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Unpacking the 2023 November TOK Titles: A Comprehensive IB Solved Guide

The November 2023 titles for the IB Theory of Knowledge Essay have been released! Let's face it – the TOK essay can be very intimidating. With so many topics to choose from and so many ideas bouncing around, it can be hard to know where to begin. That's where we come in. In this post, we'll take a closer look at each of the titles and give you some tips for approaching them.


General Tips to Unpacking a Title


Whenever we approach a prompt, we always want to think in terms of perspectives and counter-perspectives (for those who are familiar with the old syllabus, these were previously known as claims and counterclaims). This allows us to structure the essay within the two selected AOKs, creating four paragraphs directly addressing the title and with consideration of varying perspectives on the title. While the final conclusion that we draw will likely lie somewhere in the middle, or argue that each perspective is more/less correct in different circumstances, it is often helpful to think of the two extremes first before trying to come up with a more nuanced conclusion.


So let’s get into unpacking them – here is everything you need to know about each of the November 2023 TOK Essay titles:


Title 1: Are facts alone enough to prove a claim? Discuss with reference to any two areas of knowledge.


Recommended AOKs: Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, History


For this title, the perspective and counter-perspective are straightforward – either facts alone are enough to prove a claim, or they are not.


Some ideas to think about which support the first perspective:


  1. Facts are objective – By providing objective evidence for a claim, facts can be a highly reliable form of evidence to support claims made by knowers. This objectivity allows for the same claim to be proven across time, in different cultures and by unique knowers.

  2. Facts allow for conclusions to be drawn through logic – By combining an array of established facts, deductive reasoning can be utilised to draw conclusions about the world and produce new knowledge. Often facts form the premises from which knowledge claims can be made, allowing a knower to prove a claim by first establishing a series of interconnected facts.

  3. Facts can be tested – This is particularly important for science-based AOKs which rely upon falsification as an important method of producing new knowledge. Since facts can be tested, the veracity of a knower’s claim is always available to be disproven by empirical evidence.


For your counter-perspective, you have a far greater degree of freedom in your discussion. This is where you can really differentiate your essay from others, as it is your job to decide which other important elements beyond facts alone may be necessary to prove a claim. Some ideas from us:


  1. Opinions – Whilst opinions lack the objectivity of facts, they are often important to proving knowledge claims, as these claims are often unable to be proven by facts alone. Rather inferences must be drawn to create meaning from facts. This can be illustrated through a very simple claim: Imagine for instance that we were trying to prove the claim that Germany were responsible for World War I. Whilst we could drawn upon facts, such as the fact that they issued a blank cheque to Austria-Hungary or the fact that they invaded Belgium in August 1914, ultimately we rely upon the opinions of historians in making a judgement on how important this was in the context of the war.

  2. Personal Experience – Whilst personal experiences only provide anecdotal evidence and cannot allow us to draw broader conclusions, they may be necessary to prove a claim which involves emotion or personal beliefs.

  3. Creativity – Creative thinking may be necessary to prove claims, particularly in the sciences, where facts alone are insufficient. For instance, scientific theories, whilst based in fact, are often dependent on analogies, comparisons and metaphor to explain abstract concepts for which there may not yet be any measurable or empirical evidence.



Title 2: If “the mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s and the poet’s, must be beautiful” (G.H. Hardy), how might this impact the production of knowledge? Discuss with reference to mathematics and the arts.


This title is far more intricate than the others, relying heavily upon the definitions you impose upon key terms. The concept of the “mathematician’s patterns” and the term “beautiful” must be defined in the opening of the essay, as this will restrict the scope of your knowledge exploration. The way in which we would recommend splitting up this topic would be to first discuss the impact upon the production of knowledge in mathematics and then within the Arts. Some ideas for the perspectives and counter-perspectives which you may explore include:


  1. Beauty in Mathematics – You will want to consider the importance of beauty in Mathematics. This is not referring to beauty in the traditional sense but perhaps considering other ways in which Mathematics may be considered beautiful such as in its way of transforming complex real-world problems into simple symbols which can be solved. This can impact the production of knowledge as mathematicians may choose to ignore solutions which are complex and rough – in other words, ‘mathematically ugly’.

  2. Beauty in Art – In discussing this AOK, you may consider the debate between aestheticism and purpose within the Arts – In other words, is Art merely supposed to ‘look good’ or does it have a greater purpose, and how does this relate to the production of knowledge in and through the Arts.


Title 3: In the acquisition of knowledge, is following experts unquestioningly as dangerous as ignoring them completely? Discuss with reference to the human sciences and one other area of knowledge.


Recommended AOKs: Human Sciences and Natural Sciences/History/Math


This title presents a very contemporary issue which is the questioning of experts and trust in the knowledge produced by experts. Nonetheless, there is a clear perspective and counter-perspective presented by this title – it is either more dangerous to follow experts unquestioningly or more dangerous to ignore them completely.


Some ideas relevant to the first perspective:


  1. Evidence over Experts – By following experts unquestioningly, rather than examining the quality of their evidence and research methods, we fall into the trap of making arguments from authority without confirming that their conclusions are actually correct.

  2. Subjective Experiences – While experts are helpful in drawing general conclusions/findings about the world, they do not account for subjective, individual experiences. This is particularly relevant in the Human Sciences, as theories and claims of human behaviour may not apply to all people due to the uniqueness of humans.

  3. Lack of Progress – It is only by questioning established paradigms and claims made by existing experts that we are able to progress and acquire new knowledge. If all experts are followed unquestioningly, there can be no overhaul of existing knowledge when necessary.


Some ideas relevant to the counter-perspective:


  1. Established Research Systems – Experts are trained in effective research methodologies and have systems to maximise the reliability of the claims they make. By ignoring experts, we are instead relying upon knowledge of laypeople whose claims have not been rigorously assessed for their veracity.

  2. Manipulation and Logical Fallacies – By ignoring the claims of experts and instead acquiring knowledge through prominent figures such as celebrities and the media, we expose ourselves to manipulation and the array of logical fallacies employed by these individuals who have their own agenda beyond the dissemination of knowledge.

  3. Knowledge Framework – Experts develop knowledge frameworks which can guide the production of new knowledge. By ignoring experts, we are often left to deal with problems on a case-by-case basis which can lead to a lack of consistency and structure within the knowledge which is acquired.


Title 4: Is it problematic that knowledge is so often shaped by the values of those who produce it? Discuss with reference to any two areas of knowledge.


Recommended AOKs: History, Arts, Human Sciences


This title has a focus on context and values, integral elements of the knowledge framework within the new syllabus. It also has two clear perspectives to be explored – the claim that it is problematic or the claim that it is not, keeping in mind that across both perspectives, it must be specified how knowledge is shaped by individual values.


Some ideas for the first perspective:


  1. Bias – The shaping of knowledge by one’s individual values can create bias which may impede the reliability of knowledge produced through the lens of these values.

  2. Subjectivity – If subjective beliefs founded in one’s values are imported into the production of knowledge which should be based on facts and evidence, this can be problematic for this knowledge.

  3. Lack of Diversity/One-Sided Knowledge – When entire banks of knowledge are produced by individuals from the same background, culture, beliefs or school of thought, this can lead to the omission of other perspectives on an issue, which can limit the knowledge which is produced.


Some ideas relevant to the counter-perspective:


  1. Individual Perspective are Important – It is often important for a knower to incorporate their own personal perspective in the production of knowledge as this is ultimately the only way in which interpretations and opinions beyond mere facts can be drawn.

  2. Knowledge about the Knower – We can often learn more about a knower, their values and the social norms of their time when evaluating knowledge claims which are shaped by individual values, providing a second layer of ‘knowledge within knowledge’.

  3. Specific Knowledge – Whilst not broadly applicable to people or contexts with different values, knowledge produced by those with particular individual values can be more specific and applicable to knowers within the same value system. This form of ‘insider knowledge’ may be shaped by the personal experiences of an individual, which is an asset to the production of knowledge rather than a hinderance.


Title 5: Is it always the case that “the world isn’t just the way it is, it is how we understand it – and in understanding something, we bring something to it” (adapted from Life of Pi by Yann Martel)? Discuss with reference to history and the natural sciences.


This title touches upon the debate between objective and relativistic views of knowledge and the world. The phrase ‘is it always the case’ allows us to derive two perspectives to explore – it either is always the case or it is not. The first perspective requires arguments which explain why this may always be the case, whereas the second only requires you to provide some exceptions/circumstances in which this would not be the case.


Some ideas for the first perspective:


  1. Interpretation creates Meaning – It may be argued that all elements of the world must be interpreted and doing so involves the unique lens of each individual knower. In this way, what we bring to the production of knowledge is our own distinct interpretation of the world around us.

  2. Questioning creates Meaning – We could also consider how the questions which knowers ask are unique and based upon our own individual understanding of the world. This means that something new is created each time a new knower attempts to understand the world, as the questions asked and curiosity of each individual provides a distinct approach to knowledge.


Some ideas for the counter-perspective:


  1. Objectivity Exists – It may be argued that there are some elements of the world which are fixed, unquestionable and objective. These components of knowledge are not dependent upon the interpretation of the individual, as there should be objective standards from which everyone should draw the same conclusion.

  2. Repeatability – Particularly in the Natural Sciences, there are some elements of knowledge which are repeatable and not reliant upon the interpretation of the individual knower. This concept of repeatability is a foundational tenet of the sciences and the production of new knowledge of the world around us.


Title 6: Faced with a vast amount of information, how do we select what is significant for the acquisition of knowledge? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.


Recommended AOKs: Natural Sciences and Human Sciences/History/Arts


This title questions the way in which we determine whether a piece of information is significant for knowledge. Since this is a ‘how’ question, there are many perspectives which can be explored, rather than a clear binary of perspectives. Some ideas from us:


  1. Selection through Merit – This concept is particularly relevant to the Natural Sciences, as the theories which are ultimately deemed as significant are those which are not falsified. This merit-based approach pits scientific theories against each other to determine which are significant for the acquisition of knowledge.

  2. Selection through Structure and Processes – By establishing set systems and procedures for filtering the vast amount of information available within an AOK, we can make selections as to which knowledge is significant.

  3. Selection through Applicability – When judging what is significant for the acquisition of knowledge, a knower may have to consider the vast amount of information and decipher which piece of information is most applicable to their context, values or specific circumstances.

 

So there you have it! By now, you should have a better idea about which TOK essay title stands out the most to you and maybe even a few ideas about what to write. But where do you begin? Don't worry, we understand that writing a Theory of Knowledge essay can be a daunting task, but with the help of our expert IB tutors, you'll be on your way to success in no time. Plus, with online IB tutoring available, you can get the help you need from anywhere in the world. Don't let the TOK essay stress you out – contact us today to learn more about our IB tutoring services and how we can help you succeed in your IB studies.


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