Definition of Key Terms in IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Made Simple

theory of knowledge definitions

IB Theory of Knowledge taught as part of the IB Diploma course, has its fair share of technical terms. TOK is majorly philosophy. Arguably, most students enrolling for the IB Diploma course have little to no background in philosophy. 

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You only have 100 hours of academic work to master a plethora of TOK concepts and deliver a gradable essay and presentation. This means you ought to throw yourself into philosophy in great depths. 

Here are definitions of basic concepts/terms we have compiled  to start you off in IB Theory of Knowledge:

Terminologies in IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and their Definitions

IB Theory of Knowledge concepts

Theory of Knowledge

A branch of philosophy that explains why we know what we claim to know. IB Theory of Knowledge is sometimes used interchangeably with epistemology or the philosophy of knowledge. 

Knowledge Issues

Questions that emerge when inquiry is made on the mode of knowing. TOK is guided by the fundamental knowledge issue of “how do I know what I know/claim to know”. Knowledge Issues are sometimes referred to as Knowledge Questions.

Knowledge Claims

These are assertions that something is the case. In the field of knowledge, you will question and seek to justify claims on acquisition of knowledge. Claims are infinite and not limited to a few theories. Given enough immersion into IB Theory of Knowledge, it will be easy for you to derive a claim of your own and justify it with evidence, facts, or historical records. 

An example of a claim is “Bias is Inevitable in the Production of Knowledge.” You might as well get such an essay prompt in your TOK essay.

Areas of Knowledge

Within the IB Theory of Knowledge there exists various disciplines upon which knowledge is based. Consider them as “subjects” in layman’s language. IB puts the number of Areas of Knowledge officially at 5. Several other sources have, however, tagged more to the list bringing it to 8.

Check the list below:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Natural Sciences
  3. Human Sciences
  4. History
  5. The arts

Other candidates for this list are:

  1. Ethics
  2. Religious Knowledge Systems
  3. Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Distinction between natural sciences and human sciences can be a little puzzling. In simple terms, Natural Sciences are the likes of Physics, Geology, Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy. 

Human Sciences, on the other hand, encompasses the “social sciences” like Law, Economics, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science among others.

Notice the difference? Natural Sciences explore the physical world while Human Sciences seek to understand human behavior and society.

Ways of Knowing

IB Theory of Knowledge: Ways of Knowing

Theory of Knowledge predominantly explores the various Ways of Knowing and related variables in the acquisition of knowledge. Just as the wording suggests, Ways of Knowing are the various modes of knowledge acquisition. IB lists only four of them:

  • Sense perception  – This is the process by which we gain knowledge from the outside world. Universally accepted senses include sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Scientists have argued that sense perception is only possible if there were prior concepts about the objects.
  • Emotion – People sometimes communicate through non-verbal emotions. You will know sadness from a sad face etcetera. Emotion has been termed as irrational and potentially fallible as a Way of Knowing.
  • Language – Defined as a set of symbols and signs assigned universally accepted meanings, used as tools of communicating. Language serves to mean letters, symbols, sounds, gestures, images, and objects. 
  • Reason – Is closely linked to logic, which is drawing conclusions from a grounded premise. Reason is quite relative across AOK, and Areas of Knowledge may have varying standards of reasoning/logic.

Other auxiliary ways of knowing are Imagination, Faith, Intuition, and Memory. WoK elicits so many Knowledge Questions that may be subject to inquiry in your TOK essay/exhibition.


Knowledge claims held by anyone immediately result in further implications in terms of admitting additional implicating concepts. Accepting a premise may pave the way for acknowledging the truth of other knowledge systems. The vice versa is true when negating premises. 

For instance, accepting the claim of supernatural deities results in a subsequent premise of creation rather than evolution or alternative theories of human origin.

Critical thinking

ib theory of knowledge - critical thinking

TOK aims to equip IB students with critical thinking skills for not just excelling in exams but mainly to tackle consequential issues affecting the world. Critical thinking is the number one skill you need to get past TOK.

It is defined as the ability to question and evaluate information in order to make an informed and objective judgment.


Often we take for granted basic belief systems that guide our reasoning. These are the assumptions that surround many Knowledge Claims. Assumptions are confined in culture, personal experiences, geographical location, time etcetera. Check out some TOK assumptions below:

  • Assumption of Causality: Many people assume that events are caused by preceding events. This is the basis for much of our scientific understanding, but it’s still an assumption because it cannot be proven without circular reasoning.
  • Assumption of Objectivity: In many areas of knowledge, such as science and mathematics, there’s an assumption that knowledge can be objective and free from personal bias. 
  • Assumption of Language: We assume that our words and symbols can accurately represent reality, but this assumption can be problematic when dealing with concepts that are difficult to express, or when translation between languages is necessary.
  • Assumption of Memory: In history and psychology, we often rely on the accuracy of human memory to understand the past. However, memory is fallible and subject to bias, so there is an assumption that our recollections are generally reliable.
  • Assumption of Reality: We typically assume that there is an objective external reality that exists independently of our perceptions. 

Assumptions are not completely admissible. Heavy philosophical investigation has continuously ensued to demystify and/or streamline these assumptions.

The Twelve IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Concepts


In as much as students (you) are expected to hold particular claims within the IB Theory of Knowledge, your line of thought takes individual perspectives. Perspective is a point of view driven by influences such as education, gender, cultural background, personal experiences, or the point in time during which the assumption/claim is made.


Grounds upon which claims are accepted, and support for making such claims. IB Theory of Knowledge allows the following forms of justification as listed below:

  • Empirical evidence: facts established by scientific methods supporting the existence of something. Evidence-based justification is common in Natural Sciences and related disciplines.
  • Logic/Reasoning: Justification that relies on rational thinking (reason). Logic involves the application of inductive/deductive reasoning to justify knowledge claims. This method is majorly applied in Mathematics and Philosophy.
  • Memory: recollection of past events may justify assumptions made in the present. Depending on the nature of the knowledge issue, past events may be grounds for predicting the outcome of events in the future. Memory is, however, weakened by fallacies in omissions, commissions, and other errors in recollection.
  • Expert Testimony: statements from authoritative individuals qualified in the prospective field may serve as justification for an argument in IB Theory of Knowledge. Sometimes expert testimony becomes subject to reservations on the premise of expert qualification, and ideological or commercial interests drawn from expressing the testimony.
  • Faith: rejects the need for justification by premising an argument on strong belief that it is true. Any empirical evidence preempts the legibility of faith. Arguably, this mode of justification is the weakest of them all.

Other derived methods of justification include personal experiences, experimentation, consensus/agreement, mathematical proof, and refuting counter arguments.


A summation of information, facts, and/or data that support a particular claim/assertion. Evidence is one form of justification, and evaluation of evidence is critical to making conclusions within our belief systems.


This is the level of confidence in the validity of a knowledge claim. Certainty is based on existing evidence or the strength of alternative justification. Rarely in IB Theory of Knowledge is knowledge absolutely certain, various claims have varying but not absolute levels of certainty.


Truth is the correspondence between the presented knowledge claim and the objective/justified reality. Knowing is the process of seeking this truth.


Refers to how we make sense of information, data, or facts presented before us in line with our knowledge objectives. A major assumption in TOK is that human beings in their utmost diversity will interpret information differently.


In terms of IB Theory of Knowledge, power is the influence over others and subsequently control over creation, dissemination and acceptance of knowledge. Premises, claims, values, and evidence all rest upon power in every particular setting.


ib theory of knowledge - explanation

Providing reasons over the happening of a particular or set of events. IB Theory of Knowledge explains the cause and reason for the existence of knowledge among the masses.


Defined as the impartiality and ability to make inferences free from personal bias and emotions. Human beings are assumed to align to particular biases in line with gender, education, geographical location, and moment in time. All these affect how we evaluate information/data.


Culture represents shared beliefs, values, traditions, and practices across a group of people. Our cultures set for us values and instill initial belief systems that cause bias in how we evaluate information.


These are the personal beliefs of what we regard as ethical and acceptable in line with our conscience. Cultural bias covers values, in that the latter affects how we view and evaluate information, and the judgment we make as a result.


Relates to the moral obligations held intrinsically by people in the process of creating, disseminating, and evaluating knowledge. 

Do not get it wrong. The realm of IB Theory of Knowledge is extensive. The above list serves to introduce you to the intricacies of knowledge philosophy. You will definitely meet more terms when you delve deeper into the course. I do hope that this blog has done justice. 

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