorem, or the development of pi, or the conceptualisation of zero.
      Imagination in Human Sciences – consider prediction in modelling, or understanding of non-tangible cause & effect.
      Sense Perception in Mathematics – golden ratio, or symmetry.
      Sense Perception in Human Sciences – consider the development of correlational models such as economic flows.

  6. how do we measure value of knowledge through benefits? can you suggest to me the area of knowledge that can measured their value?

    1. You can easily consider the value of knowledge in any AoK. For example in the Arts there is an emotional value, and collective value to knowledge. In Indigenous Knowledge Systems there is a collective, societal and survival value of knowledge etc etc.

      1. hye trump, i got this statement “Given access to the same facts , how is it possible that there can be disagreement between experts in a discipline? Develop your answer with reference to two AOKs”. what is your opinion about the statement and what area of knowledge that is suitable for this one. hope you can help me, thank you!

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