IB TOK Essay

Prescribed question: #8

“Are some ways of knowing more likely than others to lead to the truth?”

Peter Frederiksen Svane

St. Mary’s International School

IB Candidate number: 000134 - 039

March 6th, 2008

Word Count: 1599

A man, Peter, gets home from a strenuous day of work, and walks upstairs to the bedroom to see if his wife is fine. The door, however, is closed, and Peter hears strange noises. Could it really be the truth that she is unfaithful? Peter is confronted with a dilemma. Peter pauses, and his emotions take over: “No, she would never do such a thing,” he cries to himself. On the other hand, he reasons out that his wife always receives secret calls and that people who receives secret calls are unfaithful, therefore she must be unfaithful. Confused, he decides to call a neighbor, and ask him to open the door. A few minutes later, the neighbor arrives and peeks through the door. Peter is taken over by Socrates, and demands the truth: “There is another man.” In denial, Peter tears the door open but only sees his wife.

The predicament summarizes the four tools one can apply in many situations to reveal the truth. Each one concludes with a potential truth, but proposes conflicting facts. Thus it illuminates problems that arise with ways of knowing and the reliability of truth. With an emotional approach, Peter follows his intuition which denies any sin commited by his wife. Using deductive reasoning, his wife is definitely adulterous, which the neighbor, an authority (language), confirms. His perception, however, plays tricks on him: he hears “strange noises” but sees nothing.

The question, however, is really whether it is possible to know the truth, or not? As shown in the example, the truth depends on which statement Peter decides to believe in. But for something to be true, it has to be justified, among other things, and that is done by evaluating the reliability of each of the ways of knowing: In essence, Peter will have to ascertain the truth by deciding “which way of knowing is more likely than others to lead to the truth.”

The first way in which Peter can acquire a sense of the potential truth is by listening to his emotions. These are often regarded as an obstacle to knowledge, on the basis that they “color” the way we see the world, leading to irrational behavior. If one has a strong opinion about something, one might be considered biased, and if faced with contrary evidence, be hesitant to reevaluate conventions: stubborn irrationality. Stereotypes, by definition always false, continue to exist because strongly emotional persons only notice the lazy immigrants and oversee the hard-working ones. The negative effect that the use of emotions can have on knowledge and the control of it is made clear in Orwell’s 1984.

Join now!

On the other hand, intuitive emotions have quite often added to the knowledge human beings have. The term is frequently used to justify self-evident truths. Asked to justify why 2 + 2 = 4, one might be able to explain it by 4 - 2 = 2, but eventually run out of justifications, and resort to the trite defense that it is “intuitively obvious.” Intuitions, however, are closely linked to our beliefs: These are often firmly built into inflexible conventions, until a figure, such as Martin Luther comes into the picture, and break the orthodoxy.

In contrast to ...

This is a preview of the whole essay