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At the heart of TOK is the concept of ‘knowledge questions’, or ‘KQs’. These are, as the name suggests, questions about the way in which we produce and use knowledge, and they help us to link the real world to the world of TOK.
The key to understanding knowledge questions is to divide them into two different types: first-order, and second-order knowledge questions. The former ask direct questions about the world, and the latter ask questions about how we know about the world. In TOK, of course, we are more interested in second-order knowledge questions. The table below shows the difference between these two forms.
Exploring knowledge questions help students to develop an understanding of the course, including how TOK manifests itself in the real world, how perspectives shape the way we view the world, and the implications of arguments about knowledge. Encouraging students to ask and discuss knowledge questions are therefore key to helping them to understand the key aspects of the TOK course and the assessment tasks.
Here are a few examples of how that might work when applied to a range of real-life situations or subject-specific questions. You should be able to see clearly that although first-order KQs are not our focus in TOK, they can form a useful stepping stone to identify second-order questions.