Knowers Perspective Tok Essay Format

“The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?

Again this invites us to contrast and compare personal with shared knowledge. It asks us to consider what drives the production of shared knowledge – is it the  agency of pioneering individuals or the incremental outcomes of collaboration? (or a mixture of both?).

  • To what extent does Personal Knowledge drive and form Shared Knowledge?

The IBO TOK guide has something to say on this issue….

Links between shared and personal knowledge Clearly there are links and interactions between shared knowledge and personal knowledge. These are discussed in more depth in the knowledge framework.

Consider the example of a scientist such as Albert Einstein who has contributed much to modern physics. Clearly, he had some personal qualities that enabled him to see further than some of his peers. He had personal knowledge, a way of looking at things perhaps, that he was able to use to propel his exploration of the difficult questions that characterized the physics of the early 20th century. But his insights had to go through a thorough process of review before being accepted as part of the shared body of knowledge that is the discipline of physics.

There were disciplinary-specific methods that placed demands on Einstein’s thought. For example, his ideas had to be logically consistent, had to conform to previous experimental findings and had to go through a process of peer review. They also had to provide predictions that could be independently tested and verified (for example, the predictions made about the visibility of stars normally obscured by the sun in the solar eclipse of 1919). Only then could Einstein’s vision become an accepted part of physics. This illustrates how personal knowledge leads to advances in shared knowledge.

The reverse process can and does occur. Shared knowledge can have a big effect on our personal view of the world. Not only do the familiar areas of knowledge impinge on our personal experiences—someone studying economics might regard everyday shopping in a different light as a result of studying economics— but shared knowledge as membership of our cultural, ethnic, gender and other groups might influence our world view. This is what we call perspective. Membership of such groups provides a horizon against which the significance of the events of our lives is measured. Acknowledgment of such perspectives is an important goal of the TOK course.

From an individual perspective, shared knowledge often appears in the form of an authority—a source of knowledge whose justification is not immediately available to the individual. An example here is the authority of medical science to the patient who is not trained in medicine.”

You may want to consider the Great Man Theory or watch the three short films entitled “Everything is a remix” which argues against the myth of the genius and asserts that the process of innovating inherently involves plagiarism.

At times in human history there are trailblazers; iconic figures whose thinking radically alters shared knowledge. Let’s list a few Rosa Parks, John Snow,Picasso, Einstein, John Locke, Miles Davis,Captain Beefheart, Charles Darwin (in the news), Karl Marx, Confucious. But could they really have achieved what they did without relying on the groundwork of their predecessors or the efforts of their peers? We attribute the monumental success of apple products to the individual efforts of Steve Jobs, but is this really the truth?

Sometimes though individuals are prone to cognitive bias or fallacies. Individuals views are coloured by their culture, their experiences and the views of their immediate family.

The need to define which AOKs

It would be a good idea (as with all the essays) to define the parameters of your essay. The titles are so broad that you need to limit the focus down and explain in your introduction how and why you intend to do this.

Perhaps you could do a comparative study of the extent to which the knower’s perspective is important in different AOKs.

  • Consider the necessity of the knowers perspective in the pursuit of knowledge in Maths compared to say, The Arts. Arguably the the importance of the individual perspective is more prevalent in the process of developing knowledge in the arts than it is in Maths or Science. But this generalization is ripe for scrutiny! Is it always so or are there any interesting exceptions you could point to?
  • Does the question depend on what WOK the knower is using? For instance is the knowers perspective more or less important in the pursuit of scientific knowledge than in The Arts?
  • Is there a different answer depending on which AOK we study? Is the knowers perspective more valid when they use reason rather than intuition in the pursuit of knowledge?
  • What do we actually mean by the word perspective? Is such a perspective formed by experience, genetics, culture and or tradition?
  • Does the essay title require us to look at the comparative benefits of subjectivity and objectivity?

The following questions could be raised about the Knower’s Perspective:

Knower’s PerspectiveQuestions raised
AssumptionsTo what extent is the knower aware of their own assumptions?

Does the knower’s assumptions influence the language in which they express their ideas?

ValuesWhat are the knower’s views on how the world and people should be?

What guidelines (moral, religious etc..) does the knower have?

What are the knower’s goals for learning?

ClaimsWhat processes does the knower employ to examine knowledge claims?

Does there exist a neutral position from which to make judgments about competing claims? – link to May 2015 Essay Title

ValidationWhat methods are used in the validation of knowledge? – this can be approached from each area of knowledge

Resources and ideas

Cognitive bias

The above title is not the exact title of this essay, students should ensure that they get the exact title of the essay from their teacher. (I can’t write the exact title here as IB may issue me with a DRM Takedown Notice if I do).

Here’s a link to a brief Prezi giving my main thoughts / overview of the essay.

My first thought on looking at this title is “what does knowledge look like without a knower’s perspective ?”. I mean, is that even possible ? surely knowledge is ‘something that is known’, and therfore it must be known by someone, that someone must hold a knower’s perspective. It seems that the very concept of knowledge without a knower’s perspective is an oxymoron. However, I guess that if we dig a little deeper we could engage in a debate about knowledge being external reality to be discovered vs knowledge being a constructed internal reality. This could be linked to a rationalist vs empiricist type of debate.

My second thought about this essay concerns the word ‘pursuit’ in the title. If it seems obvious that all knowledge must have a knower’s perspective then maybe the actual debate in this essay is in exploring the idea of ‘pursuing’ knowledge. This debate could centre around the idea that knowledge can be ‘discovered’ as serendipity (a sort of intuitive process) or knowledge can be purposefully constructed – this will vary in nature according to the WoK and AoKs being explored. It is, approximately this approach that I will take in this explanation. However, I must put a very strong cautionary warning on this post – my approach is not necessarily the ‘correct’ approach, other approaches may be ‘more correct’ than mine.

The Knower’s Perspective:

A starting point for understanding the knower’s perspective is Personal Knowledge. Students could look at the detailed definition of Personal Knowledge from the 2015 IB ToK Guide, to get a detailed understanding of what constitutes the knower’s perspective, and how the knower’s perspective constitutes part of this aspect of knowledge. This definition could then be applied to a real life situation.

However, it may then be interesting to argue that the knower’s perspective (as part of personal knowledge) is very much shaped by shared knowledge – the very concept of the perspective is, in part, defined by a shared knowledge / shared set of understandings.

Real Life Example of the interaction of shared and personal knowledge in the knower’s perspective:

If this is a Man by Primo Levi (1947) is Primo Levi’s account of surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp during the holocaust of the second world war (I strongly recommend that all DP students read this book). In the text Levi gives us his personal experience of being arrested in Turin, being transported to Auschwitz, and then surviving in Auschwitz – this is very much personal knowledge and the knower’s perspective. However, Levi’s personal knowledge and perspective is informed by a range of aspects of shared knowledge. For example: he partly understands his experience in political terms – the Nazis have a political agenda etc. He manages to survive in Auschwitz partly because of his (personal) specialist knowledge of shared knowledge (you will have to read the book to further understand this).

To further develop the discussion around PK & SK students could look at the term ‘pursuit’ through this lens. Pursuing knowledge in a SK context could be using the methodology of experimental (natural and human) sciences, or through a disciplined process of study joining creativity with reason in the Arts, or through accountability of moral institutions in Ethics. It could be argued that it is in the discussion of how these shared knowledge areas meet with personal knowledge that we find the an understanding of the process of pursuit of knowledge. This could be seen through the prism of WoKs.

A real life example of looking at ‘pursuit of knowledge’ in terms of PK & SK:

Artist Joan Miro studied at both Business School and Art School, developing an understanding of Human Sciences and The Arts using reason, creativity, perception, imagination etc in a Shared Knowledge context. In the 1920’s he used this understanding, and his own emotions and imagination to develop a Surrealist style which became archetypal of the genre in later years – this is an example of Personal Knowledge interacting with Shared Knowledge. At the beginning of the second world war he interpreted the macro-political themes of Europe (Shared Knowledge) in terms of astral constellations (shared knowledge) to create his own works of Celestial Constellations – he used his own interpretation (personal knowledge) to pursue the creation of shared knowledge forms.

Returning to the original question, I find it rather difficult to argue the counterclaim (ie that knowledge can be created without a knower’s perspective). As such I think that another possible way through this essay may be to look at the possibility of a value free or neutral theory of knowledge. This is premised on the idea that we can develop knowledge which is unbiased, or we can minimise the influence of the knower’s perspective. As such the question is being interpreted through the lens of Objectivity. A knowledge question which would arise from such an approach may be:

  • Is it possible to have a value-free Theory of Knowledge ?, or
  • can Ways of Knowing interact to form an objective Way of Knowing ?

Philosophers, and others, have been considering this possibility for ‘a very long time’. I have written a fairly brief precis of some of the key ideas in this post linked here for students who may be interested in taking this approach to the essay. Suffice to say here, that if we approach essay #3 through the prism of ‘objectivity’ then  students could be engaging in a discussion around empiricism vs rationalism. Both ‘isms’ have quite specific understandings of what constitutes objective knowledge. These understandings are closely linked to the Knowledge Framework’s of each AoK – again I would recommend a close look at the Knowledge Frameworks in the ToK Guide, particularly at the methodology and underlying assumptions sections.

Finally, if students do choose this essay it has great opportunities for links with their IB subjects, and their personal knowledge development in their lives.

Enjoy your ToK Writing !


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