This is the third of six TOK Tuesdays posts that briefly explore various nuances and concepts associated with each of the May 2020 TOK prescribed titles. In every post I will highlight a few specific themes that students may wish to consider related to each title, themes that are fleshed out in considerable detail, together with specific examples, in the corresponding Titled Assistance video available directly on our Portal. Subscribers might wish to regard these posts as high-level summaries of those videos, illuminating large-scale structural motivations that can further assist students both before and after watching the associated Ideas Roadshow Titled Assistance video.
Today we tackle prescribed title 3. Once again it’s worth emphasizing that these thoughts, together with those in the related Titled Assistance video, are strictly personal opinions and are designed to highlight key conceptual points associated with each title rather than provide any particular thesis or response to the title in question.
In my view, PT 3 is distinct from all the others on a number of different fronts.
The first thing that you’re likely to notice is simply the way that this title is formulated. While every other prescribed title asks the student to explore, discuss and investigate certain claims and statements, this one abruptly poses the question, Does it matter…?
What are we to make of this? Well, it’s not so easy, I think.
After a first, second, and even third reading I was preparing myself to launch into a standard type of detailed exploration of the wording in order to highlight the relevant nuances involved. While it seemed reasonably straightforward that “your knowledge” referred to the notion of personal knowledge, rather than shared knowledge, there was a whole range of associated subtleties to explore: how might we define, precisely, “personal circumstances”? To what extent can “influence” be objectively assessed, not to mention the “seriousness”of how one takes knowledge? Not to mention the concepts lying behind the words: “taking knowledge seriously”, after all, implies a specific “taker” who goes unmentioned in the title. Presumably the situation changes considerably depending on who is doing the “influencing” and who is “being influenced”. So there is all of that.
My initial plan was to build up things brick by brick until I was ready to finally address the whole business of mattering, but, frustratingly, it seemed like I was never going to get there, as the more I started thinking about how I was going to address these points, the further away I seemed to be getting from the actual question being asked.
After all, the title wasn’t asking me to describe to what extent personal circumstances influence the development of my personal knowledge, and it wasn’t even asking me to investigate under what circumstances personal circumstances can influence how seriously others take my personal knowledge (which personal circumstances? which “others”? “influence whom?”). Instead it was assuming that personal circumstances influence how seriously knowledge is taken and then asking me: does it matter?
So, suddenly, my standard analytic approach of breaking things down carefully and then building them up again seemed deeply problematic. It was time to try something different.
I decided to switch gears and focus on the whole question of mattering. What does it mean, I asked myself, to matter? Clearly this was a subjective appraisal: I might think that something matters, while someone else might think it doesn’t. But that, in itself, didn’t really help. After all, I was unlikely to find any objective truth in a core aspect of any TOK title – that is, after all, the whole point of the exercise.
Then I began thinking of how I could be sure that I felt something mattered. This is quite different, it should be stressed, than the subjective/objective distinction referred to a moment ago: I’m not talking about how I can be sure that something does matter (which is pretty well impossible given its inherently subjective nature) but rather how I can be sure that I think that something matters. Are there some surefire signs, in other words, that I can point to that indicate that I think that something matters.
And the more I thought about it, the more I began to conclude that indeed there were such signs: when I think that something matters I feel it instinctively in my gut. It is deeply tied, in other words, to a combination of emotions, intuition, and my personal moral judgement.
Suddenly, I instinctively felt that I was on a more productive path to addressing what was being asked.
The Titled Assistance – Supporting PT 3 video is now available on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to all individual subscribers and subscribing schools. It can be found in the Student TOK section, Teacher Resources section and general Theory of Knowledge section (under “TOK Compilations”). It provides a detailed discussion of PT 3 with four specific examples from our resources to highlight the concepts under discussion, with the accompanying PDF recommending a further 4 Ideas Roadshow resources. It is slightly less than 30 minutes long.
For information about an affordable individual teacher or student subscription which provides full access to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, including all Titled Assistance videos PT 1-6 please visit our website, for students, here and for teachers, here.