TOK Areas of Knowledge: Everything You Need to Know in 2020

The TOK areas of knowledge are what we know. They are quite different from the ways of knowing, which just means how we know things.

Generally, there are 8 areas of knowledge in the Theory of Knowledge:

  • Mathematics
  • History
  • Arts
  • Natural Sciences
  • Human Sciences
  • Ethics
  • Religious Knowledge
  • Indigenous Knowledge 

Abbreviated as AoK, each area of knowledge is a system.

For instance, we have the scientific area of knowledge. Within this system, there is a consensus on how to investigate things. Also, there are agreed-upon standards of arguments and proofs that tend to be different in the individual AoK.

Therefore, we can define an Area of Knowledge as a body of knowledge that appears to fit perfectly in one system.

The areas are much like the subjects you do in the International Baccalaureate Diploma course. This is so because it refers to the categorization of the knowledge that we have, which mimics he division of IB into different subjects.

It’s important to remember that theory of knowledge forms the central part of the IB. And therefore you shouldn’t hesitate to get material from any subject during your TOK discussions.

The 8 TOK Areas of Knowledge Discussed in-depth

​1. Mathematics

Mathematics is founded on universally accepted assumptions and axioms. It starts from axioms, which utilize deductive reasoning in proving mathematical truths and theorems.

These tend to have a high level of certainty that cannot be matched by other areas of knowledge. This makes Mathematics great study material in TOK.

Despite the strict limits of mathematical logic, the subject remains an enormously creative one, and it demands a great deal of imagination from its practitioners.

Pure mathematics doesn’t require a sense of perception at the beginning of the inquiry. However, the application of it to the real-life situations uses techniques like those used in human and natural sciences.

In fact, the vast majority of researches in human and natural sciences are premised on mathematics. 

Also, there are also close relationships between this area of knowledge and the Arts where requirements for symmetry and harmony demand mathematical structures to work.

2. Natural Sciences

The purpose of natural sciences is to discover the laws governing nature. These are the regularities we see in the natural world. 

Often, these are causal relationships that come in the form “if A happens, the result will be B”.

From this description, we can see that it attempts to produce a knowledge system independently of human agency.

Natural sciences are based on observing the world as a way of experimenting with hypotheses about it. They are designed to decrease the effects of human expectations, desires, and preferences.

Looked at in this sense, this area of knowledge emphasizes the importance of empirical inquiry. It states that scientific knowledge must withstand the test of experiment. One fascinating area of discussion here is what distinguishes the scientific from the non-scientific.

Most people would agree that it’s the methods applied in science. It’s therefore interesting to consider what makes these methods so special that the knowledge generated from them is deemed more reliable than those used by other AoKs.

3. Human Sciences

Human Sciences in TOK includes subjects in the group three of the Diploma Program. Human Sciences tend to investigate the reality of being human

To be specific, it deals with cultural, biological, and social spheres of human existence. It covers various sciences that include social, cultural anthropology, psychology, geography, and economics.

One key distinction between natural sciences and human sciences is how the word science is interpreted.

The human sciences are classified as a science because they employ the scientific methods of testing the reliability and validity of hypotheses.

But they differ from the natural sciences in that the phenomenon they try to explain may not have tangible laws that don’t admit any exceptions. Therefore, they may turn to statistical methods of establishing their findings.

4. History 

What makes the methodology used in history to be so unique?

How reliable are eyewitness testimonies as evidence?

Just what makes an event be historically significant?

As an area of knowledge, history studies the chronological order of the recorded past. History raises pertinent knowledge questions, like whether it is feasible to talk about a historical fact and what a fact could be.

Another question in history an area of knowing is this:

With what certainty can we about the past?

Also, studying history strengthens our comprehension of human behavior since reflecting on the past enables us to figure out how the present will be. Documentary evidence is also vital in history.

This leads to a question about how to determine the reliability of the evidence.

Another knowledge question that has arisen of late is whether historical facts can exist independently of the individual historians.

Some people argue that historical writing contains a subjective element because historians tend to be influenced by the social and historical environments where they are writing.

Therefore according to this school of thought, it affects the historian’s interpretation and selection of evidence.

5. The Arts

Arts in Theory of Knowledge refer to the creative human creations and usually encompass the performing, literary, and visual arts.

The art not only experience and explore the reality of being human and form a critical aspect of culture. It also creates a bridge between shared knowledge and personal knowledge.

Furthermore, it covers all things creative people do. This included dance, creative writing, painting, and sculpture – just to name but a few.

What passes as knowledge in this area of knowing is a topic of hot debate.

Some people even say that all knowledge contained in the arts is personal as opposed to shared knowledge. Therefore, artistic knowledge is impossible or difficult to understand. For others, the arts cover some of the most important thoughts of humanity.

6. Ethics 

Is the idea of moral knowledge real or just an illusion?

Does the rightness or wrongness of a deed depend on the situation?
Does anything as a moral fact even exist?

Morality is one thing that often distinguishes humans from animals. Therefore, an equally important question in ethical discussions in the Theory of Knowledge is whether or not we can know if something is moral.

What makes moral values so peculiar is that they appear to symbolize obligations for actions. The matter of moral rules is one example of an important area of discussion.

There is no consensus that being moral is all about following rules. That’s because there is no agreement that moral rules exist in the first place. And the subject of whether moral rules should be broken ever, and in what situations, if so, is a hotly debated topic.

Other main areas of discussions are whether humans are selfish or altruistic, or whether the motivation for or consequences of, an action is a scene for moral value.

7. Religious Knowledge Systems

Religious Knowledge Systems answer elemental questions about the purpose and meaning of human life. It includes a wide range of different systems and beliefs. 

Examples include various types of atheism, polytheism, and pantheism.

For some people, there is only one true religion. For others though, the different religions just mean the different reflections of one underlying truth.

This area of knowledge has both a personal and shared dimension to it and offers a solid context for exploring relations between the two.

Many people regard religion as a sensitive area and hold that any discussions about it should be done with caution. One explanation of this is that people tend to have extremely personal convictions about religious matters.

For most people, however, their religion plays a big role in their understanding of the world. This even permeates their thinking and also influences how they understand other areas of knowledge.

One example is the idea that religion is inextricably linked to ethics. In any case, religion provides a timely backdrop, for many, to all other knowledge that they have.

8. Indigenous Knowledge Systems 

Indigenous Knowledge Systems investigate local knowledge that’s unique to a particular society or culture. It refers to knowledge that has been constructed by a certain group of people, for instance, the Ryukyuan people (Japan), Secoya (Peru), Namaqua (Southern Africa), and the Wopkaimin people (Papua New Guinea).

One distinguishing feature of this area of knowledge is the fact that it’s not static. Due to external and internal influences, indigenous knowledge systems have dynamics.

For example, today, the Maori knowledge systems are a blend of knowledge got after they were exposed to European culture and traditional knowledge. As a TOK student, you can explore this area of knowledge from a broad and general viewpoint to create awareness of how diverse the indigenous knowledge systems are. 

Things you will need to take into account when studying the indigenous knowledge systems are examining the decision-making process, communication methods, the holistic perception of knowledge, and thinking processes.

Final Words 

TOK is integral to the IB diploma. To pass it, you need to understand the areas of knowledge as you are going to be examined on. 


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