The first step in the TOK essay process is breaking down each Prescribed Title and looking closely at the key word and phrases.

1. “If a disagreement about knowledge claims needs to be resolved, then it is essential to give equal attention to both sides.” Under what circumstances is this good advice?

Disagreement – This word can mean different things in different AOKs and in different RLEs.  Each AOK tries to resolve disagreements in different ways.

Knowledge claims – The TOK essay must clearly identify the knowledge claim in the RLE that is being disputed.

Needs – Some AOKs have a greater need than other to resolve disagreements.  The methodology of mathematics and the sciences, for example, is designed so that researchers can reach consensus.  The arts does have some disagreements that need some form of resolution.  

Resolved – How are disputes resolved?  Consider how disputes in ethics are debated and resolved in ways that compare and contrast to how disputes are handled in history, for example.

Essential – Under what circumstances is it essential to give .  Essential is quite a strong word and RLEs should be chosen carefully so that the situation in the RLE is a powerful as the word “essential.”

Equal attention – Equal attention does not necessarily mean the same attention.  Both side in the vaccination debate may get equal attention in social psychology research project but they may not get the same kind of attention.

Both sides – Each side of the dispute in the RLE needs to be clearly identified. A “side” could refer to a person, a government, a school of criticism (e.g. Marxism), etc.

What circumstances – The circumstances could refer at first to a particular AOK and then to an RLE within that AOK.  The same AOK will have different circumstances where it is good or bad advice to give both sides equal treatment.

Good advice – Who views the equal treatment as good advice?  This phrase should be linked in the essay to a Different Perspective.  A good TOK essay on this Prescribed Title should provide evidence of people / organization etc. that view it as good advice.

2. “Understanding something requires being able to answer ‘What if…?’ questions about it.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? 

Understanding something – On on side, “understanding something” could be interpreted as understanding the basic fundamentals of atomic structure, poetic conventions, the causes of WWII, attachment theory in psychology, etc.  A solid (but maybe somewhat limited) understanding of a particular topic may not require the investigation of ‘What if…?’ questions.  

On the other side, “understanding something” could mean a much more in-depth knowledge of something.  This deeper level of knowledge may require a researcher, artist, etc. to look at ‘What if…?’ questions. Some significant breakthroughs in knowledge only happened because people took the extra step and asked ‘What if…?’ questions.

‘What if…?’ questions – You will need to find RLEs that have and other that don’t have What if…?’ questions connected to them.  

To what extent do you agree – Any time this is in a TOK essay Prescribed Title keep in mind that with your essay as a whole it is very unlikely you that you are going to completely agree or disagree.  Remember your essay needs both claims and counterclaims to be successful.

3. “Too much of our knowledge revolves around ourselves, as if we are the most important thing in the universe” (adapted from Carlo Rovelli). Why might this be problematic?

Too much – This phrase does not need that all that much explanation here or in the essay. Clearly, a TOK essay on November Prescribed Title #3 does need to argue the “Too much” part of the statement.

Our knowledge / Ourselves / We – The “our,” “ourselves,” and “we” in the broadest sense could refer to humanity.  But it could also be interpreted in a narrower way.  “Our knowledge” could refer to the collective knowledge of people in an AOK or even in a very narrow area of expertise. “Our” could also be linked to a nationality, culture, gender, etc. A TOK essay on this Prescribed Title needs to look at RLEs where problems are caused by people not looking outside their own sphere.

As if we are the most important thing in the universe – You need to find and discuss RLEs where a kind of narrow-mindedness / confidence / arrogance can create problems.

4. “The process of gaining knowledge is more valuable than reaching an end result.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge. 

The process – This will differ with each AOK and RLE.  Even similar processes may be handled differently in different circumstances.  A slow methodical approach to getting a plane ready for takeoff is not appropriate in some military situations.  Look are carefully at the Knowledge Framework for the AOK you are considering for this TOK essay Prescribed Title.

Gaining knowledge – Knowledge is gained in very different ways for very different purposes.  The reason why knowledge in gained in an RLE may affect the process. Look carefully at the specifics of how and why knowledge is gained in different RLEs.

Valuable – Your essay as a whole should have RLEs where the process is more valuable and others where the end result is more valuable.  Keep in mind that a TOK essay needs claims and counterclaims – you may find RLEs where you can find elements where the process is more important and others where the end result is.

Also consider the Knowledge Framework for each AOK and think carefully about the balance between process and end result.  

Two areas of knowledge – No clarification necessary.  Stick to two.

5. “The questions we can ask depend more on what we already know than on what we do not know.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge. 

The questions – What kinds of questions are asked in an AOK? What kinds of questions are being asked in a specific RLE? How are these questions answered?

What we already know / What we do not know – Think about these two phrases and the Prescribed Title in an RLE where a researcher has a question.  The question may be based on something the researcher already knows.  Or, perhaps the question is something new and isn’t connected to the researcher’s previous knowledge.

Two areas of knowledge – No clarification necessary.  Stick to two.

6. “Reliable knowledge can lack certainty.” Explore this claim with reference to twoareas of knowledge. 

Reliable knowledge – Reliable knowledge can be interpreted in a few slightly different ways.  It can mean something along the lines of consistent or trustworthy depending on the context. Reliable knowledge can have wholly different meanings depending on the AOK and RLE.  Think carefully about what it takes for knowledge to be viewed as reliable.  

Lack certainty – Knowledge that can lack certainty won’t be able provide confidence and may create doubt. 

Like the other Prescribed Titles that have two central key terms, you need to look for RLEs where reliable knowledge can lack certainty and other RLEs where reliable knowledge must have certainty.

Two areas of knowledge – No clarification necessary.  Stick to two.