Tok Essay Topics List

This is a short guide to the May 2018 Essay Titles – just an introduction to each title. I will post deeper, more detailed analyses soon. Please ensure that you get the exact titles from your ToK Teacher, I am unable to print the exact titles here for copyright reasons.

Click hyperlinked titles to be taken to longer descriptions.

May 2018 Titles.
1. Academic disciplines can overlap, but interdisciplinary approaches lead to confusion. Discuss this claim.
What defines a ‘discipline’ ? How do the processes of knowledge production influence the categorisation of knowledge ? Are disciplines culturally defined or objectively fixed ? Is the organisation of knowledge a product of a top-down or bottom up process ? Is confusion a positive stage of knowledge production ? Is confusion the outcome of pre-existing assumptions (which may be incorrect) ? What is the role of hegemony ?
Real life examples: The development of Vaccines, the debate between conventional economics and behavioural economics.

2. Confidence comes from knowing little, as knowledge increases doubt increases. Discuss with ref to 2 AoKs.
I see this as an “ignorance is bliss” type essay. It’s not too difficult to set up both sides of this debate, and use RLS to illustrate the arguments. The choice of AoKs will be absolutely crucial. I think that I would contrast Religious Knowledge with Natural Sciences initially arguing for the proposal of the title. Then in counterargument I would use examples from RKS where increased knowledge has not increased doubt, and may have increased confidence. Further, finding examples from Nat Sciences where increased knowledge has increased doubt, and possibly reduced confidence.
My structure:
Argue 1: RKS for the proposal
Counter 1: Natsci against the propsal
Argue 2: RKS against the proposal
Counter 2: Natsci for the proposal
Analysis & evaluation. Conclusion.

3. Without assuming uniformities there can be no knowledge. Discuss re. 2 AoKs
My initial take is around the word ‘uniformities’. The essay asks me to look at cases where uniformity either was, or was not needed,  in the production of knowledge. This is a patterns vs exceptions essay.
for the importance of uniformities: Correlational research in Nat Sci / Hum Sci eg Cancer & Smoking research, or Crime & Poverty research.
against the importance of uniformities: Genre change in the Arts, the importance of exceptions in ethics.

4. Is suspension of disbelief essential in AoKs ? Ref. 2 AoKs
The first question here is to decide to discuss whether disbelief is essential to the production of knowledge or whether disbelief is essential to knowing (akin to the consumption of knowledge) ? I think that either approach would be acceptable.
It could be argued that ‘disbelief’ is highly AoK specific, and therefore changes depending upon AoK. Disbelief in the Arts could be a willingness to accept the abstracted or reified, whilst disbelief in the Natural Sciences could be the use of conceptual representation in the place of empirical certainty (for example molecular diagrams in Chemistry, or the description of nuclear fission in Physics). An interesting discussion about Indigenous Knowledge Systems could posit that suspending disbelief is central to the very definition of some IKS. By setting this up as a subjectivity vs objectivity debate it would be easier to develop the counterarguments (that suspension of disbelief is not required for knowledge).

5. The older the discipline the higher the quality of knowledge of that discipline. Discuss re. 2 disciplines.
The question doesn’t actually use the term older, it uses the term “duration of historical development“, but I can’t use that term in the question due to copyright reasons. The term historical development could infer that the discipline has developed (ie changed) over time, as such students could set up static disciplines against dynamic disciplines in counter argument. The quote refers to academic disciplines.
In this essay students may want to question the concept of “quality of knowledge” – does this refer to the function of knowledge, the reliability of knowledge or the validity of knowledge ? However, I think the focus of the essay should be on the debate of whether the duration of development is linked to quality of knowledge. This is Knowledge as an Evolutionary Moment vs Knowledge as a revelationary moment, trial & error vs sudden
cognizance (an ‘aha’ moment).
There are also interesting discussions to be had with this essay concerning the fossilisation and petrification of knowledge. Does knowledge become fixed because it “stands the test of time” or does it become fixed because of dogmatism and the taboo of critique ? Finally, I assume that because the question stipulates ‘disciplines’ rather than AoK then the examiners are interested in the processes of knowledge production and replacement rather than underlying assumptions, however I could be wrong !

6. Robust knowledge requires consensus & disagreement. Discuss re. 2 AoK
What do we mean by ‘Robust’ ? Is an agreement to disagree actually a form of consensus ?  One way of looking at this essay is to go into the process of knowledge production. You would need to find cases of knowledge production which required both consensus & disagreement in order to reach a ‘robust’ conclusion. In counterargument you would need to find examples of knowledge production which were either mainly consensual (or came out of falsification), or examples of consensus and disagreement which led to weak (‘not robust’) knowledge. The essay partly hinges around the definition of the word robust.

This is just a first look at the essays. I will do deeper dives on individual essays if people need / request them.

Daniel

 

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Examples to Avoid in ToK Essays

In Theory of Knowledge we always encourage you to use original evidence. It's always more interesting when a student uses an example (a quote, a story, a fact) that we haven't heard of before.

Original "evidence" in your essays doesn't necessarily make them better essays, but it does suggest that you've taken some time with your research and not just using the first thing you found in a last-minute Google search.

The best examples can be the worst --because they're just so darn good.

So again we do tell our students to use "original evidence", but for the student it can be hard to know what is original. As teachers we might see some of the same examples used every year. But it would be hard for a student who is new to the subject to know to know which examples to avoid. 

Good examples of bad examples

The May 2016 ToK Subject report has come to the rescue, with a list of some common examples you might want to avoid. It's not mandatory to avoid these examples, but it could improve your mark.  

And just to be clear, these examples are in this list for a reason. They really are great examples, so you might decide you do want to include one of them in your essay. If you do, just be sure to explain it very clearly and use it in a way that it helps you answer the prescribed title.

Here's the official list:

1. Serendipitous discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming

2. Mark Rothko and environmental influences on his work

3. String theory and the role of evidence in the sciences

4. Margaret Mead's perspective during fieldwork in Samoa

5. The human aspects of the story of the discovery of DNA and of its structure from Friedrich Miescher to James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin

6. Bloodletting as an example of an obsolete practice in medical science

7. The value of the Enigma code and the work of Alan Turing

8. Alchemy as the necessary precursor to modern chemistry

9. Pablo Picasso and Guernica

10. Vincent van Gogh and Starry Night

11. Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man

12. Isaac Newton and the compatibility of his scientific achievements and his religious orientation

13. Persistence of "anti-vaxxers" despite the exposure of Andrew Wakefield's claims in relation to MMR vaccine as fraudulent

14. The applications of imaginary numbers

15. Ludwig van Beethoven's deafness and reliance on "feeling"

16. Rounding of numbers (eg pi) as examples of simplification and inaccuracy in mathematics

17. Polynomials, factorisation and complexity

18. Music therapy as an application of knowledge in the arts

19. Different notations and ways of doing differentiation from Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz

20. Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb

21. The Hiroshima bomb versus nuclear fission reactors with respect to the value of knowledge

22. Work in number theory by Pythagoras, Pierre de Fermat and Andrew Wiles

23. Membrane structure from Davson/Danielli to Singer/Nicholson and the fluid mosaic model

24. Galileo Galilei’s house arrest and Pope John Paul II's admission of error in 1992

25. Friedrich Wöhler’s blow to vitalism with the non-biological synthesis of urea

26. Atomic theories from John Dalton to JJ Thompson to Ernest Rutherford to Niels Bohr to Erwin Schrödinger

27. Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer on language and eye witnesses

28. Francesco Redi, Louis Pasteur and the disproof of spontaneous generation

29. Alfred Wegener and continental drift

30. Lera Boroditsky’s article on Australian aboriginal orientation

31. Caloric vs kinetic theory with respect to "natural selection" in scientific knowledge

32. Leonhard Euler's equation allegedly having value without application

33. Development of heliocentrism from Aristarchus to Copernicus

34. Thalidomide prescribed for morning sickness and leprosy

35. The outcomes of the work of Fritz Haber for fertilizer and explosives

36. The Riemann hypothesis, large primes and Internet security

37. The Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Nazism in Germany

38. George Orwell's perspective as presented in Animal Farm

39. Thomas Young’s double-slit experiment and wave-particle duality in physics

40. The ethics of Edward Jenner's work on smallpox and vaccination

41. August Kekulé's dream and the structure of benzene

42. Antonio Damasio and somatic marker theory

43. Fritz Fischer and the alleged causes of WWI

44. Occam's razor with respect to Albert Einstein’s special relativity and Hendrik Lorentz’s ether

45. Gregor Mendel and overly neat experimental results for segregation and independent assortment (also Robert Millikan and determination of the electric charge on the electron)

46. Jackson Pollock’s art and the use of WOKs

47. The Amish and rejection of modern technology

48. The Phillips curve and transient accuracy in economics

49. Lock-and-key and induced fit models of enzyme action

50. Spherical and hyperbolic geometries as perspectives in mathematics

51. Confirmation bias and persistent error in the accepted human chromosome number

52. CERN and the Higgs boson as applied knowledge

53. Standard rival interpretations of the Cold War: traditional, revisionist, post-revisionist

54. Albert Einstein and the cosmological constant

55. Edwin Hubble and expansion of the universe

56. Ignaz Semmelweis and childbed fever

57. Conventional current and electron flow

58. The Nanjing massacre and perspectives

59. Alfred Adler and schemas in psychology as the basis for perspectives

60. Biston betularia and industrial melanism as an example of natural selection

61. Detection of gravitational waves in accordance with predictions from Einstein’s theory of general relativity

62. Feynman diagrams and quantum electrodynamics with respect to simplicity and understanding

63. Physiology from Galen to the discovery of blood circulation by William Harvey

64. The complexity of the chemistry of photosynthesis as presented at various stages of education

65. The patient’s “perspective” in connection with the use of placebos in medical testing

66. Heinrich Hertz and the subsequent application of radio waves

 

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