Areas of Knowledge (Only Guide Required)

Can’t figure out what Areas of Knowledge - TOK, IB expects of you? Wondering what the effective way of going about your TOK course, primarily Areas of Knowledge is? 

Adya Sharma
13 OCT 2021
areas of knowledge

Can’t figure out what Areas of Knowledge - TOK, IB expects of you? Wondering what the effective way of going about your TOK course, primarily Areas of Knowledge is?  Want to know how to explore the different IB Areas of Knowledge? Still, confused about where to start when it comes to your IB Areas of Knowledge subsection of TOK?


Worry not! If you stand baffled when it comes to IB Areas of Knowledge, you are exactly where you should be! 


Here is your Areas of Knowledge go-to guide to fully understand what the IB - TOK core subject is aimed at and to develop the critical skills it hopes you to hone while you discuss and discover one of its integral realms - Areas of Knowledge. 


The Theory of Knowledge, a mandatory core subject in the IB focuses on shaping learners for the future and expects students to answer abstract, thought-provoking questions which stimulate their minds. Questions ranging from “What is the purpose of knowledge?” to “How do we know things?” are attended to in the duration of this course.

TOK revolves around the study of - 


  1. Ways of Knowing

  2. Areas of Knowledge 

  3. Knowledge Issues


The IB TOK essay is more often than not a nightmare we wish we could avoid but the truth is, it’s not more than what you make it seem like! The only way through is recognising the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is none other than understanding the eight areas of knowledge intensively and using the knowledge to our advantage to make viable and structured arguments. 

Before you scroll, you might want to check out our new ultimate IB TOK Essay Guide to get rid of that frustration and get a step closer to nailing that IB TOK Essay! And right before we deal with our essay, why not catch up on some IB TOK Presentation hacks!  Here’s the link to our IB TOK Presentation Guide and we cannot wait for you to gain that confidence for your IB TOK! 


While Ways of Knowing deals with how we obtain knowledge of the world, the eight ways as distinguished by the course being - reason, sense perception, emotion, intuition, memory, faith, imagination- the Areas of Knowledge realm of IB TOK deals with what we know in the eight areas as classified by IB. So, what are these Areas of Knowledge? Broadly:


     Eight Areas of Knowledge -

  1. Mathematics

  2. Natural Sciences

  3. Human Sciences 

  4. History 

  5. The Arts

  6. Ethics

  7. Religious Knowledge Systems

  8. Indigenous Knowledge Systems


Click on any of these eight areas of knowledge to be directed to them and learn about their working in terms of the Knowledge Framework in a go!  


These areas of knowledge, as specified by IB, are categorised the way they are to encompass the knowledge we have available. This knowledge may be distinct or may overlap, and the goal of Areas of Knowledge component of TOK is to inquire about this knowledge by investigating the entire area as a system. One important thing to keep in mind is that a connection between different areas of knowledge is vital to portraying excellent analytical and observatory skills to answer an abstract question to the examiner’s satisfaction. 


As an IB student, you will see that most of these areas of knowledge more or less correspond with your IB curriculum courses. Not only does that benefit you in your essay, but it also gives you a more comprehensive understanding of the subject. 


Without further delay, let’s dive headfirst into the eight different Areas of Knowledge to give you a detailed glimpse into how these varied yet interlinked domains of knowledge work, their History, language, methodology, scope and relevance in present times.




The vast domain of Mathematics stands as an undeniable system of knowledge within the TOK framework, thanks to its strong foundation of theorems and axioms it heavily draws from. This is inferred from the certainty of the subject and its way of knowing being reason rather than emotion. It thereby stands as a great area to explore while answering questions of abstract nature, all the while taking reference from the working of the domain. Mathematics runs on its own set of rules and has a specialised language at everyone’s disposal. This component equips us with the idea of investigating language as a way of knowing. 


Let’s look at it analytically. What do we know about the true nature of mathematics? What could have been the motivation to explore concepts as intriguing as Fibonacci sequences to absolutely obscure ones such as calculus? Be it Goldbach’s Conjecture or the Pythagoras theorem; Mathematics is structured scientifically based on strong reasonings. But despite that, questions still arise. Was Mathematics invented and if so, how? Looking at it from the knowledge framework point of view, we are left to answer whether Mathematics is timeless, if it is inspired from some culture, how geometry and predictive analysis have been a basis for architecture, art and craft for centuries and most importantly, can the axiomatic approach be ruled out?


Natural Sciences:


What do we know about Natural Sciences? Natural Sciences are a broad spectrum of knowledge systems dealing with the working of the universe we are a part of and mainly constitute Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics, Biology, Earth Science. This domain deals with the empirical inquiry that sidelines any subjective approach influenced by any convention or bias. While one digs deeper, one realises how mathematics is the backbone of these sciences and how the latter is key to stating and proving hypotheses and finally coming to a tested conclusion. Questions such as those inspired by Karl Popper’s Falsifiability criterion to discern scientific methods from non-scientific ones are critical to this area of knowledge. 


Speaking of ways of knowing, one finds that exploring natural sciences makes use of perception and reasoning, more among the others. Right from when the sharpest of minds like Issac Newton challenged the conventional religious knowledge systems, to this date, this field is transforming by the day due to its flexible architecture that pays more emphasis on experimental/observed data rather than entirely intuitive or conventional nature of things. But that’s just not it. Imagination is another way of knowing about natural sciences, and the Kekule’s notion of the benzene molecule is a testament to that. The methodology involved revolves around measuring, modelling, analysing, deducing and finally concluding, all focused at reason while framing the hypothesis focuses on imagination and emotion. 


Human Sciences:


The one stark difference between natural sciences and human sciences lies in understanding what both the fields set out to investigate. TOK expects students to understand this difference and realise how ways of knowing play a significant role in the proper understanding of this area. Human Sciences are directed towards the scientific exploration of human behaviour, interpreting experiences and activities that shape humans. And though this process follows an observatory approach, it still runs a significant chance of being unreliable, thanks to human emotions and behaviours which can never be fully unravelled. This very discontinuity sets the way for unanswered questions. Just like Natural Sciences, this discipline too covers a diverse range of studies including psychology, sociology, anthropology and economics. 

Here too, however, we make assumptions and likewise draft models. Several experiments to acknowledge the variety in human specification and theories pressing on the power of the subconscious mind - Freudian theory - are proof that this area of knowledge too has had its share of transformations and that it also is subject to several questions which need to be answered. 




When we talk about History as an area of knowledge in the TOK, we think of the past that is recorded or that which is a fact. This very definition of the area rouses conflict since a point which is recorded can not be said to be entirely credible. And though memory is a way of knowing this particular area of knowledge, perceiving the knowledge thus obtained to draw relevance in the present is equally important. The design of historical facts can never be entirely objective without a hint of human emotion involved. Language too is central to interpreting these facts and is again a vital way of knowing. 


One pertinent question corresponding to evaluating historical knowledge is- Who chooses what History we need to study? Or more importantly, how can we be confident that we have accurate records of the past? 


The Arts:


What do we understand by The Arts? Broadly, arts constitute visual, performing and literary aspects and have been imbibed by humans since millennia. And though arts can be as abstract as a field can get, it seems like some have a knack for it or as though it is a particular cognitive skill for some. If we get started somewhere, the very first hurdle before us is too able to discern art from non-art pieces! How do we decide on this abstract issue? It is known for a fact that arts give a clear view of the artist’s skills, imagination and conceptual ideas, but how do we even know if it’s art, to begin with! 


Artwork can not only drive a change in society but also massively influence preconceived notions without any unnecessary drama involved. Language as a way of knowing is a significant component to perceive and understand art. Without any verbal expression, art manages to leave a colossal impact on the audience. With the advancement of technology, art has evolved, establishing a significant link with technology. The Arts can sometimes be misconstrued to be overlapping with other areas of knowledge to quite a great extent. So the question of establishing specific boundaries with other areas of knowledge becomes vital. Be it Ethics, Religion, Mathematics or Sciences, The Arts have meshed with these core areas of knowledge since times immemorial and will continue so in future as well. 




An important question that students have to deal with in the TOK is, how can one decide if something under investigation is moral. Ethics or Morality are terms that are used interchangeably in a context and are a branch of philosophy that deals with the concepts of right and wrong. And while we’re at it, another question to focus on is how can an intuitive ethical judgement be trusted? Who decides what is to be deemed as right or wrong? In different situations, our moral intuitions can be refined by checking with the established ethical principles, and this again leads to a question, are we affected by the knowledge community we belong to? 


Moral philosophy encompasses diverse theories ranging from the possibility of conflict in Kant’s ethics to atheists’ point of view. 


Religious Knowledge Systems:


It is subject to a controversy to have included Religion as a system of knowledge since not many would affirm to considering Religion as a source of knowledge. Nonetheless, this classification paves the way for exploring a myriad number of religious terminology, theism, atheism, pantheism, metaphysics, logical positivism, to name a few. This area of knowledge assists us in getting a better picture of the purpose of life. Although faith is central to religious beliefs, there is room for arguments and reasonings to support it. Questions like when should we draw the line before appealing intuitive explanations start to blind our minds, need to be and should be investigated.


Indigenous Knowledge Systems:


A newly added Area of Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge Systems is aimed at researching several indigenous cultures and understanding how the constructs are relevant to a particular culture and society. While students explore different indigenous cultures and their constructed knowledge systems, it is essential to discuss the effect of colonisation and globalisation too. The way of knowing this area of knowledge is primarily memory to keep a record of the different traditions particular to a system. Still, a few methods of reason can be incorporated as well.

Some of the systems that can be explored are- Inuits, Aymara Indians, Kogi people, Barasana and many others.


And that’s a wrap for today’s Areas of Knowledge guide! 


For more insight into the TOK course, do check out our TOK Notes and get rid of all those fears that you might be battling with! You can get access to our 500+ IBDP notes and past papers here


We hope this article will serve as a foundation for you to properly understand the eight different areas of knowledge as prescribed by IB. 


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