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TOK Essay - List of Prescribed Titles (Current - May 2015)

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This thread contains links to the discussion topics for TOK titles. Please consult the following list and skip to the list of titles for the year you are interested in, and then click on the link to find the discussion. If there is no discussion topics listed for that title, please have a quick look at the TOK board and, if one really doesn't exist, post a new one. Thanks!

November 2014

May 2014
November 2013">November 2013
May 2013
November 2012

Note: Until November 2012, 12 titles were released each year to be used in both November and May sessions. From November 2012 onwards, 6 titles are released per session, i.e. 6 will be released in time for November and the next 6 in time for May.

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November 2006 and May 2007 Titles:

N06M07 Title 1

N06M07 Title 2

N06M07 Title 3

N06M07 Title 4

N06M07 Title 5

N06M07 Title 6

N06M07 Title 7

N06M07 Title 8

N06M07 Title 9

N06M07 Title 10


This is a thread dedicated to essay outlines which will eventually have all titles from may 2007 session onwards, except a few which I would appreciate if someone else did for me as I do not like some of the titles laugh.gif .

They are all done by me (and HMS :dash: ), so you may not agree with them.. if you do not, please do not consider them as a "correct" essay outline, for a TOK essay is subjective, and this is subject to our own paradigms.

If the essay guideline you seek is not present here right now, have patience it's a work in progress angry.gif

P.S anything you copy off here will show in the IBO plagiarism software when your essays are inserted for plagiarism detection. So my advice is simple: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!

November 06, May 07:

<a name="N06M07 Title 1"></a>1. When mathematicians, historians and scientists say that they have explained something, are they using the word 'explain' in the same way?

-Explaining in the AOK of natural sciences is done through the elements of the "scientific method" which are basically reason, observation and experimentation (as Richard Feynman says). And then discuss the POK of falsification, how dependent can we be on scientific explanations? (don't talk to much about this since the question is focusing you on explain rather than the value of truth behind the explanation, but it's always good to include a little bit of it.).

-Maths... Basically discuss axioms. Talk about how maths is all about proving theories (well not ALL about, but that part of math is relevent to the topic here) then discuss the methods mathematicians use and give examples of these methods of proof (induction, contradiction, exhaustion- mind you I know little of this myself, but have referred to my friend Nota Bene for this talk :read: as I am useless in math... ) So generally you can state that explaining something in math requires discussing it and showing proof.

-History: one word: bias! When you read a history book written by a Nazi about the Holocaust, you're going to get a different view about it than if you read a book written by a Jew... There's two sides to every event in history, which hinders our knowledge because we don't know which is true, and we can only give our own interpretations and analysis to what we're read (and this depends on our own paradigm and cultural background) Just an example to make you understand what I mean, you don't have to use the same one

For this essay, you should also try to tie the 3 AOK in together by comparing the ways that "explain" is meant. Do not just discuss each AOK in isolation. Comparing and contrasting will give you a more concise and focussed conclusion.


<a name="N06M07 Title 2"></a>2. It is often claimed that scientific results must be replicable. Is this possible or desirable in other Areas of Knowledge?


<a name="N06M07 Title 3"></a>3. If someone claims that both the division of knowledge into disciplines and the division of the world into countries on a map are artificial, what does this mean? What is the nature of the boundaries between Areas of Knowledge, in your view?

you should look into history and see how the division of countries had differed from time to time. Is Germany now what it was 10000 years ago? what was it called then? find examples and use them to conclude that it is all an illusion set by convention to create differences and maybe even give people their identities. You know we humans like to think we're special for being different than others, so when we have boundries and belong to a certain country we feel special because we do and someone else doesn't.

Now as for how it is related to the boundries of knowledge compare and relate AOKs together. for example take the limitation of knoweldge in the natural sciences, which is falsification, and relate it to history. through history we witness the falsification of theories and principles. should this knowldge of falsification be under the AOK of history or Natural sciences?

Another clearer example is evaluating lanuguage. Find a clear definition of "language" then state that "painting" or works of art can be defined as a language, so can these works be considered as ways of knowing rather than be defined under and area of knowledge?

Further examples, evaluate the fibonacci numbers and the febunacci ratio with works of art. through this you can show how art and maths are also interrelated.

Be more specific in your claims, and merge in there somewhere the 3 other WOKs it certainly would help your grade if the examiner sees that you have evaluated and discussed all WOKs.


<a name="N06M07 Title 4"></a>4. Is it an oversimplification to claim that some Ways of Knowing give us facts while others provide interpretations?


<a name="N06M07 Title 5"></a> 5. Can literature "tell the truth" better than other Arts or Areas of Knowledge?

This was my Essay, hence it's more specific than the rest of the outlines.


- Knowledge gained by literature is knowledge gained through language and emotions.

- Knowledge gained through art is gained through Empiricism and emotions.

- thesis statement: “both literature and art are subjective to the knower, so the knowledge one knower gains from the same piece of literature or art will differ from that of a different knower, depending on one’s paradigm. So the definition of truth sought through these two forms of art differs depending on the personal perspective the knower would have. So doesn’t this show how both art and literature do not tell the truth, but rather evoke a truth because of their subjectivity?”


- Define literature as “creative writing of recognized artistic value” .

- State that Literature and art are interrelated in terms that both are subjective, and both considered “works of art”. Example Magritte’s “this is not a pipe”.

- State the POK of language in terms of loss of meaning in translation. Example Dante’s the divine comedy.

- POK of literature because it may provoke angst. Art is less likely to do so.

- Relate literature to history, state the POK of history, compare it to art by stating: “If you look at a painting such as Cossack’s write a letter you will understand the gist of the historical event with less bias than if u read about it in a book written by a historian.”

- Discuss the process of acquiring knowledge in the natural sciences: observation, reason, and experiment. And state the POK of natural sciences (falsification). Compare the knowledge gained through the natural sciences and literature/arts and conclude the natural sciences are closer to the truth. (example of end point in acid-base reactions)

- State the role of ethics in art and literature. It is unethical for a person to pose naked in public places, but is not tabooed as much when in paintings (example Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel). But it is also tabooed in works of literature; novels with sexual content are called “adult novels”. Hence through ethics knowledge gained from literature is hindered while that gained form art is not.


- Both art and lit are less likely to reach the truth, unlike other AOKs because of their subjective nature.


<a name="N06M07 Title 6"></a>6. Compare the roles played by reason and imagination in at least two Areas of Knowledge.


<a name="N06M07 Title 7"></a>7. Discuss the ways in which value judgments should and should not be used in different Areas of Knowledge.


<a name="N06M07 Title 8"></a>8. Some experts (athletes, dancers, musicians, visual artists, cabinet makers, lab technicians, mechanics, surgeons, etc.) may have acquired knowledge that is difficult to describe in words. Does this mean that other Ways of Knowing play a more important role than language in knowing how to do something?


- State there is 4 ways of knowing: Perception, reason, emotion, and language.

- Define language as having a symbolic meaning, i.e language is practiced through symbols as well as words.

- Thesis statement: “all WOKs have strengths and weaknesses in the process of gaining knowledge different AOK depending on the AOK in hand. Life experience is of course a very unique way of gaining knowledge, as it is subjective to each person’s life, however this does not mean that these knowers who’ve gained this knowledge have not gained some of it through language. It just indicates that they can not express their knowledge in words. Hence the importance of language is not regarded any less.”


- Through Art is made of the objects: the artist, the painting and the observer. The painting itself it the language of the artist

- We observe art, and it evokes our emotions. So emotions and perception are two WOKs needed to gain knowledge from art.

- Give examples of different AOKs which require different WOKs to be able to come closer to reaching the truth.

- State the POKs of each WOK. And explain how it hinders out knowledge in each AOK explained above.


- conclude that all WOKs are essential for us knowers. And in order to reach a closer truth all 4 must be used, and you cannot claim that one is more important than the other, because all WOKs have limitations and strengths. But it is safe to claim that some WOKs are more reliable that others, rather than more important.


<a name="N06M07 Title 9"></a>9. Can a machine know?

Now that M07 exams are over, chances are if you are doing this question, it is for class. And quite frankly I pity anyone who has to do this question and don't have a choice about it because it is a nasty question. The big problem is that it is very broad with lots to discuss. First there is the obvious thing about defining what is "knowing" which a person can write a whole essay on and you have to restrict it to a paragraph at most. That said, some pointers:

First, define knowing - not knowledge, but knowing - the action. Then determine whether (and how) human - the being who create machines in the first place - know.

Second, equally important - define what "machine" is. This is very important! You have to distinguish clearly what is a machine.

Bring up the ways knowing, discuss whether the machine can apply these WOKs. The primary WOK for a machine, I'd say, would be reasoning through tests/examinations. Whay do the results of the test mean anyway? Is the interpretation of a machine's result different from that of a humans?

Machines and humans may think and percieve in different ways. You know, like, if a machine's perception is mathematical, then is Maths a valid AoK for machines? Another idea is, do machines really have to be experts in the AoK of Art? After all, not all humans are experts in that AoK, or the AoK of science and maths, for that matter. Are the thought patterns of machines and humans that different?

You can also bring up the idea of cultural differences - for example while robots/ technology is viewed with suspicsion by western cultures (Terminatior), this is not the case in Japan (Astro Boy) - Would that make a difference?

About Artificial Intelligence. I think it is relevant to mention this concept however you could go off tangent and talk all about AI when you should be focusing on knowing. You can describe what AI is and how the human being has made machines know. And then you list a couple of ways that the machines knows.

When you have done that, you mention the implications, or problems of this. That is, how the machines does not know? And here you have to think about a structural issue. Will you first state all the ways a machine knows, and then all the ways it doesnt, or will you have a paragraph about how the machine knows and then a paragraph about the implications of that statement? It is a matter of taste. I prefer the last model - easier to keep track of the arguments.

The trap that a lot of IBers is that they will think "Wow this is an interesting concept... i can go into mass detail about machines and comparing them to humans" when in essence if you don't include the ToK issues at hand (Whether it can know? Whether knowledge is obtainable altogether? Establishing what knowledge is.. etc.etc.) then you will do really poor in the essay.

It is such a thought-provoking essay that all the Computer Geeks would be completely tempted to waffle about AI and its current state and what Computer Scientists are working towards but really, as much as it is relevant, you need to expand on that idea more and bring in what you think knowledge is and whether a machine can get to knowing.

Source: All the important points gathered from here.


<a name="N06M07 Title 10"></a>10. Belief has been described as "certainty about what cannot be seen". Does this statement hold true in any, some or all Areas of Knowledge?

Define belief. Define certainty. Argue the ways belief can be certain and the ways it cannot. Choose "some" - it's impossible to talk about all in the limit of the essay - AOK. Within those AOK, determine how belief plays a part and to what extent can belief in those particular AOK be considered "certain" - and whether those certainty can be seen or not. This largely depends on what your definition of certainty is in the first place.

The trick is to choose AOK that would take both sides of the equations - i.e. those that would support the statement in the title and those that would not. That way, you're arguing both sides of the statement, having your counter arguments.



Nov 2007 and May 2008 Titles:

N07M08 Title 1

N07M08 Title 2

N07M08 Title 3

N07M08 Title 4

N07M08 Title 5

N07M08 Title 6

N07M08 Title 7

N07M08 Title 8

N07M08 Title 9

N07M08 Title 10

November 07, May 08:

<a name="N07M08 Title 1"></a>1. Evaluate the role of intuition in different areas of knowledge.


<a name="N07M08 Title 2"></a>2. Are reason and emotion equally necessary in justifying moral decisions?


<a name="N07M08 Title 3"></a>3. “History is always on the move, slowly eroding today’s orthodoxy and making space for yesterday’s heresy.” Discuss the extent to which this claim applies to history and at least one other area of knowledge.


<a name="N07M08 Title 4"></a>4. Does language play roles of equal importance in different areas of knowledge?

In your intro specify 2-3 Aoks you wish to discuss. I think it is enough to do just 2, so that you will be able to go deep into them rather than shallowly discuss 3; however in the end it is your choice. Define them properly and provide a form of thesis in your intro, if you are not sure as to how your argument would progress, just raise a question like "so does language have a more important role in AOK1 or AOK2?". Also do not forget to define language, it is perhaps the most important thing in your intro. I have recently discovered that it is tabooed to use dictionary definitions so define it yourself! and use a definition of language which is relative to your argument as to which AOK it is more important in.

You can discuss as an AOK which language is relatively not important in (mind you relative to the other AOKs you wish to discuss...).

People have our "gut instincts" to tell them what is right or wrong sometimes (give an example of something that had occurred with you in the past, like looking at fire when u were a child but never touching it because even though you've never experienced what it would feel like to touch it something always told u that you shouldn't touch it!)

In ethics, perhaps, emotion is a more important WOK than language. Also evaluate this with the role of language in ethics (give example of this by stating that some "wrongs and rights" are learned from parent etc- or "people who know better"- but also state that this can not be as reliable since we're not robots and not every situation can be considered a definite wrong or a definite right because different situation require different actions (give example of this if it triggers your memory).

You can also discuss history. Discuss how the importance of language in history lays in the manipulation (don't use this word, it has a negative connotation towards it, albeit I like using it blink.gif ) of the language which the historian choses to display the facts of history which he might have witnessed, or has collected information about. So in KISS words (keeping it simple, stupid) the bias of the historian would affect the choice of his language, hence defining the importance of language in the AOK history. It is important in convincing the history reader that this presentation of history is the correct one, and others- to an extent- are not.


<a name="N07M08 Title 5"></a>5. “…we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology.” (Noam Chomsky). To what extent would you agree?


<a name="N07M08 Title 6"></a>6. In areas of knowledge such as the arts and the sciences, do we learn more from work that follows or that breaks with accepted conventions?

Science: The study of science is far from being about things that are set in stone. In fact, people study science to "discover" new knowledge about the world around them. At the same time, science relies on the knowledge we already possess to try and learn more from it.

There are 2 main kinds of scientific advancement of knowledge: that which builds on knowledge we already know, or that which totally disregard the knowlege we already know and come up with an entirely new theory. An example of the latter (a cliched example which should be avoided) is the fact that people once thought the earth was flat. Then along came scientists who claimed it was round.

Personally I think the arts leans more towards works that breaks accepted convention as it is there to be creative and try new things. You should realise that "the arts" doesn't necessarily just mean visual arts (as we would immediately think of) but other forms of art as well. You should define how we "learn" from the arts as it's more subtle than how we learn from science. From there provide examples of works that follows and break conventions and how much we learn (accordig to your definition of learning from art) from those examples.

Keep in mind the question is do we learn more from works that follow or break convention. That means yes, we learn from both, but which one is more? You can take a stand and say either yes or no, but make sure you have concrete relevant examples to back up your stand.


<a name="N07M08 Title 7"></a>7. Our senses tell us that a table, for example, is a solid object; science tells us that the table is mostly empty space. Thus two sources of knowledge generate conflicting results. Can we reconcile such conflicts?


<a name="N07M08 Title 8"></a>8. Are some ways of knowing more likely than others to lead to truth?

First, most likely in your first paragraph (not intro), you should define what truth is - according to you. I would refrain from solely using any dictionary definition as the only definition for truth. What does this mean? This means don't pluck the definition for "truth" out of the dictionary and say, right, that's what truth is. This will lose you a lot of marks! Why you ask? TOK isn't a subject for you to pull definitions out of the dictionary. You can use dictionary definition, but only if you don't blindly accept it as irrefutable but may seek to counter that definition or use your own analysis to back up the dictionary definition. The safest way, however, would just to come up with your definition in your own words. We had a bit of a discussion on truth and ways of defining it here.

Then decide what the WOKs that you're going to discuss are. The question say "some" which leaves you to decide how many WOK you will discuss. The four WOKs are perception, emotions, language and reasoning. You don't have to use all of these, just choose maybe 3 out of the four. For each WOK, explain how one can obtain "truth" from them (truth according to your original definition). Then compare the ways we obtain truth from them. What you have to realise is that all WOK have their strenghts and weaknesses and we obtain truths from them in different ways: for example, truth obtained from reason and perception will be vastly different, as reason is based on logic whereas perception is very much dependent on the knower's paradigms.

It's up to you whether you answer yes or no to the question in the essay title or not. And your arguments in your essay will depend on which side of the question you argue from. But remember, which ever side you choose - that yes, some WOK are more likely to lead to truth than others, or no, WOKs all bring equal truth but in different ways - you have to be able to back your argument up with examples, evidence and analysis.


<a name="N07M08 Title 9"></a>9. Mathematicians have the concept of rigorous proof, which leads to knowing something with complete certainty. Consider the extent to which complete certainty might be achievable in mathematics and at least one other area of knowledge.


<a name="N07M08 Title 10"></a>10. “Context is all” (Margaret Atwood). Does this mean that there is no such thing as truth?


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November 2008 and May 2009 Titles:

November 08, May 09:

N08M09 Title 1. "Science is built of facts the way a house is built of bricks: but an accumulation of facts is no more science than a pile of bricks is a house(Henri Poincare) Discuss in relation to science and at least one other area of knowledge.


N08M09 Title 2. When should we trust our senses to give us truth?


N08M09 Title 3. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing.


N08M09 Title 4. “Seek simplicity, and distrust it” (Alfred North Whitehead). Is this always a good adivice for a knower?


N08M09 Title 5. "In expanding the field of knowledge we but increase the horizon of ignorance” "Henry Miller”. Is this true?


N08M09 Title 6. Compare and contrast our approach to knowledge of the past with our approach to knowledge about the future.


N08M09 Title 7. “Moral wisdom seems to be as little connected to knowledge of ethical theory as playing good tennis is to knowledge of physics (Emrys Westacott). To what extent should our actions be guided by our theories in ethics and elsewhere?


N08M09 Title 8. To understand something you need to rely on your own experience and culture. Does this mean that it is impossible to have objective knowledge?


N08M09 Title 9. “The knowledge that we value the most is the knowledge for which we can provide the strongest justifications.” To what extent would you agree with this claim?


N08M09 Title 10. “There can be no knowledge without emotion…until we have felt the force of the knowledge, it is not ours (adapted from Arnold Bennett). Discuss this vision of the relationship between knowledge and emotion.

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November 2009 and May 2010 Titles:

N09M10 Title 1

N09M10 Title 2

N09M10 Title 3

N09M10 Title 4

N09M10 Title 5

N09M10 Title 6

N09M10 Title 7

N09M10 Title 8

N09M10 Title 9

N09M10 Title 10

N09M10 Title 1:To what extent is truth different in mathematics, the arts and ethics?


N09M10 Title 2: Examine the way empirical evidence should be used to make progress in different areas of knowledge.


N09M10 Title 3: Discuss the strength and limitations of quantitative and qualitative data in supporting knowledge claims in the human sciences and at least one other area of knowledge.


N09M10 Title 4: How can the different ways of knowing help us to distinguish between something that is true and something that is believed to be true?


N09M10 Title 5: "What separates science from all other human activities is its belief in the provisional nature of all conclusion?" (Michael Shermer, www.edge.com). Critically evaluate this way of distinguishing the sciences from other areas of knowledge?


N09M10 Title 6: All knowledge claims should be open to rational criticism. On what grounds and to what extent would you agree with this assertion?


N09M10 Title 7: "We see and understand things not as they are but as we are." Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways of knowing.


N09M10 Title 8: "People need to believe that order can be glimpsed in the chaos of events" (adapted from John Gray, Heresies, 2004). In what ways and to what extent would you say this claim is relevant in at least two areas of knowledge?


N09M10 Title 9: Discuss the claim that some areas of knowledge are discovered and others are invented.


N09M10 Title 10: What similarities and differences are there between historical and scientific explanations?

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November 2012 (note that the sessions have been separated into 6 for November and 6 to be released later for May)

1. Can we have beliefs or knowledge which are independent of our culture?

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts"
(Arthur Conan Doyle). Consider the extent to which this statement may be true in two or more areas of knowledge.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand"
(Albert Einstein). Do you agree?

4. What counts as knowledge in the arts? Discuss by comparing to one other are of knowledge.

"Habit is stronger than reason"
. To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?

"The ultimate protection against research error and bias is supposed to come from the way scientists constantly re-test each other's results"
. To what extent would you agree with this claim in the natural sciences and the human sciences?

(Thanks to Saurav Das for contributing these)

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May 2013

1. In what ways may disagreement aid the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences?

2. "Only seeing general patterns can give us knowledge. Only seeing particular examples can give us understanding." To what extent do you agree with these assertions?

3. "The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility." Evaluate this claim.

4. The traditional TOK diagram indicates four ways of knowing. Propose the inclusion of a fifth way of knowing selected from intuition, memory or imagination, and explore the knowledge issues it may raise in two areas of knowledge.

5. "That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." (Christopher Hitchens). Do you agree?

6. Can we know when to trust our emotions in the pursuit of knowledge? Consider history and one other area of knowledge.

(Thanks to Bert Macklin FBI for sharing these!)

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November 2013

1. "In the natural sciences progress can be made, but in the arts this is not possible.” To what extent do you agree?

2. “Technology both enables us to produce knowledge and limits the knowledge that is produced.” Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.

3. “Every attempt to know the world rests on a set of assumptions that cannot be tested.” Examine this proposition in relation to two areas of knowledge.

4. “Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are.” To what extent is this true in the human sciences and one other area of knowledge?

5. “… our knowledge is only a collection of scraps and fragments that we put together into a pleasing design, and often the discovery of one new fragment would cause us to alter utterly the whole design” (Morris Bishop). To what extent is this true in history and one other area of knowledge?

6. “The methods used to produce knowledge depend on the use to which it will be put.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

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November 2014

1. “Some areas of knowledge seek to describe the world, whereas others seek to transform it.” Explore this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

2. “Knowledge takes the form of a combination of stories and facts.” How accurate is this claim in two areas of knowledge?
3. “In the production of knowledge, it is only because emotion works so well that reason can work at all.” To what extent would you agree with this claim in two areas of knowledge?
4. “To gain an understanding of the world we need to make use of stereotypes.” With reference to two areas of knowledge, to what extent do you agree with this statement?
5. “The task of history is the discovering of the constant and universal principles of human nature.” To what extent are history and one other area of knowledge successful in this task?
6. “We may agree about general standards in the arts but disagree as to whether a particular work has artistic merit. In ethics the situation is reversed: we may disagree about ethical theories but we all know an unethical action when we see one.” Discuss.
(Thanks to crazycricketnerd for the questions!)
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May 2015


1. There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.


2. “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?


3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?


4. With reference to two areas of knowledge discuss the way in which shared knowledge can shape personal knowledge.


5. “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?


6. “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

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