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IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng
‘The vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge; it shapes what we can know’. Evaluate this claim with reference to different areas of knowledge. (7)
Samuel Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, once said, “Words are all we have” (1). When we look around us, we find that ranging from advertising, where words are sometimes used to deviant ends to scientific journals, where a more technical jargon is used to convey the logical nature of experiments, language and vocabulary plays a very important role. Literature boasts of powerful works by Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and many others who use words to weave grandiose images of fictional worlds. In fact, our current understanding of history and religion has only been made possible by the passing down of verbal accounts and written documents. Even in Mathematics, the progressive learning of higher order concepts depends on the acceptance of a certain basic syntax. It can‟t be denied that the vocabulary we have does communicate our knowledge in almost all areas of knowledge but does it actually shape the limits of knowledge itself? In Arts, especially Literature and poetry, vocabulary is a powerful tool of expression and communication. Words like „soothing orange‟, „mellow red‟, „meditative languor‟ might be used to convey an author‟s actual experience of a beautiful sunset. Although, an intelligent reader does a fairly satisfactory job in re-constructing the image of the sunset, by the time these words are read, interpreted and visualized by the reader, there is a certain loss of „experience‟. On a basic level, this amount of loss depends on the successful comprehension of the vocabulary itself
For this to be proved true.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng and at a higher level. scientific processes and chemicals which by means of sense perception and inductive logic are used to prove complex hypotheses. and a host of other factors. In fact. where there is a greater degree of succinctness. vocabulary plays an important role too. In that sense. that generates interest and gives everyone‟s take on the art piece a unique perspective? In other areas of knowledge. It is precisely this acceptance of a universal common language of mathematical vocabulary that not only allows for comparison of student performances on a Math exam but also comparison of proofs amongst seasoned mathematicians. cultural gap between the reader and the author. depends on the imagination aptitude of the reader. Mathematical proofs use deductive logic to prove new theories but deductive reasoning is not possible without the familiarity of prior knowledge of technical mathematical jargons. E. In poetry. – Let us consider an „A Priori‟ mathematical proposition like 2+2=4. proofs of new knowledge is shaped by the limit of pre-existing vocabulary. vocabulary plays even a more pivotal role in the sciences. like Natural sciences and Mathematics. there is even a greater chance of misinterpretation. Isn‟t it precisely this gap between the author‟s intended meaning and the reader‟s interpretation. Effective understanding of peer review journals in the scientific community requires not only a technical familiarity of terms and processes but also an intellectual fine tuning that allows the reader to really connect with the Page 2 . Despite this. where there are thousands of specific names for species. it is important to ask whether there is really any „correct‟ or „wrong‟ knowledge being conveyed in the arts.g. one has to take for granted that the reader knows that „+‟ means the addition of the number on its left and right side.
symbols. On further exploration. if the creature runs and gets it. He notices a strange looking creature. nomenclature is inevitable and along with sense perception and logical reasoning. humans are born with innate „moral machinery‟ (3). In other areas of knowledge like Ethics. In fact.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng new knowledge presented. plays a key role in communication as well as shaping up new knowledge in the areas of Science. rather than logical reasoning. invent new symbols or carve out pictorial representations. then he would know more about its locomotion traits. Eventually. In that sense. He is absolutely stumped because this creature doesn‟t fit in any of the animal classification genera and doesn‟t seem to display any of the general animal and plant characteristics. it seems „No‟ but intuitively „Yes‟. a scientist is walking along the beach. But. does vocabulary shape the entire spectrum of knowledge in the sciences and Mathematics? Let‟s look at an interesting thought experiment. then he would coin new words. In 2050. Famous American Novelist Ernest Hemingway once said. Do we read a book to realize that killing another is bad? Don‟t we already „know‟ that stealing is an unpleasant habit? Page 3 . he would probably throw a stick in front of the creature. ethical knowledge falls in the second branch of knowledge called „Innate ideas‟ which do not require any proof of experience because they are already present at the time of birth. one primarily depends on intuition and emotion. “I only know that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after” (2). If the words from the English language don‟t suffice. He would touch the creature and non-scientific words like „hard‟ and „soft‟ would pop up in his head. the use and invention of new language words. Can he know anything about it? At first. according to Harvard professor Marc Hauser.
there have been multiple cases where discovery of confidential documents have re-shaped history and clarified unexplained mysteries. Since most historical facts are beyond our actual experience. can we be sure that these weapons definitely came from that period? Can‟t the Archaeological data itself be flawed? On the other hand though. be used to convey „truth‟ which seems to be is beyond the mind? The area of knowledge where language plays its biggest role is History. All his life. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he'll have to touch it to be sure” (6). Without old historical documents. cultural artifacts. Can language then. arrests. Judging from archeological data on the extensive fortification of early settlements and the widespread existence of weaponry.g. which is a product of thought. trying to communicate such knowledge might be counter to the intended enlightenment of the individual and lead to larger scale havoc in society. E. curtailment of individual freedom by the religious police has bred a hypocritical peace that breaks down quite often. do not know. strikes. there would be no „History‟. do not speak” and “The truth that can be said is not the eternal truth” (5). one will generally have a tendency to believe anything that is put on the table. – In Islamic countries. “Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he'll believe you. the opposite is truer (4). hence the communication of written and spoken language plays a major part in shaping up our current knowledge of History.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng In fact. Lao Tzu would say. Page 4 . Having said that. But. literature books. it has been shown that warfare was prevalent by the time of the Neolithic period. which is the last part of the Stone Age. “Those who speak. Riots. public sentences are common place and instead of the intended purpose of peace being achieved. those who know.
will it? Generally speaking.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng one should be wary of the veracity of such knowledge and should use logical reasoning to construct a more accurate account. „hot‟. Taking a broader perspective. „round nose‟ but the accumulative meaning imparted by these labels will never capture the real essence of the dog. „fluffy tail‟. It is a mere label for the sake of communication. I wouldn‟t be able to place this experience in my experience spectrum since I didn‟t have the prior conceptual knowledge to identify with it. „fun‟. one‟s mind seems to instantly stick labels of „scary‟. medium rare steak but do not possess the definitional knowledge of „salty‟. “Can we ever truly know anything at all?” and so on.g. „soft‟. If one goes through a new experience for which one doesn‟t have any words of description. – If I go to the restaurant and eat a hot. The Page 5 . The word „dog‟ has nothing to do with the real dog. will I be able to identify the experience in terms of enjoyable or bad or even „taste‟ the steak ? In almost all probability. E. It is quite clear that the „representation‟ is not the real. how will one identify this new experience? It seems that actual experience is possible without prior knowledge. “Can one identify new experience without prior knowledge?”. but the knowledge and identification of the experience requires familiarity with a rather strong vocabulary of feelings. My experience is similar to giving a chilly to a baby who still hasn‟t reached the age of learning language. deeper analysis opens up broader knowledge issues like “Can the „word‟ ever truly represent the „real‟?”. emotions and other knowledge concepts. or „exciting‟ to capture the experience in terms of its vocabulary of emotions and feelings. We can conjure up a never ending list of labels like „black eyes‟.
what one can know should be not be shaped by vocabulary and language alone.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng baby will undoubtedly start crying because the hotness of the chilly would fire a response from the neurophysiological system but it wouldn‟t be able to identify or label the experience. Arts. what conclusions can one draw from the above discussion? Accepting the worldwide uniformity in the grasp of vocabulary. As a knower. and nomenclature. but should also allow for intuitive. emotional. it has a weaker and in some cases detrimental role to play in the communication of ethics. Natural Sciences and Mathematics. On the other hand. one can‟t deny that vocabulary does indeed aid in the effective communication and shaping of knowledge in the areas of History. logical reasoning and perceptive tendencies. In either case. language. symbols. Total word count: 1599 Page 6 .
and Gia-fu Feng. Jane English.blogs. Web.com.uk/news/10216116 > 5) Laozi. < http://www. Murphy's Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong! Los Angeles: Price/Stern/Sloan. <http://www. 21 Aug. 6) Bloch. 2011. Print. ThinkExist. Web.com Quotations. 2011.co.1-famous-quotes." 1-Famous-Quotes. Tao Te Ching.com/quote/1219765> 2) ThinkExist. 1989. Arthur. < http://beinghuman.Homepage.bbc. Page 7 . Sun Aug 21 12:09:17 2011.fi/2010/01/25/is-there-an-inherent-senseof-morality-shared-by-all-humans-7873171 / > 4) "BBC News . 21 Aug. 2011 < http://thinkexist. Gledhill Enterprises.Saudi Religious Police Probe MTV Programme for 'sin'" BBC .com Quotations Online 1 Jul. 1977. 2011. New York: Vintage. Print. “Morality quotes”.Theory of Knowledge Essay IB Candidate Number: 003400-023 Scott Joel Heng List of References 1) "Samuel Beckett. 21 Aug.com/quotations/morality/ > 3) "Is There an Inherent Basic Sense of Morality Shared by All Humans?" Being Human. 2011.