TOK Tuesdays

Exploring PT 6 – A Wholly Necessary Discussion

This is the last in a series of TOK Tuesdays posts that briefly explore various nuances and concepts associated with each of the May 2020 TOK prescribed titles.  Everything discussed in these posts is fleshed out in considerably more detail in Ideas Roadshow’s six Titled Assistance videos, all of which are now available on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal. Subscribers may regard these posts as high-level summaries of those videos, illuminating large-scale structural motivations that can provide additional context to students both before and after watching the associated Titled Assistance video. 

Today we tackle PT 6 for May 2020.  Once again it’s worth emphasizing that these thoughts, together with those in the related Titled Assistance video, are strictly personal opinions and are designed to highlight key conceptual points associated with each title rather than provide any particular thesis or response to the title in question. 

PT 6 is unique in an intriguing way, as it is the only time that we find ourselves in a situation where we can safely come to an unequivocally clear conclusion on the claim as worded – indeed, in the associated Titled Assistance video I demonstrate that the title’s claim can be fairly easily refuted through a reductio ad absurdum argument. But since the title asks us to “discuss the claim” rather than merely express our level of agreement or disagreement with it, many thought-provoking conceptual vistas are consequently opened up.  

As many will have doubtless noticed, the most pivotal word in the title is “wholly”, which significantly alters its meaning. Saying a given notion depends on something is one thing, but saying it wholly depends on it is a different matter entirely. 

Exploring the difference between “depending” and “wholly depending” is, I believe, an integral aspect of the required discussion surrounding this claim, a discussion which, in turn, naturally directs us to the key notion of distinguishing between necessary and sufficient conditions.  

A small digression: unfortunately, there are still many people out there who look at TOK as some sort of quirky addendum to the DP curriculum, idiosyncratically tacked on to the scholastic rigours of the other bonafide academic subjects.  “Sure, it’s all very nice to take the time for some broad-ranging meta-discussions on how we know stuff,” goes the argument, “but at the end of the day, none of that is terribly relevant to our daily lives in the real world.”

So for all you sceptics out there, this one’s for you. Because I would unhesitatingly claim that, if you learn one thing in your entire high school years, nothing will be more useful to you for the rest of your lives, regardless of what you end up doing, than understanding the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions.

Try understanding climate change, or a presidential impeachment process, or specific election claims, or an analysis of the effectiveness of social programs, or a comparison of different economic indicators, or a historical argument, or even a job offer, without a clear appreciation of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  You simply can’t.  

Yet the truth is that a very great many people muddle the two with alarming regularity, with disturbing large-scale societal effects – indeed, if forced to describe what “critical thinking” means in a general way, one could do far worse than highlighting the ability to distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions.        

Given its obvious importance, many would therefore conclude that one’s critical thinking ability wholly depends on being able to distinguish necessary conditions from sufficient ones.

They would be wrong, of course. But it’s vital to know why.      

The Titled Assistance – Supporting PT 6 video is now accessible on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to all individual subscribers and subscribing schools.  It can be found in the general Theory of Knowledge section (under “TOK Compilations”), the Student TOK section and also in the Teacher Resources section.  It provides a detailed discussion of PT 6 with 4 specific examples from Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources to highlight the concepts under discussion.  It is slightly more than 30 minutes long.

For information about an affordable individual teacher or student subscription which provides full access to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, including all Titled Assistance videos PT 1-6 please visit our website, for students: here, and for teachers: here.


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