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Tok Essay Questions

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.



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May 2018 TOK Essay Titles

Below are ideas and suggestions relating to the six May 2018 IB TOK Essay topics. If you would like further support, contact us or see the order page for our services. Due to the IB holding the copyright to the questions, we have rephrased them. The full questions can be found with a quick Google search.

  1. Interdiscplinary approaches to acquiring knowledge.

    • Using ‘only’ when making a knowledge claim allows the claimant to be attacked from all sides. ‘Only’ is an absolute term, meaning that is orders of magnitude harder than its refutation.
    • Overlapping academic disciplines have often lead to innovation and paradigm shifts.
    • Confusion can be considered to be a subjective state of mind, meaning that the knowledge claim lacks an objective footing.

    Order a TOK structure/layout for in-depth support on question 1.

  2. "We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases”. Discuss the quote with arguments and counter-arguments.

    • The more we know, the more we have to be doubtful about.
      • History: 9-11 – the more you know
      • Human Sciences: Philosophy – More knowledge harbors skepticism
    • Does increased confidence imply increased ignorance?
    • Does certainy exist?
    • Defintions: knowledge - "belief with evidence", confidence - "certainity"

    For further help, order a TOK structure/layout for question 2.

  3. Assumption of uniformities for knowledge to exist.

    • Every conclusion requires a premise. If knowledge is a justified conclusion, then we necessarily have to assume to attain any sort of knowledge.
    • The requirement of a uniformity may be too stringent – often a very minor assumption can go a very long way.
    • “I think therefore I am”

    Order a TOK structure/layout for a detailed skeleton of question 3.

  4. Is “Suspension of disbelief” a necessary feature to knowledge?

    • Suspension of disbelief is essential in some aspects of human sciences like economics and sociology, where the disbelief of fundamental assumptions of the disciplines are considered to be counter productive.
    • There are cases where critical pieces of knowledge were attained specifically because of disbelief.
    • Suspension of disbelief is essential for belief, but not for knowledge.

    Order a TOK structure/layout for in-depth support on question 4.

  5. Quality of knowledge within an academic field is related to its development.

    • Quality of knowledge is very difficulty to quantify.
    • Some academic disciplines have existed for thousands of years, like philosophy, but the knowledge that has come from it has not created nearly as many tangible benefits as a new discipline like psychology.
    • Direct proportionality is very easy to refute because there are an infinite ways for the proportionality not to be direct, but only one way for it to be perfectly proportional.

    Order a TOK structure/layout for a detailed framework of question 5.

  6. Knowledge needs consensus and disagreement. Discuss.

    • Disagreement is the antithesis of knowledge.
    • Disagreement is vital for the process of refining knowledge.
    • What is meant by robust knowledge?
    • If knowledge is attained through the scientific method, then one can never know if knowledge is robust.

    Order a TOK structure/layout for a detailed stucture of question 6.

See our other blogs and samples for further insights into the IB.

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