Investigating the Moral Landscape: Knowledge systems, authority and a better way forward?

Watch the above TED Talk by Sam Harris titled, “Science can answer moral questions” and consider the following: 

  1. Summarize his thesis in 1-3 sentences
  2. What are the strengths of Harris’ argument?
  3. What are the weaknesses of Harris’ argument?
  4. Ok, so lets say you agree with all he has to say, where does that leave us? What are next steps?

Is tolerance the root of democracy’s Demise?


Karl Popper, a famous Austrian philosopher of science from the 20th century put forth the thesis that too much tolerance is a bad thing. 

Is it? 

Watch the Vice Media coverage of the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi gathering/protest below and assess your position on tolerance and censorship:

Questions to Consider: 

  1. What arguments exist that the group should the group NOT be tolerated? I.e not allowed to protest and spread their ideas?
  2. What arguments can you come up with that the group should be tolerated and allowed to protest and spread their ideas?
  3. What dangers exist in letting the group speak? What dangers exist in preventing them from speaking?
  4. How would this issue be viewed from a utilitarian perspective? How would the issue be viewed from a Kantian perspective? 

Popper’s argument against too much tolerance is summarized below, what logical fallacy could you argue is present in his argument? 


And lastly, let’s return to our title question: is tolerance the root of democracy’s demise? 

The Evolution Of Evil


The Evolution of Evil:  Evolutionary biologists, especially those Darwinian in nature, believe that modern human behavior must have evolutionary origins. It would follow then, that our less desirable–EVIL–traits too have an evolutionary root. However why would these traits remain in our species if they were not beneficial?

That begs the question: Is evil advantageous?

Which leads to another question….are humans innately selfish?  Read the following piece on whether or not true altruism is possible:

Heidegger vs. Reductionism

Martin Heidegger is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and is a personal favorite of mine! 

His work centers around existentialism, and specifically, phenomenology, an area of philosophy.  We’ll read Heidegger as we progress through the course, however reading the article below and engaging in a reflective journal entry will aide greatly in your ability to comprehend his works as they’re incredibly difficult.

So.  Read the article linked below contrasting the Heideggarian view of the world with a scientific approach (often called reductionism in philosophy). 

Being There: Martin Heidegger on Why our Presence Matters

Journal Entry:

  1. Relate this article to what we’ve been discussing in class over the course of this semester. Integrate source material that we’ve read and discussed as well as the various Ways of Knowing into you response. Additionally, reflect on the article. What are the implications?  What are the implications of reductionism?

Analyzing an Ethical Choice

Thus far in TOK, we have analyzed the following Ways of Knowing: 

  • Perception

  • Emotion

  • Reason

  • Language

Your task, is to identify an Ethical Choice...this could be something real from your life like “not cheating on a test” or it could be something that is real in the world however something that you do not have immediate experience with such as voting against a war if you were a senator…and then analyze how you came to that choice. You must integrate the 4 ways of knowing into a CONCEPT MAP illustrating your analytical process. 

You can create this map digitally or visually.


  • Integrate at least the 4 Ways of Knowing we’ve discussed thus far
  • Concept map form
  • Map needs to sufficiently indicate to the reader how you came to your conclusion (I cheated or I didn’t cheat)

The whole point of this exercise is to answer the Driving Question:

To what extent does one utilize the ways of knowing when coming to an ethical decision? 

The answer to this question leads to other great follow ups like:

  • Should we be more present in our decision making?
  • How to become more present?
  • Do some ways of knowing influence us more than others when coming to an ethical conclusion?