Responses (May 2014) — Summary
- Ethical judgments limit the methods available in the production of knowledge in both the arts and the natural sciences. Discuss.
- "When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails” (Abraham Maslow). How might this apply to ways of knowing, as tools, in the pursuit of knowledge?
- "Knowledge is nothing more the systematic organization of facts.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.
- "That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider some of the knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.
- "The historian’s task is to understand the past; the human scientist, by contrast, is looking to change the future.” To what extent is this true in these two areas of knowledge?
- "A skeptic is one who is willing to question any knowledge claim, asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic and adequacy of evidence” (adapted from Paul Kurtz, 1994). Evaluate this approach in two areas of knowledge.
Clearly, the emphasis on specific areas of knowledge and ways of knowing has almost completely disappeared as the IB prepares to transit to their new TOK model. This means a return to basics. In the days ahead, I will fill this space with some brief responses for each topic. Here are some initial responses.
1. An ethical judgment is a judgment based on the composite morality of a social environment. That is, you can argue that any method that can legitimately be used in knowledge production (based on what a discipline considers to be legitimate) is also bound by what society deems legitimate. We are thus talking about the intersection between what methodologies fit the definition of an area of knowledge (e.g. the various forms of scientific method in the AOK of the natural sciences) and what methodologies fit the range of actions which a society considers to be moral actions.
2. Consider a way of knowing (e.g. sensory perception) and the associated methodologies linked to it (in this case, mostly empirical observation and related methods). If this is your only tool, then you would think that only empirical observation would allow you to pursue knowledge. You would dismiss all other phenomena as being less valid and/or less reliable.
3. Is knowledge just 'stamp collecting'? (I invite students to look for the source of this idea.) If so, then all you need to do is find the right organisation of facts and you have an area of knowledge. But what defines an area of knowledge? This is a key knowledge issue, and it can be resolved by asking questions (similar to those I have answered elsewhere in this blog) such as, "What is the difference between the humanities and the arts?"
4. Well, clearly we need to know what knowledge is, and whether it can be said to become not-knowledge. One argument is that, if you 'know' something and it is later found to be false, you never really 'knew' it. For example, if you thought that lead and gold atoms behaved the way they do because of purely classical reasons, and then learnt (as we did only about 20 years ago) that they did so because of effects related to Einsteinian relativity, did you ever know anything about these atoms?
5. This is an interesting question. History, unlike the sciences, has only descriptive and explanatory theories. Once it develops predictive theories, we call it sociology or political science — examples of human sciences. Why is this so? Again, I've answered that question elsewhere in this blog.
6. I really don't like this kind of question. Consider what would happen if a) you failed to define 'skeptic' properly, and/or b) you considered this approach skeptically (i.e. being skeptical about skepticism). Can you be skeptical about skepticism at all? If so, why not? And if not, why so?