Also, an IB class. Often shortened to "TOK". Appears to be an optional class in the international IB Program, but due to the infinite stupidity of the IB Coordinator at our high school, a required class. On the surface level, the name of the class is synonymous with Philosophy. As a summer assignment, we read and analyzed Sophie's World, a wonderful Philosophy-related novel by Jostein Gaarder. I don't think that's something universally practiced among all IB Theory of Knowledge classes, though.

So far, what the class has consisted of is split into the following categories:

  1. Journals with specific prompts, followed by at least one day of discussion of the prompt and sharing of journals. My journals "August 15, 2002", "August 30, 2002", and "September 11, 2002 - II" are exact typed versions of journals I wrote and shared in TOK. Usually more discussion about the prompt than about people's individual journal entries occurs.

  2. Socratic seminars (Socratics) led by the class on a certain topic, and mediated/moderated by the teacher. Topics range from "What is perception/emotion/human nature?" to "How can you define knowledge?" That sort of thing. Usually they come to a conclusion when we have to do something else, not when everyone agrees.

  3. Watching movies and discussing them. Usually equal time is split between watching and discussing. When the teacher gets tired of discussion (and it's heavy discussion), we switch to a movie. The movies we've seen so far include:

    1. Memento
    2. A Beautiful Mind
    3. Rushmore

  4. Reading texts and discussing them. We haven't read anything but Sophie's World yet, but that did provide a good background for philosophy. It covers pretty much everything from early (pre-Socrates) Greek philosophy, to 20th century philosophers and almost-philosophers. Unfortunately it left out Bertrand Russell.

I will reproduce the syllabus we were given at the beginning of the year, which should give a better idea of what the class is really about.

International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge

"The real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes."


Welcome to Theory of Knowledge. This course is a senior elective year long class and a requirement for students working toward the I.B. diploma. Theory of Knowledge is an exciting approach to understanding every academic discipline from mathematics to philosophy. This class will hone your critical thinking skills and help guide you in your quest for wisdom.

The Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class is about examining what we know and how we know it with new and critical eyes. ToK challenges us to reflect on diverse ways of knowing, different areas of knowledge, and to consider how the role of knowledge is relevant to a global society. It encourages students to become aware of themselves as thinkers, to become aware of the complexity of knowledge, and to recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected world. Questions are the very essence of ToK; both ageless questions on which thinkers have been reflecting for centuries, and new questions which are posed by contemporary life.

"We know accurately only when we know little; with knowledge, doubt increases."


The aims of TOK are to engage students in reflecting upon and questioning the basis of knowledge so they:

Having completed the course, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a capacity to reason critically
  • demonstrate an understanding of knowledge at work in the world
  • identify values underlying judgements and knowledge claims pertinent to local and global issues
  • demonstrate an understanding that personal views, judgements, and beliefs may influence their own knowledge claims and those of others
  • use oral and written language to communicate ideas clearly

"It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover."

Course Outline

The TOK program is reflected in the diagram. We will begin with the Knowers, proceed through the Ways of Knowing, and then study each of the different Areas of Knowledge. We will begin each section by defining. Articles, essays, films, and other sources will be used to expand our knowledge and understanding. Students will write an essay for each Area of Knowledge prompted by a choice of questions similar to those provided below.


Does knowledge come from inside or outside? Do we construct reality or do we recognize it? In what sense, if any, can a machine be said to "know" something?

Ways of Knowing

Perception: What are the implications of the following claim? "By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies--all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable." --Aldous Huxley

Language: Is it possible to think without language? How does language extend, direct, or even limit thinking?

Reason: What constitutes a "good reason" for belief? Is a persuasive reason necessarily grounded in truth?

Emotion: Can feelings have a rational basis? Would it be better or worse if emotions could be justified? Are emotions and feelings essential? Is "emotional intelligence" an oxymoron?

Areas of Knowledge

Mathematics: Is it reasonable to claim that mathematics is effective in accounting for the workings of the physical world?

Arts: What is the origin and nature of a sense of beauty? Is this sense specific to the individual or to the culture, or is it universal?

Natural Sciences: What are the implications of the following claim? "One aim of the physical sciences has been to give an exact picture of the material world. One achievement of physics in the twentieth century has been to prove that this aim is unattainable." --Jacob Bronowski

History: If truth is difficult to prove in history, does it follow that all versions are equally acceptable?

Human Sciences: Is it reasonable to attempt to explain human behavior independently or what people claim are their intentions?

Ethics: What is the difference between 'morality' and 'ethics'? Is ethics concerned primarily with what is or what ought to be?

"The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder."
--Jostein Gaarder


There are a seemingly infinite number of possibilities for TOK texts. We will use the following three works in addition to a myriad of articles, essays, films, and other books. Students are expected to provide any additional texts they feel are appropriate for the topic(s) currently under study.

Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty, K.C. Cole
Man is the Measure: A Cordial Invitation to the Central Problems of Philosophy, Reuben Abel


Grades will be given on a daily basis for on time attendance and class participation. All essays will be graded according to the International Baccalaureate Descriptors. All other assignments will be graded on a raw point scale dependent upon the number of items. Criteria for the expectations and grading of each assignment will be explained in advance. Theory of Knowledge is a college level course. Late work will NOT be accepted.

Participation Policy

It is extremely disrespectful to be late for class. Good attendance and punctuality will be rewarded. Students will receive 5 points per day for participating in class. If a student is absent or tardy, they will receive a zero for that day. Missed daily points (due to being tardy) can be made up by serving a detention either before or after school, or during lunch. Missed daily points for an excused absence (a student cannot make up points for unexcused absences) can be made up by writing a one page summary of the day's activities, including homework and notes. Class information for the day the student is absent needs to be obtained from another student in class. It is the student's responsibility to make up missed work.

Note that this syllabus is the creation of my ToK teacher, and not an official IB document. Hopefully it has provided a thorough overview of the course. That was, after all, the point.