After my last post on classification (July 7, “Nazi poster child was Jewish”), I thought you deserved a lighter one. (After all, for many of us, summer holiday has begun!) I’m picking out the same central topic – classification of people – but this time with a laugh: “The essence of jerkitude. If it seems like everyone around you is an idiot, you may be a jerk.”

In the author’s “theory of jerks”, he defines his term, describes the phenomenon he observes, speculates upon the reasons for “jerkiness”, and reflects on the implications of this classification for our own self-knowledge. Above all, his “theory” is about classification — who belongs in this category, and why. The article’s clever, funny, and pointed.


But are there knowledge questions running through this article?  Yup. You bet!   First thing, you’ll want to apply a bit of critical thinking to the methodology behind this classification, and ask an applied question: “Is this category rigorously established? No? Really?” And then, in a more abstracted way, you’ll probably go for a couple of grander TOK knowledge questions: “How do the human sciences give us knowledge of human classification? What methodologies are most reliable, and why?” OR “To what extent does understanding other people’s perspectives involve the TOK ways of knowing of imagination and emotion, sometimes combined in ‘empathy’?”

BUT….if you’re on holiday, you might not want to think about methodologies or fuss about rigor. You might just want the laugh…and the obscure sense that, rigorous or not, the author might have illuminated something….ah….er….”true”. And then, like me, you’ll want to exit before stumbling over the obvious next question!


Eileen Dombrowski, Lena Rotenberg, Mimi Bick. Theory of Knowledge Course Companion, 2013 edition. Oxford University Press, 2013. See chapter 13 for comments on classification, and then the chapter on the human sciences.

Eric Schwitzgebel, “The essence of jerkitude. If it seems like everyone around you is an idiot, you may be a jerk.” Aeon Magazine. June 29, 2014