The Heart of ToK
Knowledge Questions
Knowledge Questions
TOK is primarily concerned with knowledge questions.
This phrase is used often in describing what is seen in a good
TOK presentation or a good TOK essay.
An essay or presentation that does not identify and treat a
knowledge question has missed the point.
Instead of focusing on specific content, knowledge questions
focus on how knowledge is constructed and evaluated.
In this sense, knowledge questions are a
little different from many of the questions dealt with in the subject
You can find knowledge questions
underlying almost any issue.
They are sometimes difficult to formulate
precisely but they often lurk underneath
popular and controversial subjects.
It is a very useful exercise to try to tease
out knowledge questions underlying
articles in the media.
Here are two examples of topics that
have been discussed in newspaper
articles and possible knowledge
questions associated with the topic.
Knowledge Questions Have These Characteristics
•open question
•about knowledge
Example 1: The placebo effect and its impact on the
medical profession
• Not a knowledge question: “How does the placebo
effect work?” An answer to this might involve a
technical explanation in psychology.
• A good knowledge question: “How could we
establish that X is an ‘active ingredient’ in causing
This question is actually a rather general one about
how we can know about causal links. It is a classic
knowledge question.
Example 2: Future Population Growth in Africa
• Not a knowledge question: “How can we
predict future population growth in Africa?”
This is not a knowledge question because it is
a technical question within the discipline of
population studies.
• Good knowledge question: “How can a
mathematical model give us knowledge even if
it does not yield accurate predictions?” This is
now sufficiently general and explores the
purpose and nature of mathematical
Examples of Knowledge Questions
• what counts as evidence for X?
• what makes a good explanation in subject Y?
• how do we judge which is the best model of Z?
• how can we be sure of W?
• what does theory T mean in the real world?
• how do we know whether it is right to do S?
Real-life situation:
New Brunswick fracking
Links to TOK:
 Science
 History
 Human sciences
 Indigenous knowledge systems
 Ethics
Central Knowledge
How can we measure the
value of natural resources?
Developed KQs
(three WoKs or AoKs)
1. How is it determined that economics are
socially beneficial?
2. Given the scientific method, can value be
3. Could it be claimed that indigenous
knowledge systems are more valuable than
tangible resources?
Apply ToK to Developed
Knowledge Questions
1.What tools do economists use to measure social value?
Are there problems/ flaws/weaknesses with these tools?
What have the results been obtained for NB First Nations?
2.What has science told us about fracking in NB?
Are there any problems/flaws/weaknesses with the way science
obtained its results.
Are we able to determines the harms/benefits using science?
3. What moral or political beliefs do we have that will allow us to
determine who has the greater right to use this resource or not?
Other real-life fracking
Earthquakes in Oklahoma
Other real-life fracking
Water issues
Other real-life fracking
Treaty rights
Other real-life fracking
Religious views of land
Other real-life fracking
The role of ethics in government
and business policies
Other real-life fracking
Health and social issues

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