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Essay #1 May 2017 Knowledge produced with difficulty: truly valued ?

Essay #1 May 2017: Only knowledge produced with difficulty is truly valued. TWE do you agree ?

This is proving to be one of the most popular essays. Rather than write a full explanation of the essay I’ll just draw out some interesting ideas, and some examples of RLS which could be used as evidence in arguments.

Argument one:
Difficulty as a relative concept vs Difficulty as an inherent reality.
It will be fairly easy to argue that difficulty is a relative concept, and therefore contextual, contingent and temporal. However, the concept of difficulty needs to be closely tied to the production of knowledge. Therefore rather than just arguing that difficulty is relative students will need to explain how difficulty in the production of knowledge is relative, and give relevant examples. I would expect that serendipitous production of knowledge would be typical here (for example Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin). However, if serendipity is used then the student will need to explore the distinction between ‘discovery’ of knowledge and production of knowledge.
The relative vs absolute argument would see students arguing that they agree with the statement to the extent that difficulty is relative. In some instances knowledge is produced with minimal difficulty (e.g. serendipity) , whilst in other instances knowledge is very difficult to produce (e.g. the discoveries from the Hadron Collider). Such essays, in my opinion, may attract a pass grade if well written, but a fairly minimal pass grade.

I’m not sure that arguing about the relative nature of ‘difficulty’ will necessarily get many students particularly far with this essay. Part of the beauty of this essay lies in the different ways in which the concept of ‘difficulty’ could be understood beyond the concept of relativity. If this concept is closely linked to the scope and methodology of the Knowledge Framework, and understood through AoKs then it provides great capacity for a sophisticated development of the concept of difficulty. Rather than think of difficulty in terms of effort I start thinking about the concept in terms of paradigm shift, ie did the knowledge require the producers to think beyond the conventional parameters of the scope of the Knowledge Framework (e.g.from AoK The Arts – in order for the development of 1980’s deconstructivist architecture such as that of  Gehry and Eisnemann, architects needed to decouple design from function, and design from pre-existing notions of acceptable design). Further, I think of difficulty in terms of synergy and hybridity, did the production of knowledge require the bringing together of apparently disparate knowledge from various areas of knowledge ? For example, from AoK Human Sciences – the concept of neuroplasticity in Psychology required the combination of ideas from Genetics (in Experimental Sciences), Chemistry (in Experimental Sciences), Behaviourism (in Human Sciences), Social Learning Theory (in Human Sciences), Phenology, Ethology etc etc. Further, difficulty could be thought of in terms of natural conditions, rare conditions, identification of opportunity, or popular appeal of an idea. Depending on the examples chosen, students can explore the depth and complexity of this term in relation to the question.

Argument two:
Very similar arguments apply to the term ‘Value’. Adequate, and typical, answers will probably be based around the contextual nature of the context of value. there are many different definitions of value, and many students will explore the ways in which it could be defined. I would expect stronger answers to link this concept to knowledge, recognising the multiplicity available when exploring the concept of value. Of particular pertinence here maybe the theoretical value of knowledge, and aesthetic values of knowledge.
The first distinction which comes to mind is the contrast in values between personal knowledge and shared knowledge – there is a paradox between that valuable knowledge which requires a collective (e.g. most scientific knowledge), and that knowledge which is personally valuable. There’s a very easy WoK distinction to draw here between Intuitive knowledge vs Reasoned knowledge. Possibly the very definition of the term value lies in this distinction.
The next distinction that comes to mind is the difference between ‘knowing’ something, ‘producing knowledge’ and that knowledge being accepted Maybe value is actually conferred in this process (cue discussions about Geocentrism, Evolution or Gravity. Maybe try to discuss Banksy’s Art, Civil Rights, Equal Marriage or Liberal Pluralism as more interesting alternatives – see later!). Finally, I think that students could write insightful essays using the fairly straightforward argument that the nature of value depends upon the lens of the AoK vs the idea that value is consistent across AoKs.

Ideally I would enjoy essays which take the concept of value in a more collective-moral sense. In this sense I am defining the value of knowledge as in the sociological sense of a value, ie a deeply held belief. This approach would contrast personal knowledge (in the sense of experience or inclination) with shared knowledge (in the sense of social or cultural knowledge which holds values).   Such knowledge which is held to be valuable in this approach is culturally specific, I grew up in the UK so I will draw upon examples from that society. Socio-Cultural Knowledge which is held to be valuable in that society includes such liberal ideals as the right to freedom of expression, the right to vote, the value of life, and values of equality. From this premise it is not difficult to set up an essay structure which on the one hand looks at the difficulty in establishing the knowledge underpinning those central held beliefs, and on the other hand considers whether that knowledge is truly valued by all – for example constraints on freedom of expression such as Race Hate Laws, and constraints on equality such as widely expressed misogyny, homophobia etc. The examples used to illustrate the arguments would vary by the culture, but the structure is essentially translatable across cultures.

Such an approach could take this discussion further by drawing upon knowledge within the AoK Ethics. The core debate here would be whether ethical knowledge has inherent value, or does it have context based value. It could be argued that ethical content with inherent value is ‘known’ to all in all circumstances, and therefore is not difficult to produce, whereas context dependent ethical knowledge requires extra consideration, and therefore is more difficult to produce. Such an example may be the right to life (inherent) vs survival in war (context specific). Students who take Philosophy, or who just enjoy reading real stuff, may take this further by linking it to Kantian Ethics of the Categorical Imperative vs Hypothetical Imperative.  The counterarguments available here would be that ethical knowledge is either never difficult to produce, or that it is always difficult to produce. Another counterargument could be that one persons universal ethical knowledge is another persons context specific ethic, and therefore the relative difficulty of the production of the knowledge varies between people, place and time. Finally, a counter argument could be developed that an underlying moral principal, such as Kant’s framework of deontology, means that whilst difficulty may be applied to the intention of knowledge, the outcome is relatively ‘easy’ or ‘simple’ (depending on the definition of those terms).

This essay provides a multitude of possible approaches, and lots of really interesting areas for investigation. I have just touched upon one of many ways in which this question could be approached. I think another interesting way of looking at the question could be through Indigenous Knowledge Systems, but that’s another post.
How ever you do decide to approach the question remember to develop argument and counterargument, and to show the nuances in your argument.

8 thoughts on “Essay #1 May 2017 Knowledge produced with difficulty: truly valued ?

    1. Hi, I’m afraid that I probably won’t be writing anything about #2, none of my students are doing that essay (I warned them off it). However, I think that lots of other people have written about essay #2 elsewhere on the internet.

  1. Would it be useful to define difficulty as a contibution to a paradigm shift? If so, what would be the example of knowledge produced with diffiulty in the area of natural science and knowledge produced with no difficulty in arts? Also, I’m a bit confused, if following the logic, difficulty is introduced in terms of paradigm shift, than what about the opposite? Is knowledge produced with no difficulty whatsoever supposed not to lead to a paradigm shift then?
    Thank you in advance!

    1. I think that contribution to a paradigm shift is an excellent way to define difficulty. Examples of knowledge development which contributed to a paradigm shift really depends on how you define paradigm shifts. Conventional definitions of paradigm shift would enable you to use examples from the natural sciences such as the move from Newtonian to Einstein’s Physics theories, the development of germ theory, the development of atomic theory, a plethora of ideas from genetics etc.
      I’m not so sure that you want to draw the claim from one AoK, and the counterclaim from another AoK as this could leave your treatment of the second AoK as very staid, possibly dismissive – it really depends on what your counterclaim is. I would recommend developing both claim and counterclaim in each AoK considered. However, it very much depends on what your claim and counterclaims are.

      1. Thank you for your reply.
        I am actually developing both claim and counterclaim for each area of knowledge. It is just that I didn’t have examples for knowledge produced with difficulty in area of natural sciences (I was also thinking about quantum theory – now I’ll look deeper into it) and the example in area of art, where the production of knowledge didn’t require much difficulty but is still valued. For the latter one, I was thinking of sound film as an example. Although again, I’m not entirely convinced how to present “no difficulty involved in the knowledge production”. Does this mean that this kind of knowledge did not or did little to contribute to the paradigm shift or something else instead?

    1. You don’t really need to write a new Knowledge Question, the Prescribed Title is a Knowledge Claim which can easily be approached as a question (e.g. “To what extent is the value of knowledge determined by the difficulty of producing that knowledge ?”. A starting point for the essay would be to look at the ways in which difficulty and value could be understood in relation to knowledge.

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