Essay#3 Judging key events in the historical development of AoK by the standards of their time.
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.”
Bob Dylan, The Times they are a changin’
Choose AoKs that you know something about , probably AoKs that you enjoy studying in your DP as you will need to know about the historical development of knowledge in those AoKs . However , the key to this essay is to ensure that you don’t write too much about the historical development , but rather focus on whether we “should judge” those developments by the standards of their time.
“should” is an interesting word in this title, it implies some sort of value imperative . What is the aim of such judgment ? Candidates could consider whether the purpose is to assess the reliability or validity of the development , the significance of the development or the inevitability of the development . What are the implications of judgment ?
Obviously the essay requires discussion of the concept of “standards”. Are these standards of knowledge production (as detailed in the Knowledge Framework) ? or are they moral / ethical standards ? Could they be standards in terms of their significance, or impact on the scope of the AoK ?
The word “always” stands out in the PT. It invites the writer to comment upon the possibility of a universal judgment , a consistent approach. This obviously allows students to set up a framework of “yes we should in this case” vs “no we shouldn’t / cannot in this case”. It tempts me to consider an approach that argues that all judgment is flawed. However, such an approach may lead us down the route of questioning the function / purpose of judgment, and the danger of an essay which becomes an incomprehensible list of relativist statements .
Planning the arguments out clearly before writing is absolutely key. A conventional agree-disagree essay structure would work just as well as a deconstruction of the concepts of the title (judgment , standards, time etc). I like the latter, but your mileage may vary.
You should choose the developments of the AoK which you are best familiar with. I’m not going to give my preferred ones for fear of spoiling the pitch. Instead I’ll touch upon some of the issues of judging the historical development of knowledge:
The Emic-Etic paradox. Students who are fortunate enough to study IB Psychology will immediately understand this problem. Psych students – those cross cultural biases equally pertain to historical biases, draw upon your excellent Psychology knowledge (but don’t write a Psych essay !).
The development of knowledge can be thought of as a continuum, albeit one which is jarred, disjunctive and asymmetric . Contemporary knowledge is contingent upon prior / earlier knowledge development. Our times are contingent upon earlier times. Our framework of judgment is mutually inclusive of those earlier times.
From this last argument writers could develop an Evolutionary approach to knowledge development, this gives great capacity for argument and counterargument of the adaptability and fitness of knowledge development .
Writers could take a more Ethical value based approach . this plays into the common inference of the word ‘should’. Some AoKs better lend themselves to this approach than others. Rather than take a morally hierarchical approach here I would be more interested in the subsequent distortion of the development of knowledge in later times, a sort of rose-tinted spectacles effect (arguments for Brexit from my native UK come to mind here).
Further development of the Ethics approach could lend itself to my current particular favourite theme of categorical imperatives vs hypothetical imperatives. This usefully lends itself to argument, counterargument, analysis, evaluation and implications – the gold standards of the ToK Essay. It could be argued that there are universal ethical principles , and as such some processes of knowledge production are unacceptable, regardless of their time and place.
This essay, more than many other PTs of recent years, lives in the land of implications. What are the implications of judging by the standards of their time, or not judging by those standards ? Such implications can range from acknowledgment of the significance of the development , rejection of the authors of those developments , rejecting current knowledge (which may be a good thing, depending upon the AoK/example being considered), identifying paradigm shifts, belittling the significance of the development etc. The scope here is huge, and ToK students are free to play with the arguments back and forth as they see fit.
More on implications.
My personal bias is that significant and positive knowledge development requires knowledge producers to go beyond the conventional scope of the day. Significant shifts in knowledge are brought about by the unconventional, the dissident , and the rebel. Kuhn , writing on paradigm shifts, is far better than I am on this. ToK students could write about the problems of confirmation bias. The point here is that an understanding of how key events in the historical development of knowledge occurred is essential if we are to realise further developments of knowledge. As such, judgment may be flawed, but the process of judgment may be integral to further development in our times. This is, of course , my subjective opinion. I’m sure that ToK students can write better implications than this – but do consider the implications of your arguments. You could write the opposite to this point of view, you would attract marks for making a well substantiated argument regardless of what that argument is.
This is a great essay question for diving into the ideas of should we judge, and is it possible. There are many many different ways of approaching the essay. I just give a few very narrow possible ideas as a stimulus here. Let your imagination, purpose and ideas run free with this essay, and I’m sure that you’ll do very well !
Finally , I assume that you all know what the big danger of this essay is. If not, talk to your ToK teacher. I’m guessing that many students writing this essay will make this mistake….,
If you’re still confused listen to Bob Dylan song The times they are a changin’ for inspiration !