Consider your reaction to each of these justifications:
George W. Bush was an outstanding president. Matter is made up of atoms. Abortion should be illegal. Science is more reliable than faith. Joseph Smith was a prophet.
Although you might not have labeled it as such, your reaction to these statements will be in part reflective of your theory of knowledge (TOK). An individual’s TOK can be thought of in terms of both the content of their knowledge (the individual’s ontology—what they justify to be true) and the process by which they arrive at knowledge (the individual’s epistemology—how they justify what is true). Many people, of course, do not explicitly think in terms of their TOK, but there is a movement to change that, as there now is an explicit international course of study on TOK.
I believe it is crucial that we become reflective about our TOK, and perhaps one of the best ways to do that is to spend time with people who have very different worldviews. For example, I happen to be listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on tape, and it is striking to consider how different the character’s worldviews are to my own.
If people have different TOKs, how do you know if your TOK is a good one? Although there is much debate about this, philosophers have offered four basic angles to analyze one’s TOK.
1) Coherence refers to the extent to which the knowledge system offers semantically clear constructs that relate to one another in a logically coherent way. In other words, is the system internally consistent?
2) Correspondence refers to the extent to which the system lines up with independent evidence. In other words, does the system make predictions about facts to be discovered? (For me the difference between coherence and correspondence is seen comparing the TOK of people with disorganized schizophrenia from delusional schizophrenia. Disorganized schizophrenics lack coherence—at the extreme, there simply is no way to make sense of the semantic network. In contrast, it is often easy to understand what individuals with delusions are saying, but it simply does not correspond with external evidence.)
3) Comprehensiveness refers to scope (breadth and depth) of the TOK. In other words, to what extent does it incorporate the various domains of knowledge or at least provide a potential explanatory framework for various possible domains.
4) Conduciveness refers to the extent to which the TOK pragmatically fosters achieving one’s goals. Here the criterion for goodness is simply whether “it works”. Consider, for example, the contrast between myself and Huck Finn. While my TOK may well be more coherent, empirical, and comprehensive, if I were to be transported back into his time and attempted to live in his world, the conduciveness of my TOK relative to his may well be far lower. That is, I may well have floundered and died if I were confronted with the environmental (social and physical) stressors and affordances he was able to navigate.
With its novel claim that the universe is an unfolding wave of Energy-Information, and depiction of that wave as consisting of four separable dimensions of complexity, divisible because of the emergence of novel information processing systems (genetic, neuronal, symbolic), the ToK System finally gives us a deep understanding of why there are four separable classes of objects and causes: 1) the material (behavior of things like atoms, rocks and stars); 2) the organic (behavior of cells and plants); 3) the mental (behavior of animals like bees, rats and dogs); and 4) the cultural (behavior of people). And with its joint points, the ToK System provides the best TOK of why and how these broad dimensions are connected, and with its characterization of human knowledge as human justification systems, we finally have a way to conceptualize the place of the human knower in relationship to the rest of the universe.