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ib theory of knowledge notes

28 TOK Definitions Every IB Student Should Know - Nail IB

UPDATED ON - 09 OCT 2019

1. What are the 4 ways of knowing?

  • Reason

  • Sense perception

  • Emotion

  • Language.


2. Give 4 additional reasons for justification.

  • Faith

  • Common knowledge

  • Authority

  • Intuition


3. Give 5 ToK Areas of Knowledge.

  • The social sciences

  • History

  • The arts

  • The natural sciences 

  • Ethics


4. What is meant by “Problem of Knowledge”?

Possible uncertainties, biases or limitations to knowledge and the methods of verification/justification for that area of knowledge.

5. Explain the Scientific Method.

A cycle against which theories are tested before they are declared to be true/correct. The method consists of observation, reason, and experiment. In addition, experiments must be repeated and checked independently by others.

6. Explain the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

This states that culture is shaped by language (linguistic relativity) and that our limits of thought are defined by language (linguistic determinism). People are prisoners of their language, unable to think freely because of their limited vocabulary. Language is how we order our world.

7. Explain Plato’s definition of knowledge.

True knowledge is justified true belief. One must not only believe the claim but have a good reason for believing it. You cannot know something just by believing it to be true.

8. Explain Hayakawa’s Ladder of Abstraction.

This notion depicts the linguistic process of generalization. With the ladder as a metaphor, at the bottom of it, there is a specific object/event (e.g. a cow). The higher up the ladder one goes, the more general the name for the object becomes (livestock→farm asset→wealth).

9. Explain the nature/nurture debate.

This concerns the relative importance of biological and inherited influences in determining character as opposed to environmental influences. Today it is accepted that both play a role in development. It is also known by the name “innate vs. learned behavior debate”.

10. Paradox 

A statement that seems contradictory, but contains an element of truth e.g. All men destroy the things they love.

11. Paradigm 

According to Thomas Kuhn, it is a set of common beliefs and agreements (values) that constitute a way of viewing reality for a community e.g. Homosexuality is a sin.

12. Fallacy

An error in reasoning that produces a final statement that is invalid e.g. We have two choices- to go to war or to abandon all hope.

13. Deductive reasoning

A system of reasoning based on definitions and premises. It is the process of reasoning logically from a set of given statements that are assumed to be true. The conclusion is derived from the given premises e.g. All students are lazy. I am a student. Therefore, I must be lazy.


14. Causation 

The production of a particular outcome by an act. It is the link between a cause and an effect e.g. A car accident and the resulting injuries from it.


15. Determinism

A theory stating that whatever happens is caused/determined by something else. Every event is controlled by natural law, rather than by free will/choice e.g. A person commits suicide because it was punishment for their past actions, and not because they chose to do so.

16. Validity

The soundness of an argument. A claim is valid if it has not only true premises and a true conclusion, but is also logically sound e.g. I am a person. People are mortal. Therefore, I am mortal.

17. Normative

Value judgment or opinionated statements e.g. Workers should be paid more.

18. Lateral thinking

Attempting to solve a problem by using non-traditional methods in order to create new ideas. Escaping from set patterns of thought and perception.


19. Bias 

Partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue. Preference/inclination inhibiting impartial judgment.

20. Mathematical axiom

An assumption about a mathematical system/a mathematical rule which is taken to be true at all times. Theorems can then be deduced from the axiom. An axiom does not have to be proven and is the starting point of a mathematical argument e.g. A straight line can be drawn between any two points.

21. Identify Rene Descartes

The “Father of Modern Philosophy”. He considered false any belief that could be doubted in the slightest and set out to find something beyond all doubt (which was “I think, therefore I exist”.)  Descartes rebuilt his presuppositions based around this one single truth. He opposed the Aristotelio-Scholastic method, which based knowledge on the authority of the senses (sense perception). 
22. Identify Henri Poincare w

A mathematician and philosopher who saw logic and intuition as playing a part in mathematical discovery. He opposed logicism (where theories and concepts of math can be derived just by logical reasoning).
23. Identify Noam Chomsky

A cognitive scientist that challenged structural linguistics. He believed children have an innate knowledge of basic grammar (“universal grammar”) and that there are an infinite number of phrases that are possible due to our limited grammar, and that there are sentences that no one has ever said.
24. Identify Abraham Maslow 

A psychologist that arranged human needs into a pyramid called “The Hierarchy of Needs”. Each need can only be addressed once the one below it has been fulfilled. He was also the founder of the humanistic school of psychology.
 25. Limitations of Reason

Sometimes logic is not enough to solve a problem (either through deduction or induction). Lateral, or creative thinking, is needed. However, we still make assumptions in lateral thinking based on the paradigms of our own culture. There must be a premise upon which we base an assumption that we make in lateral thinking, but that premise must be true and valid. If it is not then our reasoning is faulty.
26. Limitations of Emotion

Intuition is by nature inexplicable, and it can be difficult to explain how one knows something without knowing how one knows it. If knowledge is taken to be true, justified belief, not requiring justification for one area of knowledge allows intuition to be the final authority in reaching a conclusion.
27. Limitations of Perception

In the search for objective, true knowledge there are several senses that humans do not possess but other animals do (such as the perception of ultrasonic sounds by dogs, bats and whales). We can only imagine what their knowledge of the world is, leaving us with a gap in evidence for valid premises. As we have not experienced other kinds of perception, we are confined to our own life experiences and the knowledge that they give us.
28. Limitations of Language

Connotations of a word differ from person to person. Words like “brave” and “fanatical” are used by different people to describe the same thing. When facts are conveyed, their objectivity is not absolute because of the language used to describe them. It is thus very difficult to present unbiased facts. 


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