Tok Essay Doubt Is The Key To Knowledge


Candidate # 002203-069 Asharib Syed

as a way of knowing (its subjective interpretations, the inability of words to


represent human thoughts, and possible translation gaps) entertain limitations in understanding. Having discussed preliminary details with regardsto the proverb, we can now voyage into evaluating the validity of the prescribed title in two areas of knowledge,science and history.The causes and effects of doubt are adequate grounds of comparison between the areas of knowledge of history and science. In science, doubt is often caused by reason or sense perception. Scientists doubt the dubiousclaims of individuals predicting earthquakes based on the aches and ‘feeling’ of their knee bones. As uraniumdecays it creates radon gas which collects in underground pockets; these trapped gasses are released by tremors thatoccur days before earthquakes. Hence, scientists used deductive reasoning and concluded that wherever releasedradon gas can be detected, an earthquake would soon follow


.In this situation, seismologists doubted the knowledgeclaims of individuals basing earthquake prediction on intuition. Using


doubt, they sought to discover amore scientific approach in predicting earthquakes. Hence, objective doubts and curiosity led to the discovery of anew technique which now gives locals knowledge of impending earthquakes. In this case, objective doubts led to a pursuit of discovery, which in turn produced knowledge.In the area of knowledge of science, cases where objective doubt leads to knowledge are ubiquitous.Subatomic particles known as neutrinos are a product of radioactive decay. They emerge from cosmic events andregularly bombard the Earth. However, magnetic fields in space make the discovery of these neutral particles (and physical proof, beyond theory) impossible. Scientists have set out to prove the physical existence of neutrinos beyond doubt by using sense perception. When neutrinos hit arctic ice they create a ‘muon’ particle which gives aflash of blue light—this light when captured by photo sensors set in the ice (visual observation, sense perception)gives physical proof that neutrinos exist


. Hence, the pursuit of objective doubt often creates an inquisitivecuriousness that when seeking proofs, leads to knowledge. Conversely, if doubt arises


for which


are not sought, than doubt creates only questions and not answers, or knowledge. In science when doubt createsquestions, those questions create a pursuit for answers, hence these ‘answers’ lead to knowledge.While


doubt in the area of science may inspire discovery and curiosity, leading to knowledge;


doubt in History, contrastingly, may not lead to knowledge. Emotion and language are two subjectiveways of knowing which play significant roles in the area of knowledge of history. At the end of WWI, article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles known as the ‘war guilt clause,’ put the entire war’s blame solely on Germany


. Europeannations that lost millions of lives and were suffering from war debt, found it emotionally suitable to put unilateral blame on Germany’s aggressions. Within a decade as ‘


cooled,’ Sydney Bradshaw Fay doubted the earlier opinion and presented a theory that explained the cause of World War 1 as being more complex than just ‘it’sGermany’s fault.’ He argued that WWI was caused by an intricate combination of balance of power diplomacy,alliances, nationalism and economic reasons. However, historians and nations around the world did not suddenly


Popular Science, December 2010, pg 25


Ibid, pg 17-19


Examiner comments

Essay A—Level 2 (3 marks)

There is some tenuous evidence that the candidate has considered relevant knowledge questions- in particular to do with the nature of truth and the degree to which we share it especially when analysing Picasso’s assertion that art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth.

There are implicit links to perception and emotion (“seeing” and “feeling”) and, at a stretch, history (Hitler) and the human sciences (“human nature”). However, these links, besides being superficial, are not directly connected to the prescribed title.

There are traces of a basic line of argumentation, as in the idea that pictures are more powerful than words, weakly supported by a hypothetical example, and there is an attempt to justify assertions using vague phrases such as: “others might understand it differently” or “many would argue”.

In general, examples are not well developed (for example Hitler’s propaganda taken as a form of art) and sometimes clumsy.

The work, besides being descriptive regarding certain characteristics of abstract art, lacks focus and shows little coherence.

This essay displays minimal characteristics of a level 2 performance; therefore, it deserved 3 instead of 4.

Essay B—Level 3 (6 marks)

This essay examines ways of knowing as entities that are both responsible for, and guardians against, doubt. The candidate focuses on the difficulties of avoiding doubt in history and the human sciences as a result of our inability to access directly the past and future, and the human mind, respectively. Doubt is cast as a positive ingredient in the search for knowledge when it motivates the gathering of more evidence, and as a hindrance to knowledge when it is allowed to overwhelm an appreciation of the most likely scenario, as in conspiracy "theories". These are stronger points in the essay. However, knowledge is rather strictly defined as justified true belief on several occasions, which closes off the opportunity to discuss the possibility that uncertainty is an unavoidable ingredient of knowledge, and to address its relationship with doubt. The definition is also not built into an effective part of the analysis. While areas of knowledge and ways of knowing are certainly linked in the essay, they are not treated with much precision ("secondary perception"?) or depth (reason, emotion, etc.), and the arguments that surround them are patchy. Counterclaims are evident, but the argumentation cannot be described as more than adequate.

Essay C—Level 4 (7 marks)

There is a consistent focus on knowledge questions concerned with the relationship between doubt and knowledge as the prescribed title asks.

The essay is well organized with paragraphs devoted to claims and counterclaims with respect to whether doubt has a role in knowledge acquisition, and, if so, whether that role is positive or negative.

The arguments are clear, supported by good examples, and some effective links to the history and arts. Regarding personal examples (doubt about the origin of life, the origin of the Swedish wooden plate), some were more effective than others. Also the use of psychology to counter claim that doubt is the origin of knowledge was pertinent and coherent.

It is a thoughtful and intelligent piece of work, clearly showing the candidate’s engagement with the knowledge questions.

This essay displays the characteristic typical of level 4, however, since some of the examples, in spite of being pertinent and coherent, were not original and thoroughly evaluated, the mark awarded was 7.

Essay D—Level 5 (9 marks)

There is a sustained focus on knowledge questions confirming and contradicting that “doubt is the key to knowledge”, as the prescribed title demands. A clear approach using different perspectives shown in real-life examples related to different areas of knowledge can be easily identified.

The first examples, regarding mathematics move from a personal example on how the student visualizes her own learning in class to a more sophisticated topic like the way conjectures are dealt with, emphasizing effective links to ways of knowing, especially reason.

Then there is an insightful investigation about religion, viewing it from different perspectives, focusing on Christianity, Islam and a way of proving that God exists, showing how doubting in that context might be a key to knowledge and how not.

Arguments are carefully and clearly developed. Every assertion is effectively evaluated giving a proper place to authority, experience, the search of truth, among other relevant TOK issues. The student definitely acknowledges the implications drawn in each of the examples.

It is worth pointing out that in spite of the effective and well-supported examples, the fact that they were not fully evaluated resulted in a mark of 9 being awarded instead of the highest possible mark of 10.

Essay E—Level 1 (1 marks)

The introduction to the essay is a one-dimensional statement about passive observation and active experimentation which gives no further indication on what to expect from the essay. This is followed by a paragraph which describes how a book on T’ai-Chi made the writer think about the research he/she were undertaking on bifurcation theory which then leads to a consideration of the knowledge question. The links to the title are totally unconvincing. The candidate then claims to consider the scientific method through the example of Fazey and Hardy and then through the planet Pluto no longer being classed as a planet. The explanation of the examples is very difficult to follow and the relevance to the title left entirely to the reader to determine. The example of Carl Linnaeus does make an understandable reference to passive observation and active experimentation, but how it links to what went before is difficult to see. The argument on passive experiment which follows this is almost wholly incomprehensible. The example which follows on Piaget is more comprehensible but not convincing. In the conclusion the candidate begins a whole new example of mathematics and the division of zero by zero, and again the link to the title remains very difficult to see. Ultimately most of the essay is a stream of examples which are difficult to follow in their own right, but become virtually impossible to follow in relation to the title. Occasionally there are references back to the title which although unexplored could have relevance. This saves the essay from being placed in the level 0 descriptor and hence is placed at the lower end of the level one descriptor.

Essay F—Level 1 (2 marks)

The essay begins with a disjointed introduction which only shows a very limited understanding of the title. The question posed at the end of the first paragraph seems, at best, tangentially related to the title. The description of the arts and history which follows adds very little. The whole of the essay from this point on is based on an understanding of the women’s movement through the arts and history, but the role played by the arts and history is left to the reader to figure out. As this section progresses the candidate introduces a specific example but no mention is made of personal and shared knowledge. By this point the candidate has entirely lost the focus on the title. The link to personal and shared knowledge is then addressed at the end of this description on history, feminism and art, but only shows an ineffective understanding. However, on a very basic level this section of the essay needs to be given credit as it is not wholly ineffective. Overall this is a basic and descriptive essay which only seems to occasionally reference the title. It is clearly in the level one descriptor but the brief attempt at the end to address shared knowledge shaping personal knowledge is enough to place it at the upper end of the descriptor.

Essay G—Level 2 (3 marks)

The introduction has some focus on the title but demonstrates that a full understanding of what is meant by a neutral question is limited. The candidate then moves on to consider an example from the media, which highlights some basic points about the title, but it is unclear how this relates to areas of knowledge. At the end of the paragraph it is suggested that journalism will be considered in this essay, but how this links to human sciences which is the suggestion for one of the areas of knowledge under discussion remains unclear. The candidate makes a rudimentary attempt to consider the natural sciences, but the sentence “Therefore natural sciences may be just a hypothesis reflecting scientists’ personal and social values and beliefs.” underlines the lack of analysis in the essay. The example of thalidomide has a basic relevance to the title, but only gives the reader a superficial understanding of the role of neutral questions in the natural sciences. The idea of outside groups influencing the natural sciences and hence neutral questions is relevant, but the argument remains underdeveloped. The candidate then attempts to address human sciences through the media, bur this fails to demonstrate any understanding of the human sciences – the Charlie Hebdo example is completely ineffective in the context in which it is being used. The conclusion adds nothing new to the essay. The work on the natural sciences is at the top end of level 2 bordering level 3, whereas the work on the human sciences is at the bottom end of level 2 bordering level one. Hence overall this essay is best described by the level 2 descriptor but at the lower end. This is a rudimentary and superficial essay.

Essay H—Level 2 (4 marks)

The essay starts with a quite promising introduction, which makes a genuine but not wholly successful attempt to define terms and give an indication of the scope of the essay. The knowledge question stated at the end of the introduction is potentially slightly tangential to the title, but is not fully explored in the body of the essay. The main body of the essay starts with a consideration of faith which is rather descriptive and the brief example provided of cheating on a test is trivial. The example of cheating is then extended into a long counter claim which shows a superficial understanding of either the areas of knowledge under consideration or the ways of knowing. The candidate then considers intuition and makes the distinction between intuition and instinct which is a positive point. Unfortunately the candidate then again gives a weak example which leads to a rudimentary argument which lacks depth. The conclusion to the essay demonstrates that the candidate only has a limited understanding of the question. The essay shows some awareness of knowledge questions related to the title, but the level of exploration is weak and not fully focused on the title; the focus on the ways of knowing being responsible for instinctive judgements rather than acting as “checks” is problem in this essay. The examples provided are weak and there is only a superficial understanding of the areas of knowledge and ways of knowing. Overall this is a limited and underdeveloped essay which is clearly in the level 2 descriptor, but at the upper end.

Essay I—Level 3 (5 marks)

The introduction to the essay is relevant but not well focused. The almost immediate focus on passive experimentation before any real exploration of the main concepts raised in the title detracts from the quality of the essay. The treatment of passive observation within the arts has basic relevance and shows a typical level of analysis. The treatment of active experimentation in Chemistry and the subsequent analysis shows a slightly better understanding. The case is then made for a continuum which is reasonably well-handled by the student. The conclusion is very typical of essays at this level. The candidate focuses implicitly on some knowledge questions, but this needed to be more convincing. Counterclaims are identified rather than analysed. There is a limited understanding of the areas of knowledge chosen by this candidate and it does not succeed in developing any different perspectives – it is a one track essay. Overall this is a mainstream and adequate essay, which addresses the basic ideas of the title and demonstrates some analysis. It is in the level 3 descriptor but at the lower end.

Essay J—Level 3 (6 marks)

The essay starts with a reasonable introduction, but it is not fully clear where the essay is heading. The treatment of language shows some limited understanding. The example from history is relevant but is not well thought through and is rather generalised. The candidate seems to be keen to bring in the ways of knowing, which is fine, but they are not always well related to the areas of knowledge which is the focus of the essay. At the point where the candidate addresses the role of imagination in both history and the natural sciences there is an improvement, but the overall level is critical analysis remains limited. In terms of examples the treatment of evolution is limited and the belief that the pyramids were built by aliens detracts from the essay. The essay now moves on to mathematics which is problematic as the title requires the writer to address only two areas of knowledge. This is an essay that has some reasonable features. Some knowledge questions are the focus of the essay and the fact that they are implicit rather than explicit does not detract from the essay. There is some understanding of areas of knowledge but it is not profound. Some counterclaims are attempted but not wholly successfully. The essay is not wholly balanced and the focus on bias is not necessarily helpful as the idea that ‘bias’ can channel enquiry in a helpful direction is lost. In this case perspectives may have been a more useful term. This essay is on the border between level 3 and level 4, but because of the limited analysis and the use of three areas of knowledge, the decision was made that the essay was in the level 3 descriptor at the high end.

K—Level 4 (7 marks)

The essay begins with a coherent introduction which demonstrates some understanding of the question, but is not wholly successful in identifying the scope of the essay. The essay is focused on some interesting, thoughtful and original examples and the candidate manages to analyse these examples from a ToK perspective. The example of Darwin is well formulated and relevant but suggests that the interaction between personal and shared knowledge is not as described in the title. A stronger link in terms of interrogating the title would have been more successful here. The example of Dadaism is effective but is a little lacking in analysis. The example of African sculpture is less effective. The example about Bacon provides a credible counter example. Although the use of examples is excellent the way in which the candidate links to them to knowledge questions is more problematic. Ultimately the candidate has given the reader some excellent examples but has not succeeded in fully unpacking the knowledge questions – too much work is left to the reader. This also detracts slightly from the understanding shown of both the areas of knowledge and associated ways of knowing. This is by no means a very problematic essay but it is one with significant flaws. Hence the use of the global assessment instrument here is a little difficult since arguments are clear and evaluated, it is pertinent and relevant and the examples excellent; unfortunately the recognition of knowledge questions and the understanding of areas of knowledge and ways of knowing is a little less convincing. Overall this is an essay in the level 4 descriptor but at the lower end.

Essay L—Level 4 (7 marks)

This is a thoughtful and well-organised essay. The candidate begins by providing a lucid introduction giving a clear direction for the essay. The candidate then gives a rather long, but personal and relevant example from history. There is clearly evidence of analysis in this section and the candidate succeeds in linking it back to the title. The counter example of the Ebola virus is reasonable but a little descriptive. The candidate then provides a reasonable conclusion. There are two problems with the essay. Firstly it is rather unbalanced with the knowledge questions coming from the long example. The focus here is on history as an area of knowledge but the candidate does try to incorporate some of the ways of knowing which redresses some of the balance. Secondly the candidate never really distinguishes between meaning and purpose. The arguments are certainly clear, coherent and relate to the examples but whether the evaluation is effective is questionable. Knowledge questions are not identified explicitly but are certainly given implicitly although the unbalanced nature of the essay stops it being described as a sustained focus. Overall this is in the level 4 descriptor and the unbalanced nature of the essay means it is not at the top end of the descriptor.

Essay M—Level 5 (9 marks)

The essay has a clear introduction which indicates the scope of the essay. The essay is fully focused on the title and the distinction between personal and shared knowledge along with the idea of shared knowledge influencing personal knowledge is very much at the forefront of the essay. This means that the essay is not structured through the areas of knowledge and ways of knowing; nevertheless an understanding of these is still very much in evidence. This is an example of a very personal and highly insightful response from a candidate which still retains credibility – for example the treatment of ethics is clear and engaged with the title, even though the candidate does not relate this through formal theories of ethics. Knowledge questions are not explicitly stated but the clarity of the response indicates that there is a sustained focus on the answers to knowledge questions. The essay deals well with counter claims. In this case, by choosing to structure the essay through shared and personal knowledge a little depth is lost in the analysis of the areas of knowledge, which in part stops this essay from being awarded the highest grade. This essay is also slightly flawed by the fact that the candidate does not fully explore the implications of what is being said. Nevertheless the highly personal voice of the essay combined with a strong focus on the title and good analysis makes this a lucid and compelling level 5 essay, but at the lower end of the band.

Essay N—Level 5 (10 marks)

This is a clear, well organised and coherent essay. The essay begins with a clear introduction which gives the reader a strong indication of the scope of the essay. The candidate has chosen to structure the essay through good examples and has demonstrated the role of ways of knowing and areas of knowledge within those examples to great effect. For example the treatment of ethics and history within the context of the justice system is insightful and lucid and shows excellent awareness of ToK. The treatment of medical scenarios is not quite as good, but is nevertheless a strong piece of ToK analysis. The candidate has effectively shown different perspectives and analysed counterclaims. Overall this is an accomplished and compelling piece of writing containing relevant, well thought through examples and arguments which are effectively evaluated and lead to a coherent conclusion. Knowledge questions are not explicitly stated but the clarity of the response indicates that there is a sustained focus on the answers to knowledge questions. Although the treatment of implications is a little limited and the conclusion a little pedestrian, this remains a cogent and discerning essay. Hence it is clearly a level 5 essay and the minor flaws do not stop it being awarded the highest mark.

Essay O—Level 5 (10 marks)

Overall this is a clear, well organised and coherent essay. It starts out relevantly but not profoundly but as the essay progresses into the natural science and the writer’s personal circumstances there is an improvement in the level of analysis. By the end of the essay the candidate has written an individual and compelling response to the title. The knowledge questions are not explicitly stated but the insightful nature of the essay demonstrates that there has been a consistent focus on the answers to knowledge questions. The fact that the candidate links the areas of knowledge under question back with each other at various points in the essay is indicative of the sophistication of this essay. The candidate succeeds in addressing counter-examples and in showing a variety of perspectives, which results in a highly effective evaluation of the areas of knowledge. The essay succeeds in making some substantive implications, although this could be improved. This is not a perfect ToK essay, but it is lucid and accomplished. Despite the flaws this response fully fits the level 5 descriptors and hence lies at the upper end of that level.


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