February 24

The Ways of Knowing in Theory of Knowledge (TOK)


It is important to understand the ways of knowing in the theory of knowledge because you are expected to discuss them by the IBO in your TOK presentations and essays. 

But the confusion is understandable given the many complex terminology and jargon you have already noticed in many textbooks.

Don’t worry, because in this article, we tell you the most critical things you need to know in each way of knowing.

In short, ways of knowledge are how we make sense of the things and the world around us. There are 8 WOKs included in the theory of knowledge syllabus, but you only need to worry about 4 of them.

In this guide, though, we’ll look at all the 8 ways of knowing by giving an explanation for each so you can understand them better.

Ways of Knowing in Theory of Knowledge 

First, it’s important not to confuse ways of knowing with areas of knowledge in the theory of knowledge syllabus. In summary, AOK is all about what we know. And ways of knowing is the means via which we know the things we do. 

With that said, let’s discuss the different ways of knowing in TOK.

1. Language

A language in theory of knowledge is a system of signs and symbols with a specific meaning. Normally, a language is premised on specific rules and is intended. This simply means that we always have the intention of sending some kind of meaning every time we use a language.

Just as is the case in all WOK, language has its limitations, and it’s very important to take this into account in TOK. A language’s main purpose is communicating knowledge, which may sometimes be imperfect.

It is impossible for any society to function without language. This is not to say that it doesn’t have flaws.

2. Sense Perception

sense perception in WOK

Image Credit: Prezi

 Sense perception refers to the way we experience our environment through our 5 senses.

While most people only know of the 5 senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste), there are many other little-known senses.

One example of this is if you close your eyes and someone pulled your hand down or up, you could tell the direction your hand moves. In medical terms, this sense is referred to as proprioception.

While there is no doubt about its importance to our survival, there are a few ways that sense perception is limited.

First, it’s only possible to use this WOK about those things that are capable of being sensed biologically only. For instance, it is possible to manipulate our perception and senses. A good example is an optical illusion that can trick the eyes to see what’s not true in reality.

3. Emotion

emotions in WOK TOK

Emotion refers to a way of knowing of behaviors, experiences, and ideas. Emotion in TOK is an extremely powerful way of knowing because we appear to make the majority of our everyday decisions according to our emotions.

But emotion is limited because it only has the capability of bringing knowledge to one person and not to a group. An example is that two people may feel the same stimulus but react emotionally different.

4. Reason 

Reason in theory of knowledge lets us form knowledge without necessarily basing on our senses. Reason involves taking the knowledge we already have and then synthesizing it into new knowledge. Through reason, we can deduce what we can’t experience immediately by ourselves.

For instance, if you are indoors and learn that there aren’t clouds outside, you can deduce reasonably that it’s not raining.

You are using the knowledge that there are no clouds to reason that it is not raining. So you use new knowledge to assimilate other knowledge pieces.

5. Imagination 

Imagination occurs when we form new ideas, concepts, or images that are not present in our real world. It is extremely crucial in the creation of new knowledge.

Take enterprises, for example. They create products by first imagining them before later bringing them to the real world.

One crucial limitation to imagination as a way of knowing is that our extent of imagining things is restricted by the real-world experiences. For example, you cannot imagine how life would have panned out for someone who grew up under different circumstances than yours.

6. Intuition 

Intuition comes about when a person has a gut feeling. It is almost certainly based on a past experience or experiences that can’t be clearly identified.

For instance, an experienced doctor can give an accurate diagnosis with less information than an inexperienced doctor would need. This is because they can see subtle clues that are invisible to others.

Intuition has a limitation in that it cannot make highly precise predictions. Therefore, very few people can give reliable knowledge by using intuition.

7. Memory

It is often confusing for students to understand how memory is a method of developing new knowledge. After all, remembering something is just recalling old knowledge from ideas or experiences.

But to form new knowledge, we often have to use concepts from our memory! An example is when learning how to read. One is forced to rely on their memory of letter meanings. After that, one can comprehend how words and even sentences are formed. They are interconnected.

Memory has a huge disadvantage, which is that our memories aren’t often reliable. As research shows, how you remember past events is often affected by many other factors. These include environmental factors like what other people thought of the event that you are trying to remember and your emotional state at the time you formed that memory.

8. Faith

As a way of knowledge, faith is usually disputed and there are even people who don’t think it’s one of the ways of knowledge. This is because of the nature of faith.

Faith is a total belief in something based mainly on spiritual conviction. Contrary to what many students think, faith does not necessarily have to involve religion.

This is because faith may also be based on an organization, movement, or person. One disadvantage of faith as a WOK is that it can’t be proven. It also tends to clash with evidence.


It is worth noting that ways of knowing should never be viewed in seclusion. That’s because they interact in several ways to form knowledge and knowledge claims.

Take, for instance, a claim such as “this chair is red”. This involves using a number of WOKs together. You need language to understand “chair” and “red”. Also, you need a conceptual system that relies on reason to come to the conclusion that the chair is something with the capability of being red.

Sense perception helps you to realize that what you see is a chair and that its color is red. This shows that the individual WOKs are interwoven to produce knowledge in the AOKs.



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