#5 Essay May 2016 – Do concepts shape conclusions ?

Essay #5 May 2016: Concepts shape conclusions ?

The above title is not the exact title, make sure that you get the exact title from your teacher.

So, this essay title will really chime with all the MYP-graduates out there, if you’re an MYP-er then you’ve spent a few years following a concept led curriculum, you’ve engaged in concept based learning, and you’ve considered how concepts interlink in knowledge production. If you are fortunate enough to have followed a concept-based education then you will have a strong starting point for this essay.

A straightforward way to understand this essay would be to think about food labelling and the assumptions that we make / draw from these labels. The (often misleading) labels such as ‘99% fat free’ or “sugar free” are, in this analogy, concepts, and the assumptions that we draw (such as ‘oh that must be healthy then’, or ‘that won’t make me fat’) are the conclusions. This is not an answer to this essay, just a starting point for understanding the essay.

My starting point for this essay would be to define concepts. Try to go beyond a dictionary definition of concepts, and develop a more detailed and critical definition of concepts. You could consider the nature of concepts in various AoKs (e.g. a concept in a Religious Knowledge System in comparison to a concept in Human Sciences), – this will allow you to develop the idea that concepts are both a product of, and an inherent part of the methodology of an AoK.

ToK students should pay special attention to the concepts within the Knowledge Frameworks of the Areas of Knowledge. The ToK course has a quite specific, yet broad definition of what a concept is, concepts within ToK refer to the language used to label the knowledge. To quote from the guide:

“The key idea is that language does not just communicate pre-existing “non-verbal” knowledge but that, in many cases, the language used actually constitutes knowledge. Take language away and there is nothing left. One of the reasons for this is that the language names concepts—these are the building blocks for knowledge.”

(ToK Guide 2015)

Pay particular attention to the Knowledge Framework sections of the ToK Guide.

Students could choose 2 AoKs in which to contrast the development of concepts. You could look at how the concepts / (or language of an AoK shapes it’s methodology, scope, and therefore the conclusions reached within that AoK.

This is an excellent paper considering the nature and definition of concepts. This paper is packed with extensive depth on ways to consider concepts – students should not get too hung up on the depth of definition, but certainly recognise the potential for depth of definition.

There is obviously a need in this essay to consider what we mean by conclusions. Conclusions could vary by both AoK and WoK. For example a conclusion in AoK Religious Knowledge Systs may look very different to a conclusion in AoK Natural Sciences. When discussing conclusions we need to consider the aims, or purpose, methodology and dominant WoKs of an AoK. Strong links to the Knowledge Framework could be made.

There is an obvious link in this essay between AoK Language and concept development. KQ’s such as “How do linguistic labels influence inferences made ?” could be developed. Students could draw strongly from their other IB subjects, so examples are given below:

In Economics the concept of utility can lead to a normative understanding of satisfaction.

In Psychology Social Psychologists label certain behaviours as conformist, which could overlook physiological influences.

In Visual Arts the definition of some art as ‘Pop Art’ could have led to a lack of valuing of those art products by some people.

There is also a lot of scope for a discussion of linguistic relativism in shaping worldview. This could include the Sapir Whorf hypothesis, and language as a form of constructionism. Exploration of this area opens up a wider discussion of the nature of concepts. It could be possible to take ‘concepts’ in this essay as pertaining to ‘worldview’ or paradigm.

Let us look at a worked example from the Human Sciences, in the area of criminology.In the late 1970’s criminologists in N.America were trying to understand the causes of the increasing crime rate, and stubbornly high rate of recidivism. Two criminologists, with very different worldviews applied a different set of concepts to the problem and reached different conclusions.

Robert Merton was a Sociologist at Columbia University, coming from a structuralist background he applied the concepts of positivist functionalism to explain the causes of criminal behaviour. Such concepts included socialisation, normative conformity, ascribed roles, educational values, social class etc. His conclusions were formed around the strain between socio-economic opportunity and macro-normative success (achieving “the American Dream”). He explained criminal behaviour as the the result of socially constructed abstract formations, as such his conclusions were structuralist and functionalist.

On the other hand Erving Goffman, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, brought an ethnographic, social interactionist approach to understanding criminal behaviour. He was interested in concepts like social roles, masks, self, presentation, symbols and mind. As he was using non-structuralist concepts he arrived at a non-structuralist explanation – The Presentation of Self in Everyday life. Goffman explained criminality in terms of a reaction to stigma derived from the labels that are applied to members of specific sub-cultural groups.

Merton and Goffman arrived at very different conclusions to explain the same phenomena because they used different concepts (which both contributed to, and were derived from, different worldviews). This is just one of many examples that demonstrate the development of differing conclusions. Students should draw upon their own examples from their DP studies.

In counterclaim students may want to argue points from a number of approaches – the general drift here could be that concepts are not solely, nor directionally causal in the conflicts reached. Such counterpoints could be drawn from, among others:

  1. Universality of concepts (universal in both AoKs & WoKs) means that conclusions are ‘assumption neutral’.
  2. That a rational externalised objective reality can be measured without the bias of pre-conception.
  3. That many more factors, other than just concepts, are influential on the conclusions arrived at. Such factors could involve the motivation of the knower, the methodology of the AoK, the context of investigation etc.
  4. Concepts are not stable nor consistent across AoKs, as such it is nearly impossible to predict their influence upon the conclusions reached.
  5. The same concept may be represented in different ways in the spheres of shared and personal knowledge, as such to which sphere does the ‘conclusion’ in the title refer to ? It may not be possible to generalise about the influence of concepts upon the conclusions reached in personal knowledge because of the idiosyncratic nature of the knowledge sphere.

There are many other possible counterclaims – please do not take mine as being exclusive.

Obviously students would not be expected (nor able) to develop all of the above counter-claims, writers will need to develop counterclaims as an integrated part of their essay.

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6 thoughts on “#5 Essay May 2016 – Do concepts shape conclusions ?

  1. Hi there! First of all, thanks so much for helping us with your analysis of the questions, it’s been a huge help! 🙂

    I have a question regarding this essay title- Is it possible to define “concepts we use” as shared knowledge, and “conclusions” as personal knowledge? Would “shared knowledge” as a concept be too broad?

    Massive thanks once again!

    1. I like the idea of using personal & shared knowledge. However, I think you need to be careful when considering conclusions as personal knowledge. You would need to account for publicly formed decisions amongst a community of knowers e.g. the findings of scientific research. There are some shared understandings that many would consider to be conclusions.

  2. Hi, thanks for your breakdown of the question. I decided to answer this with the KQ “To what extent are our beliefs and experiences responsible for our actions?” But I got stuck along the line. Does my KQ seem like it would have enough legs to run on to answer the prompt?

    1. I think that you might get tied up in discussing the relationship between thoughts and behaviour, this is more of a Psychology question than a ToK question. You’ll have to make a link between conclusions and actions, which will be tough given the word limit. I’d recommend working with your ToK teacher on the KQ.

  3. Can i have the claim in human sciences that evidence shape conclusions and the counter claim is that concepts shape conclusions?

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