Pt. 6 – The Areas of Knowledge: Knowledge Frameworks

What are the Areas of Knowledge

The Ways of Knowing, which we explored in the last two blog posts, are about how we know things. The Areas of Knowledge are a bit different; these are about what we know.

You might remember that there were 8 different Ways of Knowing, well there are 8 Areas of Knowledge too. These are: Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, History, The Arts, Ethics, Religious Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge.

Each Area of Knowledge is a system, for example, the scientific Area of Knowledge. Within the scientific system there are agreed ways to investigate things. There are also agreed standards of proof and argument that are different in each Area of Knowledge. So we can think of an Area of Knowledge as a body of knowledge that seems to fit together in one system.

You might notice that the AoKs look a bit like the subjects you take in the IB. This is because the Areas of Knowledge are the ways we categorise the knowledge that we have. This is similar to how we divide up the IB divide up the different subject areas. Theory of Knowledge is at the centre of the IB and you should feel free to draw in material from any of your subjects during ToK discussions.

Before we dive into talking about the Areas of Knowledge we’re going to talk about Knowledge Frameworks. These are the tools we use to think about the different Areas of Knowledge and they can be really helpful to show that you know your stuff in your work.

What are Knowledge Frameworks

Each Area of Knowledge is massive containing a vast amount of information. Let’s take history as an example, the amount of information historians have discussed is phenomenal! Thankfully, you do not need to about everything that has a happened in history in order to be able to talk about it in ToK. Instead you need to know about how the subject works. That is what theory of knowledge is interested in. Not the content of the subject/AoK, but how it works.

The way a subject works can include many things. Let’s take history as an example. You might ask questions like: what motivates historians to learn? What special methods to they use to discover historical information? You might even ask what the point of history is – or what its real world applications are. Asking questions like this let us understand the structure of an Area of Knowledge like history. This basic structure is called a ‘knowledge framework’. This is because it is an explanation of how history works – it gives us an outline of the subject without all the content. You should be able to see how having a basic understanding of how history works is vital to understanding that Area of Knowledge.

We can understand the general structure and features of each AoK by asking about certain things. Below are 5 bullet points. Each one talks about features that all AoKs have. All areas of knowledge have different methods of discovery, for example. Look at each bullet point and think about how these things apply to the scientific AoK. Doing this with an AoK can give you a really strong understanding of how that AoK works.

• Scope, motivation and applications
• Specific terminology (e.g. technical vocabulary) and concepts
• Methods used to produce knowledge (think about the Ways of Knowing)
• Key historical developments (how has the AoK changed over time, if it has at all)
• Interaction with personal knowledge (AoKs include shared knowledge, is this changed by personal knowledge? Does it change our personal knowledge?)

Thinking about the above bullets lets us create knowledge framework to understand each AoK. These are extremely useful for your essays and presentations. They allow you to ask the right questions about the knowledge you are considering. Now we’ll investigate how you can apply each bullet point to a different Area of Knowledge.

Remember these are the different ways to critically reflect on the AoKs. Such reflection makes a presentation much more impressive and shows that you really know what you’re talking about.

Scope, motivation and applications

Scope means ‘what does the AoK include’. It encourages us to ask: out of all of human knowledge, what does this Area of Knowledge include, and what is not a part of it. You might ask yourself, how much about reality can science tell us? Can it tell us what is at the centre of a star? Can science reveal why there are so many species of creatures on this planet? Can science tell us what it feels like to open an awesome present on your fifth birthday? Can it reveal to us what it feels like when the last class finishes before the summer break? Think about the scope of the AoK you are interested in. You should also consider the reason people pursue knowledge in that AoK, and the uses such knowledge has in people’s lives.


Language is important in many ways when discussing the Areas of Knowledge. Considering the role of language to each AoK is an excellent way to critically consider that subject. You might think that language is just a tool of communication, however this is not necessarily the case. There is a debate about the role language plays in the construction of our knowledge. Some would argue that language is so vital that we have practically no knowledge without it. You might, however, argue that knowledge exists and that language is simply a way to communicate or express this. Some people take a middle ground, arguing that language allows us to name concepts, that do already exist. However, if we did not have language we would not be able to get past these simple ideas to more complex human thought. Deciding where you stand in such debates will allow you to take a strong position in any ToK discussion or work. You would do well to connect this up with ideas about shared knowledge. Remember, the majority of human knowledge is passed on between generations. What does this tell us about the use of language in each AoK?


One of the key differences between the AoKs is that they use different ways to seek knowledge. Thinking about these different methods will help you understand how the AoKs are all different from each other. To really show you are a top ToK student, you should think about the assumptions that underlie the methods used to discover knowledge. Different AoKs think that certain methods are more important than others. To discuss this in your essays consider asking yourself the following questions: What are the methods used in this AoK? What counts as a fact? How do we create ‘models’ in this AoK? These questions are a good starting point for breaking down how the AoK works.

Historical development

The areas of knowledge are not fixed. Science, art and history are all very different than they were hundreds of years ago. This reflects the fact that knowledge is not seen as fixed. It is what we call ‘provisional’, meaning it is flexible and changes all the time. This can be positive as it allows our understanding of the world to grow. Thinking about how things have changed in the AoKs will help you show that you understand this change. Consider how much science has changed in the last two hundred years. Perhaps it has not changed too much at all, but what about history? Think about what it is that means these subjects change at different rates. This kind of discussion shows an understanding of the subtleties of ToK and will really impress someone marking your work!

Links to personal knowledge

Shared personal knowledge is something we discussed in a previous post. You might recall that individuals contribute to shared knowledge when they discover or create new things. The other side of this coin is that shared knowledge can really impact the way we see the world. A scientist might see the world differently to a philosopher, for example. When you think about the different Areas of Knowledge, it is important to think about the impact this can have on individuals. Also consider the impact that an Area of Knowledge has on your thinking. Do you think that studying different subjects throughout school has changed the ways you think at all. When you’re writing a ToK essay, consider the perspective a person may have and how this can be influenced by the AoK they are relying on in their thinking.

Great Job!

And that is knowledge frameworks in a nutshell! If you have understood most of this material you’re doing really well. If you can apply it in your ToK work, then that is the next step to being super successful in ToK. Remember, next time you are thinking about an AoK, just run through the list above and comment on some of these items. Ask yourself the important questions and think about how that Area of Knowledge works and you will be able to prove to everyone that you are a ToK Master!

Read Part 7: AoK – Maths, Natural Sciences, Human Sciences and History