TOK Notes

Chapter 1: The Problem of Knowledge


  • Critical thinking involves asking good questions, using language with care and precision, supporting your ideas with evidence, arguing coherently, and making sound judgements.
  • Four ways of acquiring knowledge: perception, language, reason, emotion
  • Despite the growth of knowledge, we are confronted by contradictory beliefs.
  • The difference in education of the prevailing era supports the fact that knowledge is not static but changes over time.
  • Nothing is certain, due to some claims by scientists we have not been trying to make sense of the world for long enough in the cosmic year to guarantee the results.

Common Sense

  • Most people trusts knowledge to the point for knowledge to become common sense, yet common sense is based on nothing more than vague and untested beliefs.
  • Common sense provides us with a starting point.
  • Our mental map of reality provides us with common sense, what our ideas of true and false is, etc.
  • Although common sense should not be discarded and considered useless, we should be willing to subject it to scrutiny.
  • If we are accustomed to something for a long period of time (ex. Growing up) we may unthinkingly accept the fact as true and unaware of its limitations.
  • The fact that people find maps in the opposite direction shows the way habitual thinking affects our minds and how hard it is to break out of it.
  • Our ideas and beliefs come from different sources. Ex. Experience, parents, friends, teachers, books and media.
  • There are likely to be inaccuracies within our mental maps since we do not have to time to verify the claims of the sources where we obtain our common sense.
  • Inaccuracies include: thinking outside the customs familiar to a particular individual, and cultural biases.
  • Paradox of cartography: if a map is to be useful, it must be imperfect. For the map to be perfect, every detail would have to been shown yet useless as a map.


  • It has been thought that certainty is what distinguishes knowledge from belief.
  • Doubts arise when an individual is asked if they are 100% certainty of a certain thing they are sure about.
  • Language helps in acquiring knowledge where we have been told them or read them. However, even experts are fallible.
  • The majority of knowledge is based on experience but our senses sometimes deceive us. Ex. Colour blindness.
  • Some philosophers claimed that reason gives us greater certainty than perception, yet people are not very good at abstract reasoning in that they are liable to make all kinds of mistakes.
  • Some things strike us as intuitively obvious yet it varies from individuals. Ex. Capital punishment and abortion.
  • Emotions provide us the energy to pursue knowledge but they are not infallible guides to the truth.

Radical Doubt

  • Can existence be doubted?
  • Some philosophers have speculated that the whole of life might be a dream.
  • Although the idea of having a dream living on Earth does not prove that you do not exist. It suggests that your life might be different from what you thought.


  • There is no such thing as absolute truth that exists in an objective way independent of what anyone happens to believe is true.
  • Rather than stating whether a fact is true or false, the most we can do is “true for me” or “false for you”.
  • All points of view are of equal value.
  • Relativism has an attractive position. Rather than insisting on the truth and denying others, it is more attractive to say what is true for me is false for you.
  • Despite the attraction, it leads to many difficulties as equating knowledge with certainty. Ex. The Earth is round.
  • If it is absolutely true that all truth is relative then there is at least one absolute truth (all truth is relative). It is only relatively true that all truth is relative then someone may say “It is not true for me that all truth is relative”.

What should we believe?

  • Common sense, uncertainty, relativism cannot give us a quick solution to the problem of knowledge. Whatever you believe, you should try to support your beliefs with evidence and respond to criticisms.

The role of judgement

  • Good judgement is the ability to balance scepticism with open-mindedness.
  • Cultivate a healthy scepticism as an antidote to intellectual and financial gullibility.

The danger of gullibility

  • No one is willing to believe everything they read.
  • We all have limits beyond which we conclude the absurdity of a belief.

The danger of scepticism

  • Being too sceptical means closing your mind to new ideas that challenge conventional wisdom. Ex. Existence of meteorites and the theory of continental drift.
  • Too sceptical = intellectual progress stops and knowledge stagnate.
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Reasonable knowledge

  1. Evidence
  • There should be positive evidence in support of it.
  • “You can’t prove that there aren’t”, no positive evidence was given to support the belief.
  • The fact that you can’t prove something isn’t true does nothing to show it is true. Argument ad ignorantiam.
  • We should be open-minded in looking for evidence for and against our belief. Confirmation bias is the tendency to only notice evidence that support our beliefs.
  1. Coherence
  • Whether or not it fits with our current understanding of things.
  • We cannot cast doubt on all of our beliefs at ...

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