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IB Theory of Knowledge Sample

IB Theory of Knowledge Sample

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Published by: Darren Lim on Oct 04, 2012
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Richard van de Lagemaat
Theory ofKnowledge
for the IB Diploma
‘The greatest obstacle to progress isnot the absence of knowledge but theillusion of knowledge.’ 
Daniel Boorstin, 1914–2004
‘The familiar is not understood simply because it is familiar.’ 
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770–1831
‘By doubting we are led to enquire, and by enquiry we perceive the truth.’ 
Peter Abélard, 1079–1142
‘All men have opinions, but few think.’ 
George Berkeley, 1685–1753
‘What men really want is not knowledge but certainty.’ 
Bertrand Russell, 1872–1970
‘A very popular error – having thecourage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack upon one’s convictions.’ 
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900
‘Common sense consists of thoselayers of prejudice laid downbefore the age of 18.’ 
Albert Einstein, 1879–1955
‘It is the customary fate of new truthsto begin as heresies and to end assuperstitions.’ 
 T. H. Huxley, 1825–95
‘There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything, or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.’ 
Alfred Korzybski, 1879–1950
‘We know too much to be sceptics and too little to be dogmatists.’ 
Blaise Pascal, 1623–62
‘Man is made by his belief. As hebelieves, so he is.’ 
Bhagavad Gita, 500 BCE
‘To know one’s ignorance is the best  part of knowledge.’ 
Lao Tzu,
600 BCE
‘To teach how to live without certainty,and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy in our age can still do for those who study it.’ 
Bertrand Russell, 1872–1970
The problem ofknowledge
 www.cambridge.org© in this web service Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-1-107-66996-3 - Theory of Knowledge for the IB DiplomaRichard van de LagemaatExcerptMore information
Knowers and knowing
We live in a strange and perplexing world. Despite the explosive growth of knowledge inrecent decades, we are confronted by a bewildering array of contradictory beliefs. We aretold that astronomers have made great progress in understanding the universe in which welive, yet many people still believe in astrology. Scientists claim that the dinosaurs died out65 million years ago, yet some insist that dinosaurs and human beings lived simultaneously.Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, but it is rumoured in some quarters that thelandings were faked by NASA. A work of art is hailed as a masterpiece by some critics anddismissed as junk by others. Some people support capital punishment, while others dismissit as a vestige of barbarism. Millions of people believe in God, yet atheists insist that ‘Godis dead’. Faced with such a confusion of different opinions, how are we to make sense of things and develop a coherent picture of reality?Given your school education, you might think of knowledge as a relatively unproblematiccommodity consisting of various facts found in textbooks that have been proved to be true.But things are not as simple as that. After all, if you had attended school one hundred orfive hundred years ago, you would have learned a different set of ‘truths’. This suggests thatknowledge is not static, but has a history and changes over time. Yesterday’s revolution inthought becomes today’s common sense, and today’s common sense may go on to becometomorrow’s superstition. So what guarantee is there that our current understanding of thingsis correct? Despite the intellectual progress of the last five hundred years, future generationsmay look back on our much-vaunted achievements and dismiss our science as crude, ourarts as naive, and our ethics as barbaric.When we consider ourselves from the perspective of the vast reaches of time and space,further doubts arise. According to cosmologists, the universe has been in existence for about15 billion (15,000,000,000) years. If we imagine that huge amount of time compressed intoone year running from January to December, then the earliest human beings do not appearon the scene until around 10.30 p.m. on 31 December, fire was only domesticated at 11.46p.m., and the whole recorded history occupies only the last ten seconds of the cosmic year.Since we have been trying to make sense of the world in a systematic way for only a minutefraction of time, there is no guarantee that we have got it right. Furthermore, it turns outthat in cosmic terms we are also pretty small. According to astronomers, there are ten timesmore stars in the night sky than grains of sand in
the world’s deserts and beaches. Yetwe flatter ourselves that we have discovered the laws that apply to
times and
places.Since we are familiar with only a minute fraction of the universe, this seems like a huge leapof faith. Perhaps it will turn out that some of the deeper truths about life, the universe andeverything are simply beyond human comprehension.
Common sense
Most people do not think that there is a problem of knowledge and they see knowledge asnothing more than organised common sense. While there may be something to be said forthis view, the trouble is that much of what passes for common sense consists of little more
 www.cambridge.org© in this web service Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-1-107-66996-3 - Theory of Knowledge for the IB DiplomaRichard van de LagemaatExcerptMore information

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