Tag Archives: concepts/language

The Statistics of an Emotion: 2017 World Happiness Report

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Can we define and measure happiness – put statistics to an emotion? Can we rank countries of the world quantitatively for the degree to which their people are happy? The fifth annual World Happiness Report,  released by the United Nations on March 20, 2017 has subject matter likely to appeal to students.  For Theory of Knowledge teachers, the report gives an excellent focusing example for discussing ways of knowing and methods of research, particularly for the human sciences. Continue reading

AGAINST empathy? Really?

170213-hands(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “In the moral domain…empathy leads us astray,” argues Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University. “We are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators motivated by compassion and care for others.”  Bloom adopts a provocative stance to focus attention on what we in IB Theory of Knowledge would call “ways of knowing”, and ties emotion, imagination, and reason to ethics as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Is mathematics a gateway to empathy?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Is the study of mathematics really a gateway toward empathy? I’m not fully convinced by the argument presented by mathematician Roger Antonsen, but I like him for making it. We need all the empathy we can get in our world. Certainly, his mathematical visualizations  do demonstrate the importance of mental flexibility and imagination in mathematics, and do stand metaphorically for being able to see from different points of view. And his argument leads to some interesting knowledge questions about perspectives and empathy. Continue reading

Is that woman really a man? Tidy categories, messy world


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Swift and powerful, the athletes burst across the finish line of the women’s 800 metre in Rio. The Olympics gave the world another moment of glorious human achievement as 25-year-old Caster Semenya took the gold medal for South Africa. In the background of her performance, however, controversy swirled around claims that Semenya had an unfair advantage in a women’s competition – that she didn’t fit into the category “woman”.

The issue contentious in the Rio competition is one we confront constantly as we construct our knowledge: how to classify things and whether we can do so in a way that delineates our world neatly into categories. Classifying is basic to observing, and to the naming that enables us to share our knowledge. But what a complex world it is, often eluding the systematizing we bring to it! Continue reading

“Genocide”: what we call things MATTERS

(by Eileen Dombrowski) May no student graduate from our course without a sensitive awareness that what we call things truly matters! This week’s illustration is a rather grim one, but one that resonates with TOK topics: language as a way that we gain knowledge, influenced by how we categorize; concepts and naming as important issues in every area of knowledge, to the extent that the topic is given special emphasis in the knowledge framework. This particular illustration also demonstrates that history as an area of knowledge is not entirely about the past: Continue reading

“Untranslatable”: some goodies for your collection

160509 bird_singing(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Words claimed to be “untranslatable” are often a tease. If they were truly untranslatable, we would have no access to them whatsoever. What makes many examples delightful is that, in fact, we can translate them. We won’t feel the resonance that the words possess for native speakers, of course, but we often have access to the core meaning in a way that provokes pleased surprise at unfamiliar packaging of ideas – and perhaps a smile of recognition.

We Theory of Knowledge teachers collect words like that to enliven discussions of languages mapping out the world in different ways, and to stimulate student curiosity about some of the more profound differences — in language, and in cultural conceptions of the world. Would you like a few appealing words to add to your collection? Continue reading

“Who’s an Indian now?”: concept, definition, and significant ruling

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on April 14 gives us a dramatic example to take to a Theory of Knowledge class: Métis and non-status aboriginal people in Canada are now defined as “Indians” by the federal government. The people who now fit into this category are celebrating. The implications are significant for the rights they can now claim, the programs and services to which they now have access, and the increased clarity of their place in federal and provincial jurisdictions. Moreover, some consider it to be an acknowledgement of their history and a validation of their identity. But why do I suggest a judicial ruling with political ramifications as an example for a class on knowledge? What does it illustrate that is relevant to our course? Continue reading

“Natural selection” and the early career of a metaphor

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Metaphors, as we all by now know, aren’t just ornamental linguistic flourishes—they’re basic building blocks of everyday reasoning. And they’re at their most potent when they recast a difficult-to-understand phenomenon as something familiar.” So writes cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider. In giving the backstory of Darwin’s choice of “natural selection” for evolution, he provides a short article for any Theory of Knowledge teacher to note, relevant to language as a way of knowing and the natural sciences as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Refugees and risk: Can TOK encourage a more thoughtful approach?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) In the Theory of Knowledge classroom, we can’t solve the problems of climate change, war, and terrorism. However, what we CAN do is much needed in this historical moment in the west: we can give our students a calm space to stand back from the high emotion and knee-jerk opinionating that surrounds many of them. We can encourage them to apply a more thoughtful and critical approach to how knowledge claims are made and justified, and in the process develop their thinking further for the messy world they are about to inherit. The past week in the world has given far too many examples for TOK topics, but I’ll just suggest a few that stand out for me – and then I’ll link you to an article on refugees that you’re bound to find interesting. Continue reading

“Climate Skeptic” or “Denier”: Can journalists stake neutral ground in a language war?

(by Theo Dombrowski. first published OUP blog)

151108newsglobeWords map our concepts. They affect how we think within our personal knowledge, and how we shape and exchange our shared knowledge. In any critical examination of the creation and flow of knowledge, we need to be aware of the influence of the terminology we use.  

Do you accept the knowledge claims above? If so, you are likely to be keenly interested in guidance on terminology issued to journalists by the Associated Press Stylebook editors on September 22, 2015. The editors have recommended specific language for journalists writing on climate change “ to help our reporters and editors present the news accurately, concisely and clearly”.

This AP announcement hands TOK teachers a current example for class on the relevance of language to handling concepts, and the importance of definitions and connotations in public flow of knowledge. Continue reading