The main inquiry in TOK is into the nature of knowledge itself. TOK students seek to find out how knowledge is constructed using various ways of knowing and by considering what constitutes knowledge in various areas of knowledge. It is a fundamental premise of TOK that personal knowledge should not result from simple acceptance of knowledge claims without sufficient inquiry and evidence.
In TOK students strive to be knowledgeable about the nature of knowledge. This means becoming knowledgeable about the methods of inquiry of a variety of subject areas, from a number of perspectives. Students are encouraged to explore the processes by which individuals arrive at their own knowledge and understanding of the world and the presuppositions that underpin this understanding.
Thinking is both a methodology and a subject for study. TOK students examine thinking in order to understand what constitutes good thinking and also to recognize potential flaws in one’s thought processes. Students also apply metacognition: thinking about what kinds of thinking is required in a variety of situations, as well as how thinking relates to emotional processing and intuition.
Communication is both a skill to be developed and a topic to be studied. TOK students are required by the TOK assessment tasks to communicate their understanding and perspective in both oral and written form. Students also study the language that is used to develop a body of knowledge, so they learn what gives language its power as well as what causes failures of communication.
TOK requires students to scrutinize knowledge in a critical manner, leading to what could be called principled knowledge. Students are required to examine the relationship between possessing knowledge and the moral obligations that this carries. Learning to see the world from a TOK perspective challenges students to think about acting in principled ways.
TOK students need to be open-minded about knowledge claims they encounter. They will learn not to simply accept claims at face value, but to consider the factual accuracy of any proposition and the potential emotional, social or cognitive bias of any person making a proposition. At the same time, they must learn to balance skepticism with belief, and recognize that in many situations there is a need to make decisions without possessing absolute certainty.
TOK learners are asked to care about how they use their knowledge. This necessarily means thinking about how knowledge can be used in sympathetic, empathetic and compassionate ways.
TOK learners must be willing to risk questioning what they hold to be true. This means that they must be willing to risk being wrong. When we are willing to accept being wrong then we make progress toward correcting existing misconceptions and increasing our knowledge and understanding of the world. The word “judgment” is central in TOK, and students should be prepared to take the risks involved in making judgments in matters where the evidence does not definitively favour one view or another, while at the same time acknowledging the provisional nature of these judgments.
The TOK syllabus requires a balanced approach to the acquisition of knowledge. Students are committed to viewing knowledge claims from different perspectives. They are also required to consider a range of areas of knowledge. TOK assessment tasks require a balance of ability in speaking and writing, and a balance in ability of drawing general conclusions from specific examples and in drawing on specific examples to demonstrate general claims.
When the TOK syllabus encourages students to think about their own thinking, it is in essence asking students to be reflective. Students learn to reflect on the degree to which their own and other people’s motivations, beliefs, thought processes and emotional reactions influence what they know and what they are capable of knowing.