Theory of Knowledge


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We began TOK by looking at scepticism and problems related to acquiring knowledge. Following that, we looked at Empiricism, Rationalism and how knowledge is acquired. Now we are going to look at different theories of perception.

What you see is what you get

In his book, Ways of Seeing (BBC and Penguin Bks, London, 1983), John Berger states the problem of perception nicely:

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognises before it can speak.

But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but the words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

(From Ways of Seeing, p.7)


Many artists, writers and thinkers have been concerned with this problem. Berger cites the Surrealist painter René Magritte's work as illustrating this.

As you can see, what we see (a pipe) does not correspond to the meaning of the words ("this is not a pipe"). Many philosophers have been intrigued by this problem: is what we see, what we get? Does the world correspond to our experience of it?

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