Knowledge Questions in International Baccalaureate Subjects

Recently we had our staff (teachers in different subjects) compile a lists of the knowledge issues in their subjects. They have come up with a pretty good list, which I thought a lot of ToK Students would appreciate having. It’s helpful both to help you understand what a knowledge issue is, but also to help you to challenge the subjects.

Some of the questions fit neatly in a given subject area, while others fit in more than one subject.


-Are historical claims restricted by the language they use?
-Is all history biased?
-How important is the role of statistics in history?
-Does history shows we have made ethical progress?
-To what extent does emotion play a role in historical interpretation?
-Is historical objectively possible?
-To what extent does historical knowledge change?
-How does knowledge about the past different from other kinds of knowledge?
-How does language used to describe the past change history?

Natural science

(Key words: scientific method, Popper’s principle of falsification, scientific revolution and paradigm shift)

-Is language necessary for construction of knowledge in the natural sciences?
-Do scientists have ethical responsibilities?
-How certain is scientific knowledge?
-If all scientific experiments have ‘uncertainty’ how can we know ‘truth’ in science?
-How certain is the theory of evolution?
-How is knowledge in literature similar to knowledge in natural science?
-To what extent does knowledge in science change?
-Is creativity or previous knowledge more important in science?
-How do we know when scientific conclusions are justified?
-Does science allow for intuition?

Human science

(Key words: determinism, free will, Hawthorne effect, nature vs. nurture)

-Is it true to say human sciences are less certain than the natural sciences?
-Why are theories in the human sciences convincing?
-How reliable are statistics in economic/business decisions?
-To what extent should business decisions be based on ethical considerations?
-Which is more important in advertising: reason, emotion, language or perception?
-How true are economic models?
-The law of supply and demand relies on the assumption of ‘ceteris paribus’. Top what extent does this exist in real life?
-Can one model suit all?
-How reliable are geographic models?
-What are the limits of statistics in the human sciences?


(Key words: axiomatic system, mathematical logic, a priori reasonings, rules of inference (applied to axioms), proof)

-Does maths need language to be understood?
-Is maths a language?
-How far is intuition used in maths?
-Is maths the most certain area of knowledge?
-Is emotion irrelevant to the construction of Mathematical knowledge?
-Can mathematicians trust their results?
-To what extent does mathematics describe the real world?
-How much statistical data should be used to determine the reliability of a result?
-Does belief play a role in mathematics?
-Are all mathematical statements either true or false?


-Do all art forms (literature, painting, music, sculpture, architecture, dance etc) use a language?
-How important is it that the artist intention be perceived or understood by the audience?
-Should art be beautiful?
-True art must be recognised by an experts?
-Can art give us knowledge?
-To what extent is creativity linked to reason?
-Can art help us to understand individuals and societies?
-Should the arts have an ethical function?
-If an author justifies their work, can we trust the knowledge?
-How true is it to say, ‘what constitutes art is relative to the individual time and place’?
-Does perception affect creativity?
-How does prior learning or experience influence our interpretation of art?


(Key words: Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)

-Does all knowledge depend on language?
-Do we need language in order to think?
-Does language shape our thoughts?
-Does religious experience lie beyond language?
-Should offensive language should be censored?
-Can we know a culture through the language?


(Key words: Moral relativism, religious absolutism, ethics, utilitarianism, self interest theory, duty, ethics, consequentialism)

-How important is it to be consistent in our moral reasoning?
-Can ethical truths be as certain as mathematical truths?
-Can our values change our perception of things?
-To what extent does religion shape moral belief?
-Is is true to say, ethical beliefs are more based on emotion than reason?
-Can ethical knowledge can be constructed without sensory perception?
-Is moral belief constant?
-Does ethical knowledge differ from other kinds of knowledge?
-Does possession of knowledge carry an ethical responsibility?


(Key words: conscience, empathy, knowledge by acquaintance, introspection, intuition, faith)

-How true is it to say reason and sense perception are never free of emotion?
-To what extent does the emotion of empathy build moral codes?
-Does our language shape our emotions?
-When, if ever, can emotion be rational?
-To what extent does emotion hinder knowledge construction?
-Does everyone experience the same satisfaction?
-Is it possible to experience an emotion that cannot be expressed in words?
-Is there any knowledge that can be attained solely through emotion?
-Are faith and religion purely emotional, or is it possible to give a rational justification?


(Key words: empiricism/empirical, brain filters)

-Do humans have more than 5 senses?
-To what extent is perception more trustworthy than reason?
-What role does eyewitness testimony play in history?
-What role do our senses play in the construction of reality?
-What is the role of culture and language in the perceptual process?
-What role does perception play in different areas of knowledge?


(Key words: inductive logic, deductive logic, rationalism)

-Is reason is at the core of knowledge construction in different areas of knowledge?
-Is reason objective and universal?
-Can reason and imagination work together?
-Does all knowledge require some kind of rational basis?
-How can beliefs affect our ability to reason?


(Key words: truth (Justified True Belief), Correspondence Theory, Pragmatic Theory, Coherence Theory, Relative truth and absolute truth) justification, evidence, certainty, all AOKs, all WOKs, media,  perspective, technology, knowledge by authority, values, critical thinking, knower, belief, certainty, culture, society, experience, intuition, explanation, interpretation (role in constructing knowledge), knowledge issue, bias, knowledge claim, assumption, objective, subjective)

-To what extent is faith a way of knowing?
-How reliable is intuition as a way of knowing in different AOK?
-Can imagination be a WOK?
-How far can belief be considered knowledge?
-Does truth transcend culture?
-Does some degree of unjustified belief exist in each area of knowledge?
-To what extent is certainty attainable in different areas of knowledge?
-What constitutes good evidence in different areas of knowledge?
-What characteristics must an explanation have to be considered good within the different areas of knowledge and ways of knowing?
-What are the dangers of equating personal experience and knowledge?
-How is learning from CAS different or similar to other areas of knowledge?
-Are some ways of knowing less open to interpretation that others?
-Does new technology affect the beliefs of a society?
-What role does personal experience play in the formation of knowledge claims?


Special thanks to the staff at the Overseas Family School (OFS) in Singapore, for these great insights and for Jon Hellner for compiling the work.

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15 Responses to Knowledge Questions in International Baccalaureate Subjects

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  5. Vaishnavi Ks says:


  6. Tim Woods says:

    Those KQ’s don’t seem great because they’re not directly related to knowledge. I’d say that anything can be justified. The real question might be whether we can know if we’re right.

  7. Michał Horbaczewski says:

    I wanted to talk about permissive parenting and relate it to psychology and maybe ethics. I thought about including reason and sense of perception. Could you give me a hand ? Thank you in advance!

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  11. Tim Woods says:

    Awesome. I’m really glad to hear that. How did your presentation go?

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  13. Mateo says:

    Thank you for this piece of gold! I was about to give up on my TOK presentation when I saw this page! Now I know I can deal with the IB and TOK in particular! Greetings from PERU!

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