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The Theory of Knowledge: Analysis of The Fifth Tok Question

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The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them In this essay we will analyse and discuss the fifth ToK question «The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them». We will first talk about the ways of accepting knowledge on what is it based, the evidences used to prove theories and theories becoming evidences. Then we will talk about reason and logic in accepting claims beyond evidence, are they applicable and how. Finally we will discuss the acceptance of knowledge claims that go beyond evidence in different topics like History, Natural and Human Sciences, and finally Religions and Ethics. Knowledge claims to be approved use different types of justifications like – Deduction, Empiricism, Probability theory, Authoritative testimony. Besides those mentioned before there is Abductive reasoning, Occam’s Razor, Induction, Logical positivism or Pragmatism that we won’t analyse here.

Deduction especially used in areas of Natural and Social sciences, takes account of all the observed or known factors in a problem and see with the correlation of each other which is the right theory. With the Probability theory that claims that if all factors and results coincide and make sense, especially if they had small chances to do so, the knowledge claim has reduced chances to be false or a simple coincidence. Empiricism is the evidence of the senses, meaning all observations are by essence empirical. Using axioms, Scientific laws, former researches or results, in the proof of a theory or knowledge claim is semi- empirical.

Authoritative testimony is the appeal to criteria and authority, meaning that if the specialists in the matter say so it has to be true or largely veridic, but like for the scientific laws and for basically all human knowledge we aren’t sure of the righteousness of our perception of the world and its «mechanism». Are humans able to perceive reality as it is or is our image of the world false or distorted. In that case our scientific laws could all be effective theories, a theory that proves itself true and works within certain limits but do not represent the reality of the fact, it’s just a coincidence due to a poor vision of the reality. But is our knowledge a solid basis? From dawn of times humans base themselves on evidence to prove the veracity of a theory, evidence verified by a rigorous scientific method of empirical observation and calculation, these evidences themselves based on others and this in an pyramidal pattern that is impossible to verify from the inside. Some scientists have doubts on the veracity of certain knowledge claims, and if the basis of the pyramid of knowledge is false we couldn’t prove it or even find about it until the pyramids collapse, that means that at some point we could be completely blocked in the expansion of our scientific knowledge due to our precedent errors. In more abstract domains of knowledge like religion, we can wonder if we need to prove the evidence. Unable to use empiricism in this domain, it’s the main point of atheists against believers, if God exists why we can’t observe him or have any trace or clue of his presence.

Now that we explored the ways of approving knowledge claims we can wonder if assumptions are relevant in different domains of Knowledge. Starting with the domains of reason and logic. Accepting claims beyond evidence means agreeing with the fact that you can’t reasonably and logically explain these assumptions using any types of knowledge approval or testing method. Using a new factor in your calculations or reflexion to see if it is relevant is the logical thing to do. So this means that the answer to the question « can you accept claims beyond evidence in domains of reason and logic » is no, however the most logical thing to do when you are stuck in your researches is accepting a new claim. Imagining something, building knowledge on it is the base of « every » belief creations. And when, in science, deduction, empirical or scientific method is not advanced or sufficient enough for further researches most of scientists make a theory and then prove it with experimentation. You can’t for ever discover new information using the same tools and empiric observation. Very often in human history a key discovery revolutionised the manner of searching and interpreting the world. In natural and human sciences accepting claims beyond evidence is a frequent practice in any theory elaboration. Especially in physics where calculations bring us to incomprehensible results, scientist accept claims beyond evidence for them to justify the results. For exemple the discovery of Black Holes in 1915 with Einstein’s formulas of relativity was only mathematical, scientists have deduced that a gravitational singularity could exist with calculation. However the first empirical detection of a black hole was 56 years later, in 1971 thanks to the Uhuru satellite. Calculation is just numbers on a paper and are often far from the reality especially in complex and unknown domains as astrophysics. The international scientific community made an assumption, believing the Einstein’s (and peers) formulas and accepting the claim that at some point a mass can distort space-time. Making assumptions is also used to simplify calculations when a phenomena is unpredictable physicists create a fictive set of laws and use them with approximations to simulate it. Perfect gases are the best exemple of it, as the mechanic of fluids is still a mystery so it is impossible to predict the displacement of a liquid or a gas scientist simplified the mechanism inside molecules to create a module that acts similarly to a real molecule or atom.

When talking about assumption in history we wonder if they are even possible as past is not supposed to be something unknown. The main weakness of history is its fallibility and traces of the past aren’t forcefully representative of reality and can be falsified for unknown purposes. The texts that have survived through history are often from the leading society at the time, others traces being destroyed or not well preserved (Example: destruction of books and artworks by Nazi government, because not in adequacy with their ideals). Also history is all about point of view, and as history is written by humans that are subjected to emotions they could interfere with the objectivity of the writer. We could take the example of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7th of December 1941, that from an American point of view is a surprise attack, without honour and respect. From the Japanese point of view it was the last choice available for the survival of the empire. In big scarcity of raw materials and oil, Japan had no choice besides attacking U.S.A to be able to sustain their wars in Asia, especially in China. But from our modern perspective we now know that the attack on Pearl Harbor was expected by President Roosevelt, and that the absence of the three aircraft-carriers could not be a coincidence. Some historians think that Roosevelt was waiting for a casus belli, and Pearl Harbor was the perfect one.

Historians have to base themselves on the documents they have and the only technique of verification is crossing sources to see if they coincide, obliged to believe in them without other evidence or proof of truthfulness. Only time and research of new sources can reveal or approve historic facts. In case of religions and ethics you can’t prove the veracity of knowledge you just base your thoughts on it, and assume with certitude that your assumption is right everything else isn’t relatable. So that makes that every religion believes that its god is the true one and all the others false (except Judaism, Islam and Christendom that are related) because, and especially in monotheist religion, people made an assumption that their god/s is the true one, and all others made up. It is the very essence of religious systems, a belief doesn’t has to be based on any types of verification or testing of evidence, it is your right to believe in what you want. In ethics we can link to the first TOK question « The quality of knowledge is best measured by how many people accept it”, because in fact the ethic and moral is defined by the largest number, and disagreement is sometimes seen liked madness.In all centuries it was the powerful that imposed his thoughts to the others, and especially in wars, the defeated is very often seen like the « evil one». There is an interesting quote from Jean de La Fontaine: « the law of the strongest is always the best». So we can define that, through history, the ethics and righteousness were defined by the ones in power and that individual thoughts are flooded by the mass. So accepting an ethical claim that goes beyond evidence for you, signifies rejecting your own ethic to melt in the mass.

Through the examples stated before we can affirm that in most of cases yes, «The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them». There is no knowledge claim that is 100% percent true, truth and reality is relative to our own perception, so to discover new thing we can’t base ourselves on what we already know.

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