Ways of Knowing: Reason
We make sense of the world through eight ways of knowing: language, reason, sense perception, memory, faith, intuition, imagination and emotion. On this page, you will find articles, clips, PowerPoints andTED talks on reason as a WOK.
Possible essay question:
- “All knowledge depends on the recognition of patterns and anomalies.” Consider the extent to which you agree with this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge. (Specimen 2015)
- To what extent do ways of knowing prevent us from deluding ourselves? Justify your answer with reference to at least one area of knowledge. (Specimen 2015)
- “There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (May 2015)
- “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (May 2015)
- Assess the advantages and disadvantages of using models to produce knowledge of the world. (November 2015)
- “No knowledge can be produced by a single way of knowing.” Discuss. (November 2015)
- Is explanation a prerequisite for prediction? Explore this question in relation to two areas of knowledge. (November 2015)
- “Ways of knowing operate differently in personal and shared knowledge.” Assess this claim. (November 2016)
Reason as a way of knowing
Reason is often considered invaluable to weigh up whether knowledge claims, or even people, are trustworthy. If someone is 'reasonable', for example, we tend to find this person reliable. When a knowledge claim is 'reasonable', we may accept it more readily. Reason is sometimes contrasted with emotion, whereby emotive language and emotional arguments seem to hinder our search for knowledge; divert us from "the truth". Reason is of huge importance within the search for knowledge of scientists, mathematicians and historians. Reason also drives our search for patterns and exceptions, which may be used to create models and even predictions in a range of disciplines. Other ways of knowing, such as intuition, partly originate from reason. However, despite reason's apparent strengths when it comes to knowledge production, we should also consider its limitations. Einstein once claimed that being logical and thinking are not the same thing and Chesterton (1874-1936) said, 'The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.' As is illustrated below, correct deductive reasoning can lead us to preserve the truth, but it does not really provide a source of truth as such. Inductive reasoning could give us to 'more knowledge', but could lead to hasty generalisations if applied incorrectly. When we see patterns that actually don't exist, we could draw incorrect knowledge maps. These may need to be revised later on. If you consider the historical development of knowledge within a discipline, you will probably find several examples of hasty generalisations which are at the root of the creation of delusional patterns (and knowledge maps). It is also important to understand and critically evaluate the logical fallacies we come across in our daily lives. Some questionable knowledge claims are justified by such forms of informal reasoning and as a critical thinker, it is important to be able to point out when and where bad reasoning takes place. Personally, I only found out about "logical fallacies" later in life. I wish I had done so much earlier, as knowing about this kind of incorrect reasoning arms you against ignorance, indoctrination and bad debaters. Philosophers such Kant, Hume and Descartes have debated the role of reason as a source of knowledge. Within their debates they touch upon "big issues" and topics such as ethics. Does reason really drive us to better human beings? Is being able to reason the essence of being human? Sometimes it seems that "reason" is ranked at the top of the ways of knowing. But is reason enough on its own? It is worth considering how reason should interact with other ways of knowing within our search for knowledge and its representation. The debate between emotion and reason in the context of ethics, for example, provide excellent TOK discussion material.
TED ANIMATED: The long reach of reason - a dialogue on reason and moral progress
Lesson idea: organise a debate between two ways of knowing and how they drive moral progress.
'In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch as psychologist Steven Pinker is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. The dialog was recorded live at TED, and animated, in incredible, often hilarious, detail by Cognitive.' (TED)
Deductive and inductive reasoning