Sunday, October 23, 2011

Responses 005 (Nov 2012)

The penultimate topic (Question #5) in the list reads: "Habit is stronger than reason." To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?

It's a bit of a let-down compared to the other five topics, and that is why mainly two kinds of students will attempt it: the brilliant risk-takers and the unimaginative. What I'm a little irked about is the lack of attribution: if George Santayana did indeed say this, at least attribute it to him as you did for Einstein and Conan Doyle in the same set! That said, the quotation looks horribly boring on first sight.

No doubt, this kind of question is a staple of the 'Theory of Knowledge Diet', of the form [quotation by famous person] + [request to justify with respect to two (or more) areas of knowledge]. But what to make of the 'X > Y' format used also in Question 3 (which has a better quote from Uncle Albert)?

I think that 'habit' must refer to people doing things automatically (as in 'force of habit'), as opposed to thinking about it first (i.e. 'reason'). If that's the case, then how to link it to areas of knowledge? Surely it's a commonly known fact of human existence that people do things out of habit more easily than with the use of reason.

Perhaps a discussion of the topic can be made more substantial by discussing what exactly 'habit' is. The word 'habit', from the Latin, has the original meaning 'to have' or 'to live in a specific state' — hence 'inhabit'. The modern sense is one of being in a constant state of existence, doing the same things and responding the same way to things.

Habits are patterns of life, patterns of behaviour, that have developed from uncritical existence in specific environmental situations. Here, I have craftily inserted the word 'uncritical'. After all, if one were to be critical, one would probably not continue to live the same way all the time. But it provides us with a proper basis for argument — we can now say that reason is critical, and habit is not. (I used a similar trick when handling this older question.)

Now we have a proper epistemological argument. To what extent, in various areas of knowledge, is uncritical behaviour (not necessarily bad, perhaps instinctive or intuitive) more useful or more powerful than critical behaviour (which must involve reasoning and judgement)? This is where it would be good to draw boundaries between disciplines that require more critical thinking and those requiring less. I've discussed this elsewhere. Enjoy...

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Blogger WhiteCoffee said...

Hi there! I think it's a very interesting approach you've taken to this Topic 5 because i'd never have thought of involving criticality and the opposite to this topic on habit vs reason.

I'd love to get some help with regards to how to link the topic to 2 AOKs. I think it's relatively difficult to come up with examples for the claims and counter-claims too.

I've come up with a KI that relates to the derivation of one from the other, and the development of one from the other. Can't post too much here, it might cause turnitin problems!

Looking forward to getting a reply from you soon!

Thursday, June 21, 2012 9:26:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

WhiteCoffee: I would think you could choose any two AOKs (e.g. art, theology, physics, math, history, sports) and figure out which parts depend on reflexive response more than critical response and vice versa. For example, in the arts, part of it is informed critical response (e.g. in appraising a painting, a poem or other text, a dramatic work) and part of it is reflexive emotional response (e.g. "Wow, that's beautiful, it really speaks to me!") — so, which is more important? :)

Saturday, June 23, 2012 6:09:00 am  
Blogger CS said...

Hello I am a big fan of your site you saved my TOK essay last year.

This year I was reading a junior's essay on title 5 and decided to write it myself. (It was extremely similar to the title I wrote last year on intuition.) I might send it to you to read if I finish it.

I'd like to ask you about defining the word "stronger". This question can be understood two ways: Stronger in the sense of one WoK leading to better decision-making than the other, or stronger in the sense of one WoK having more INFLUENCE over decision-making than the other. I think writing this essay under the first definition is much easier than writing in the second, however I'm concerned that the original quote was more likely referring to the latter meaning. Is that a problem?

Some people also said that they would rather write the essay to respond to BOTH interpretations of the question, but I think this is extremely unwise because they are very very unrelated and different questions. What do you think?

Monday, July 23, 2012 3:51:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

CS: I agree with the two definitions of 'stronger' that you've suggested. I myself would do the same (and have developed such ideas in conversation with my own students, without limiting it to these two meanings).

But I think 'unwise' is relative: a good essay could cover both. Habit drives reason from a more obvious biological/physical basis (hence more influential by nature) but may not lead to better decision-making. Reason can change habit or even drive one to attempt the creation of a new habit (e.g. exercise). It is not normally more influential unless given 'authority' somehow (kratos, leading to bia, and then dünamis, perhaps); but reason may be more effective in decision-making, especially if given sufficient resources.

Monday, July 30, 2012 3:36:00 am  

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