Knowledge Issues: Identifying and Using Them
What do you really know about the world around you? Anything, everything, nothing? The answer is probably nowhere near as simple as you would like to think. Knowledge issues are a key component of TOK, or theory of knowledge presentations. In addition to being known as knowledge issues, they may be known as knowledge questions or problems of knowledge. However, they all equate to the same thing – knowledge issues force you, the individual making the presentation, to make a claim about a piece of knowledge and to then use the theory of knowledge in order to validate that claim.
Mind mapping can be a crucial part of the brainstorming session when you are developing a knowledge issue for your theory of knowledge presentation, so consider checking out this mind mapping course on Udemy to help you with this task. Once you think that you have an idea in mind, or something that could potentially be transformed into an idea for your knowledge issue, it is time for you to begin assessing whether or not what you have come up with is a proper knowledge issue for the TOK presentation.
What is a Knowledge Issue Exactly?
As ironic as it may seem, there is not really a clear definition of what a knowledge issue really is. It is generally easier to define what a knowledge issue isn’t. It is crucial to avoid choosing knowledge issues to discuss if you may be biased about that particular issue, if you are making assumptions about the knowledge issue, if you have no real way of supporting your claims about the issue, or if the problem does not lend itself well to a theory of knowledge way of thinking.
Another challenge that you might potentially face when attempting to come up with a knowledge issue for a theory of knowledge presentation is finding the knowledge issue in a real world situation. All too often, individuals who choose real life situations for their TOK presentations stick too closely to the known facts without getting into the abstract and logic-oriented type of thinking required of the theory of knowledge presentation. The problem solving skills required to do this can be learned, but you need to be willing to practice in order to get it right.
Identifying a Knowledge Problem in a Real Life Issue
Of course, you are supposed to use a real life situation as the basis for your knowledge issue. So what, then, are you supposed to do? Rather than discuss the issue itself, as many students are prone to do, it is important to choose a matter that relates to the real world issue that you are considering as the potential topic for the theory of knowledge presentation. For example, if you were interested in discussing a topic such as cloning, it would be important to discuss not the science behind cloning, but the controversy and the conflicting information that surrounds the issue. This variation in topic lends itself much better to the theory of knowledge presentation.
To start defining the question that you will be using as your knowledge problem, ask questions about the issue at hand. Start with a “How” question, and use this as a jumping off point for the brainstorming that you will do to ultimately come up with the knowledge issue that you will be using.
For example, you have come across a scientific study related to happiness and literacy, or you may have made an observation in your own personal life that people who have different language capabilities have a tendency to approach things different. Rather than ask a question based on the issue itself, you would develop the knowledge issue with a question that was related to the study of language and linguistics. For example, you could ask, “How does language affect the way that we perceive the world?”
Don’t worry if the first potential knowledge issue you come up with isn’t perfect. Do some brainstorming and write down several different questions that could potentially lead to more developed knowledge issues that you can use in your presentation. If you need a little help, Udemy offers a great course that can help you to develop your critical thinking skills. Check it out, brainstorm some ideas, and let’s move on to the next step in the process of coming up with the knowledge issue – determining whether or not the idea you have come up with is appropriate for use as a knowledge issue.
What Makes Knowledge Issues Good or Bad
The first thing that is crucial to remember is the fact that knowledge issues must clearly be centered on the exploration and examination of knowledge itself. Knowledge issues are not meant to analyze and dissect factual subject matter – they are meant to explore what we know, and how we know it. That kind of abstraction can be difficult for some to grasp, but it’s crucial to remember that the abstraction and the ambiguity are important to your theory of knowledge presentation.
Let’s look at various situations that could be the basis for a knowledge issue, and both good and bad examples of knowledge issues that could be formulated using the theory of knowledge mindset.
- Example: My mother uses traditional herbal medicine.
First things first – the starting off point of the subject of herbal medicine does not constitute a knowledge issue. Moving on, you may be tempted to use a question such as, “Does herbal medicine work?” as your knowledge issue. The problem with this is that it leaves you with a question that can easily be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Closed questions are not acceptable as knowledge issues, either.
The question, “How can we determine whether or not herbal medicine is effective?” is a little bit closer, as it is open ended and it concerns knowledge rather than the results of experimentation. However, you can take things a step further and explore the concepts of experimentation and knowledge by asking a question such as, “How is scientific evidence studied to determine whether or not it is convincing?”
- Example: A news story about a mentally ill man who committed murder and who has been scheduled for execution.
In this case, your first instinct may be to write about a subject such as “Mentally Ill Individuals and the Death Penalty”. However, remember – this is not a question. This is a topic, and you should use this topic to come up with the question for your knowledge issue. Going on from the initial topic, you could ask instead, “Is the use of capital punishment acceptable for the mentally ill?”
However, this question is still closed, and does not lend itself to further discussion. It must be developed further in order to function as an acceptable knowledge issue. The next step may be to ask a question such as, “How can we know whether capital punishment is acceptable for mentally ill individuals?” From there, you can make the question purely about knowledge by removing the original subject from the question.
From there, you may end up with a question such as, “What, if anything, can be done to determine whether or not a person can he held accountable for their actions when outside factors are involved?”
- Example: You would like to examine the effect of advertising on people’s choices.
Of course, “advertising slogans” is not a KI, nor is “Can people be manipulated by advertising?” You need to develop on your ideas in order to come up with something that can be used for a theory of knowledge presentation or examination. The next logical step in this case is, “How can we determine whether or not advertising can change the way that we see things without us being aware of it?”
This is coming closer to a possible KI. However, you still need to do a little work to determine whether or not it is acceptable. First, you need to remove the mentions of the specific topic. Then, you need to ensure that the entire question is purely knowledge based.
In this case, you may realize that the real question you want to ask is whether or not it is simpler for people to be manipulated by something other than language. You may therefore end up with a knowledge issue that asks, “Can images be a more effective way of changing people’s perceptions than language?”
Determining Whether Your Knowledge Issue is Acceptable
Once you have come up with your knowledge issue, there are a few things that you can do to determine whether or not it is acceptable, or whether you should go back to the drawing board to examine the subject a little bit further.
First things first – is the question open-ended? Never use a question that could be answered with yes or no. Next, is it about knowledge itself, or is it about a specific subject? Remember, the subject should be the base for formulating your knowledge issue. It should be almost entirely eliminated by the time you have the final KI question. And last, does it use proper theory of knowledge vocabulary? It not, be sure to go back and rewrite the question with the appropriate terms.
It seems like a lot of work, but TOK presentations and essays and knowledge issues are not that difficult to understand. All it takes is some abstract thinking and a willingness to continue working at an issue until you have something that will work for your needs. Check out Thinking Skills for Students on Udemy if you need help developing your more abstract thinking abilities. Creative Problem Solving can be another great help to you as you further
Last Updated September 2023
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