The TOK Essay is something many of us dread… Many of us feel like we’ve learned nothing in TOK up until this point and now we’re expected to write an essay!? What makes matters worse is that the Titles are sometimes ridiculously confusing as well – so you might feel like you have no idea which way to tackle the question. We’re here to help you out. Today we’re breaking down the first 3 2021 TOK Essay titles to get your creative juices flowing!
Note: Following these suggestions will not guarantee you a good score on your TOK Essay! These are our thoughts on the best ways to consider the questions, but ultimately it’s the quality of your arguments that will make or break your essay!
“Accepting knowledge claims always involves an element of trust.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
We deem this to be a relatively difficult question to answer, specifically because the element of ‘trust’ is crucial to this question. A natural first step will be to define what an element of trust really is in this context. Who needs to trust whom, and what degree of trust can represent an ‘element’ of trust. Only when that is established, or at least explored, can we dive further into the question.
The prompt also asks you to discuss the claim with reference to 2 specific areas of knowledge. Typically establishing the areas of knowledge that you wish to explore will give you much more guidance into how to craft your core arguments. It would, for example, be interesting to compare and contrast the areas of knowledge of mathematics and history, or perhaps contrasting natural sciences and religious knowledge systems.
If we choose mathematics and history as our two areas of knowledge, one could make an argument that ‘trust’ does not play a part in the acceptance of mathematical knowledge claims as the knowledge can be considered verifiable. Meanwhile, within history we must believe the words of those who documented the historical events – our whole understanding of history is shaped by the words of others. Naturally, then, in order to accept historical knowledge we need a greater element of trust.
The quote states that “accepting knowledge claims always involves an element of trust”, thus with our approach this claim appears not to be true! But perhaps you reach a different conclusion based on your arguments and examples.
A potential structure for this essay could be:
- Examine the wording of the claim, defining ‘knowledge claims’, ‘accepting’, and ‘an element of trust’. Be sure to specifically consider the importance of ‘trust’ in this context.
- Discuss the importance, or lack thereof, of ‘trust’ within AoK #1
- Discuss the importance, or lack thereof, of ‘trust’ within AoK #2
- Explain the differences in the role of trust within the two AoK’s and why they lead to us accepting knowledge claims differently.
- Circle back to the original claim, verifying or denying the validity of it!
Within areas of knowledge, how can we differentiate between change and progress? Answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.
If prompt 1 was difficult, this one might be the most difficult of them all! It’s a very nuanced question, asking students to aptly compare and contrast the concepts of ‘change’ and ‘progress’ as it relates to knowledge. Naturally, this question can be spun a multitude of ways, but this is how you could approach this 2021 TOK essay title!
Progress could be defined as change that leads you closer to the verifiable truth, while change is simply moving from some personal/shared knowledge to some other personal/shared knowledge. According to this definition, progress would be seen when a mathematical proof is discovered allowing mathematicians to come closer to understanding and accepting the ‘truth’. However, when a religious system, such as Pope Francis modernizing the Catholic Church, that may only be seen as ‘change’ and not progress, as the development is not necessarily bringing knowledge closer to some verifiable truth. Be aware, this is a difficult approach to take as the line between change and progress is very thin, so be sure that the RLEs (real life examples) you choose clearly demonstrate the difference between your definitions of change and progress.
Another approach you could take would be to define change as being a radical, larger transformation of personal or shared knowledge while progress may only be incremental. For example, one could consider the Industrial Revolution as being not progress, but change, as it so fundamentally changed the way that we live our lives today. Meanwhile, a new software update on your phone, though ‘changing’ something, might be considered to be progress rather than change. You might want to consider the AoK’s of History – allowing you to look at historical events and describe them as progress/change depending on the context, as well as Natural Sciences – considering the impact that discoveries had on the progression of knowledge and whether they would thus be considered a ‘change’ or simply ‘progress’ of scientific knowledge.
Last, you may define the difference between change and progress according to the following – change in knowledge implies that previous knowledge is now falsified or rejected in favour of new knowledge, whilst progress implies that the previous knowledge is still intact, just improved. With this approach you could quite clearly focus on the development of theories within the Natural or Human sciences and how, historically, we have had changes in theories or progression of theories leading us to the shared knowledge today.
“Labels are a necessity in the organization of knowledge, but they also constrain our understanding.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
This might be our favourite 2021 TOK essay prompt! Although not an easy one, it’s one that I think a lot of people have thought about even outside of TOK class. We as humans are constantly labelling, judging, and assigning personal beliefs/ideals when attempting to understand or absorb new knowledge. To what extent does assigning these labels help us in our day-to-day and to what extent does it distort the world that we live in? It’s an interesting thought!
When looking at this question, our minds go directly to the area of knowledge of Art. Take music as an example. We are very quick to place musicians and music in boxes “Bach was a baroque musician”, “Miles Davis was a jazz musician”, “Taylor Swift’s latest album was pop” – and thus our perception of the music is skewed accordingly. Although it may be true that largely Miles Davis was a jazz musician, and there is nothing wrong with categorizing him as such, we might become blind to understanding the true depth of his art when looking at it in this 2D way. Miles Davis’ music was influenced by Jazz, Blues, Bebop, elements of Bossa Nova, and much more! Similarly, taking visual art as an example, all artwork made by Picasso are instantly labelled as masterpieces, whether they were actually that or not! By labelling his works as such, it may dissuade people from actually questioning the true intent of the artist, and whether they achieved their goal! Labels, although useful, can largely skew how we would otherwise perceive the art.
Another AoK to consider with this prompt would be with regards to history. When considering historical claims, we are always acutely aware of the potential biases associated with their knowledge. We might blindly disregard knowledge from a seemingly biased source because we label it as ‘false facts’ automatically! Although labelling certain knowledge as biased may help us to quickly make decisions as to the truth of the facts stated, it may also lead us to incorrectly judge other knowledge. It might be that some of the knowledge we classify as incorrect due to bias is in fact correct, but by labelling we hampered our understanding!
This is just one approach to take with regards to this question – we think there is massive scope for discussing this prompt within all 8 AoK’s! Just pick the one you think you have the strongest RLEs for.
So there we have it, three of the 2021 TOK essay titles broken down! Still feeling unsure? We’ve got elite IB tutors ready and able to help you put your best foot forward…