The ‘how’ of TOK focuses on the methods by which knowledge is produced in the different Areas of Knowledge (AoKs). In TOK these methods have been identified as the eight Ways of Knowing (WoKs). They are Reason, Sense Perception, Emotion, Language, Memory, Imagination, Intuition and Faith. Each WoK provides a particular way of producing or accessing knowledge. Whilst an individual understanding and analysis of each of them is expected, the IB emphasizes that it is also important to see how they work in collaboration with each other and, what role they play in each Area of Knowledge.
Each WoK of course has its own characteristics, features, strengths and limitations as a means of producing knowledge. Students should familiarize themselves with these in order to have an insightful and balanced grasp of each WoK. Below are just a few thoughts on each WoK.
Reason: In the West, traditionally THE WoK by which everything is measured and assessed. Rationalists (those who believe Reason is the only genuine path to the truth) maintain that in the end if something is illogical it cannot be true. Whether the rules of logic are themselves true is another matter.
Sense Perception: Also known as Empiricism this asserts that our senses (sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing) provide us with direct knowledge of what is real. The problems arise when we realize that our senses sometimes deceive us, the issue is how often does this happen and do we always know when it does?
Emotion: A relative newcomer to the realm of epistemology (the study of knowledge) as emotions have tended to be regarded as the enemies of knowledge. Nowadays, there is a clearer understanding of their role, especially in terms of intrapersonal knowledge (self knowledge) and interpersonal knowledge (knowledge of others).
Language: Arguably, one of the essential contributors to knowledge. Language enables us to grasp with some precision thoughts and ideas but also to articulate the latter in a way which is coherent and understandable to others. However, words are slipery and highly dependent on context and intended meaning for its efficacy as a communication tool.
Imagination: The word originates from the Latin word for image. This helps us to picture things in our minds but also to manipulate those images to achieve different perspectives or create genuinely new concepts. In many ways our imagination is without limits although it seems highly dependent on previous experiences and assumptions.
Intuition: Usually described as a gut-feeling, it is a fast and often subconscious means of making up one’s mind about something. It is knowing something without knowing why. Some say it is the most reliable guide to decision making, some say it is the least reliable – go figure!
Memory: We never learn anything genuinely from nothing and for the very first time. New knowledge is largely the product of personal and shared memories applied to a specific situation. Without a starting point, memory, there can be no knowledge. However, there is some evidence that some of our own memories are, in part at least, made up.
Faith: Better understood as the more neutral term ‘belief’ than the religion-laden concept. Some say knowledge is in fact nothing more than a very strong belief. Can you know something without also believing it is true? Traditionally described as the opposite of knowledge, it could also be said to be necessary to every other Way of Knowing.