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What Counts as Knowledge? (TOK Exhibition Prompt #1)

What Counts as Knowledge?

I took this photo from the London Eye. During the Covid-19 pandemic I learned that London’s two iconic towers – Victoria and Elizabeth– were inspired by miasma theory: belief that diseases are caused by miasma: “bad air” or pollution. To combat miasma, architects worked with doctors, as they believed that ventilation would prevent disease. During the Spanish Influenza pandemic, nurses took patients outside, as they saw evidence that open-air nursing, fresh air, and heavy ventilation prevented miasma from infecting people. They had knowledge that fresh air prevented disease.

Miasma theory is false; germs and viruses spread disease. But the architects and doctors, who saved lives by operating with what could be called false knowledge, made the right decisions: they prevented the spread of germs and viruses through social distancing and ventilation. Their knowledge was justified and believed, but it wasn’t true; they were accidentally correct. Can these incorrect claims count as knowledge?

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Tower architect Augustus Pugin would claim that the tall ventilation towers prevented disease. Similarly, a nurse could claim that open-air nursing prevents disease. But do these claims count as knowledge if based on a false Natural Sciences theory? Or is it luck that the paradigm was close enough to truth that it proved to be helpful?

This claim does not count as knowledge, but it is still true. In this case, one needs to apply the correspondence test for truth. The claims above were true because they corresponded with reality. But the hypothetical nurse and tower architect did not have knowledge because their perspectives were not grounded in truth. This false knowledge just happened to be true.

This Theory of Knowledge sample Exhibition was written for Get an A in TOK and should not be copied or paraphrased as your own work. The International Baccalaureate and Diploma Programme take plagiarism seriously. Don't get caught stealing from a website.


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