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Theory of Knowledge (TOK)
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Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

Nature of the Subject

The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) programme is central to the educational philosophy of the International Baccalaureate.  It challenges students and their teachers to reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and areas of knowledge, and to consider the role which knowledge plays in a global society.  It encourages students to become aware of themselves as thinkers, to become aware of the complexity of knowledge, and to recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected world.

As a thoughtful and purposeful enquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, the TOK programme is composed almost entirely of questions.  The most central of these questions is "How do I, or how do we, know that a given assertion is true, or a given judgment is well grounded?"  Assertions or judgments of this sort are termed ‘knowledge claims', while the difficulties that arise in addressing these questions are the broad areas known as ‘problems of knowledge'.  The programme entails the application of this central question to many different, yet interrelated, topics.

Questions are the very essence of TOK, both ageless questions on which thinkers have been reflecting for centuries and new ones, often challenging to accepted belief, which are posed by contemporary life.  Engaging with students in a critical examination of knowledge, teachers will foster an appreciation of the quest for knowledge, in particular its importance, its complexities, and its human implications.  A teacher may hope to bring alive the questions in this guide for a new generation of knowers, and to encourage them to gain and apply their own knowledge with greater awareness and responsibility.

To guide teachers in the design and construction of their courses, the questions have been grouped into four broad categories: Knowers and Knowing, Ways of Knowing, Areas of Knowledge and Linking Questions.  These categories and the elements which they encompass are represented graphically in a TOK diagram, in which the knowers, that is the individual or the community, are at the centre.

The grouping of questions, both into the broad categories and within each subsection, is for the purpose of conceptual clarity.  The concepts underlying the categorization are, of course, essentially contestable.

The categories are not intended to dictate a teaching approach.  TOK can be taught, for example, by working through the elements in all four categories sequentially, or by focusing on Ways of Knowing and seeing how each applies to the Areas of Knowledge.  It can also be taught by using the Linking Questions to weave through the elements in Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge.  Many effective approaches are possible and, while being sensitive to the needs of their students, teachers are encouraged to be adventurous.

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