How do we know things? We know things because we use a range of methods of inquiry that incorporate ways of knowing to help construct knowledge in different areas of knowledge (AOKs).
The theory of knowledge course distinguishes between eight AOKs:
mathematics natural sciences human sciences history the arts ethics religious knowledge systems indigenous knowledge systems.
Students must explore a range of AOKs. It is suggested that six of these eight would be appropriate.
While this guide identifies eight broad AOKs, students should be encouraged to think about individual academic disciplines, that is, to think about the nature of knowledge in their own specific IB subjects, such as chemistry, geography and dance.
One effective way to examine the AOKs is through a knowledge framework. A knowledge framework is a way of unpacking the AOKs and provides a vocabulary for comparing AOKs.
For each AOK the following can be examined:
scope, motivation and applications specific terminology and concepts methods used to produce knowledge key historical developments interaction with personal knowledge.
Within this knowledge framework, key features of each area are identified, as are specific terminology and concepts which shape that area of knowledge. The key historical developments that have influenced and shaped each area are identified, as well as the ways that each makes use of particular methodology. Finally, there is opportunity for reflection on the interaction between shared and personal knowledge in each area. Knowledge frameworks are a very effective device to compare and contrast areas of knowledge.
The idea is that each AOK can be thought of, broadly speaking, as a coherent whole—a vast system with a rich inner structure. TOK aims to explore this structure and to understand just what it is that gives each AOK its particular character. It is also concerned with what these AOKs have in common. A useful strategy is to build a TOK course around comparing and contrasting the various AOKs, to look for features they have in common but also to highlight their differences and pinpoint what gives each its own characteristic flavour.
Comparison of different AOKs is not purely a descriptive task. It is analytical in the sense that the student should link the practices of inquiry to the knowledge that comes out in the end. For example, the reliability of knowledge within an AOK will depend critically upon the methods used to produce it. Making links of this sort is what is meant by analysis in TOK.
1. Scope/applications Figure 6
This component attempts to explore the range of the specific AOK within the totality of human knowledge and how that knowledge is used. Scope refers to the definition of the AOK in terms of subject matter, and the form that an AOK takes depends critically upon the nature of the problems it is trying to answer.
biology studies living organisms and is mainly concerned with how they function mathematics is the study of quantity, space, shape and change in engineering, however, precise numerical methods are a matter of life and death music might not seem concerned with solving practical problems at all but the composer has to solve the “musical engineering” problems of building a piece of music; it has to be a unified whole and yet at the same time there has to be some sort of inherent contrast there to provide tension and energy and, for the listener, interest.
Exploration of the scope and applications of a particular AOK can lead to interesting discussions of the ethical considerations that have to be taken into account. Practitioners in a particular AOK might not be permitted to explore all the aspects that are of interest. There might be moral and ethical limits on the sort of investigations they undertake and experiments they perform.
2. Concepts/language Figure 7