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The Problems of Knowledge. Problems of Knowledge. “ The familiar is not understood simply because it is familiar.” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Mercator Projection. Weaknesses of the Mercator Projection. Distorts the relative size of the land masses

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problems of knowledge
Problems of Knowledge

“The familiar is not understood simply because it is familiar.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

weaknesses of the mercator projection
Weaknesses of the Mercator Projection
  • Distorts the relative size of the land masses
  • Based on the convention that the northern hemisphere is at the top of the map and the southern hemisphere at the bottom.
  • The map is eurocentric in that it not only exaggerates the relative size of Europe but also puts it in the middle of the map.
hobo dyer projection1
Hobo-Dyer Projection
  • Accurately reflects the relative sizes of the land masses (although it distorts their shape)
  • Southern Hemisphere at the top and the northern Hemisphere at the bottom.
  • Centred on the Pacific rather than Europe.
mercator versus hobo dyer
Mercator versus Hobo-Dyer
  • The Mercator is what we are familiar with even though it provides a distorted picture of reality.
  • Our ideas and beliefs come a variety of sources (personal experiences, parents, friends, teachers, books, media, experts, etc): which can lead to inaccuracies, half truths, etc.
  • It is difficult for us to think outside the customs and conventions with which we are familiar with.
  • There is no such thing as a perfect map!

Discuss the following statement

“ When you know something you are certain that it is true and have no doubts about it; but when you merely believe it, you may think it is true, but you are not certain.”

ways of knowing and certainty
Ways of knowing and Certainty
  • Language: enables us to acquire knowledge from other people and we claim to know a great many things because we have been told them or we have read them somewhere. “Are they always right?”
  • Perception: Much of our knowledge is based on personal experience, but our senses sometimes deceive us.
ways of knowing and certainty1
Ways of knowing and Certainty
  • Reason: Does reasoning always give us greater certainty or can this also lead to errors?
  • Emotion: may provide us with the energy to pursue knowledge but do they always provide us with foolproof guides to truth?
  • According to relativism there is no such thing as absolute truth that exists in an objective way independent of what anyone happens to believe is true.
  • Instead truth is relative and may be different for different individuals or for different cultures.
  • Therefore all points of view are of equal value.

What are the strengths and

weaknesses of relativism?

what to believe
What To Believe?
  • Is there a simple answer to this question?
  • TOK is more concerned with how you believe something than what you believe.
  • Whatever you believe, you should try to support your beliefs with evidence and be able to consider and respond to criticism of your views.
what to believe1
What To Believe?
  • The role of judgement
  • The danger of gullibility
  • The danger of scepticism.
reasonable knowledge
Reasonable Knowledge

In trying to determine whether or not a knowledge claim is reasonable, two preliminary criteria may serve as useful guides:

(a) Evidence

(b) Coherence

problems of knowledge1
Problems of Knowledge
  • A variety of different opinions exist within the world.
  • Our common-sense picture of reality probably contains inaccuracies and biases that we are not aware of.
  • We acquire knowledge about the world through language, perception, reason and emotion but none of these ways of knowing can give us certainty
problems of knowledge2
Problems of Knowledge
  • According to relativism, truth is relative to the individual, but the fact that we take seriously the idea that someone may be wrong in their beliefs suggest that relativism is false.
  • Since there are few black and white certainties in the world, we have to rely more on judgement. Thus good judgement is finding the right balance between scepticism and open-mindedness.
accepting knowledge claims
Accepting Knowledge Claims
  • Two preliminary criteria for deciding whether a knowledge claim is plausible are (a) evidence and (b) coherence.
  • Since we are what we believe and our beliefs affect our actions, if we want to be authentic and responsible we should occasionally subject our beliefs to critical scrutiny.
the nature of knowledge
The Nature of Knowledge

“Information is acquired by being told, whereas knowledge can be acquired by thinking.” Fritz Machlup(1902 -83)

  • Comes from the world “ology” which means the “study of”
  • And the Greek word ‘episteme’ which means ‘knowledge”

The “study of knowledge”

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • What do people know?
  • How do we know what we know?

Much of the debate in this field has focused on analysing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification.

definition of knowledge justified true belief
Definition of Knowledge“Justified True Belief “

Plato: Greek Philosopher and Mathematician (428/427 BC– -348/347BC)

  • The most obvious thing that distinguishes knowledge from belief is truth.
  • Can we ever be sure that what we think we know really is true?
  • In practice when we say that something is true we usually mean that it is ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’
  • If you know something then what you claim to know must not only be true, but you must also believe it to be true.
  • Examples of belief:

(a) A vague belief

(b) A well-supported belief

(c) A belief that is beyond reasonable doubt

  • In order to say that you know something you must be able to justify your belief, and your justification must be of the right kind.
  • The key thing that distinguishes acceptable from unacceptable justification seems to be reliability.
levels of knowledge
Levels of Knowledge
  • Different levels of knowledge: i.e. a superficial understanding, a good understanding or complete mastery of a subject.
  • What is the difference between knowledge and information?
second hand knowledge
Second Hand Knowledge

Despite the advantages of accepting

knowledge ‘second hand’ from other people

we must be careful that we do not fall into

authority worship and blindly accept what we

are being told without thinking about it.

Second hand knowledge is also known as

knowledge by authority or knowledge by


second hand knowledge1
Second Hand Knowledge

The main sources are:

  • Cultural tradition
  • School
  • Internet
  • Expert Opinion
  • Media

What are the strengths and weaknesses of

each of these sources?


“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a

subject ourselves, or we know where

we can find information upon it.”

Samuel Johnson (1708-84)

  • A good preliminary definition of knowledge is to say that it is “justified true belief”.
  • Truth is independent and simply believing that something is true does not make it true.
  • Knowledge is more than true belief, for your belief must be justified and reliable.
  • The difference between knowledge and information is that knowledge is information organised into a meaningful whole.
  • The fact that we can share our knowledge means that we can all know a great deal more than if we relied purely on our resources. The danger of this is that accepting knowledge second-hand is that it can lead to authority worship.

van de Lagemaat, R., Theory of Knowledge

for the IB Diploma, Cambridge, Cambridge

University Press, 2005.