What is a knowledge question?

A knowledge question is a question concerning knowledge where there are at least two plausible alternatives.

They can include real life situations, “I am driving in my car when I arrive at a toll booth. There are two booths. One has a long queue of traffic, the other booth is empty. Should I join the queue or go to the empty booth? How do I know?”

KQ’s can also be more abstract, “How can we know if all our actions are freely chosen?” Or, “How is the knowledge we have in maths and science related to our own cultural paradigm?”

Here are examples of KQ’s from various areas of knowledge. In art, “How do we know what constitutes good art?” or in ethics, “Can we use reason to justify making judgements about another culture’s ethics?” or, “When making judgements about what’s right and wrong, should we rely more on reason or emotion?”

KQ’s are also relevant to ways of knowing.  In language, “Is it justified to claim that our thoughts are determined by our language?” or, “In one or two areas of knowledge, how far does our language describe the world or express our feelings about it?” Considering sense perception, “How far is our knowledge of the world limited by our sense perception?” Or considering reason, “Is reason the most reliable route to knowledge in the natural sciences and the human sciences?”

For your TOK presentation you think of your own knowledge question. For students taking IB exams in May 2015, the new specification replaces the old term ‘knowledge issues’ with the new phrasing ‘knowledge questions’. For more information on knowledge questions, there’s a whole section (Unit 4) in this book co-authored by Wendy Heydorn and Susan Jesudason which clearly sets out what a knowledge question is and offers practical tips for developing your own knowledge question for a TOK presentation. The book  is available to buy at $22.50 on amazon:

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