Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Ibn Khuldoon National School
International Baccalaureate
TOK Essay
Candidate Name: Samar Ahmed Al-Ansari
Candidate Number: 0554-007

Essay Question:

Sometimes we hear reasoned arguments that oppose a view to which we are emotionally committed. Sometimes we hear a passionate plea to a view we have good reason to reject. Bearing this in mind, discuss the importance of reason and emotion in distinguishing between belief and knowledge.

At times reason conflicts with emotion and the age old question of “Do I listen to my head or to my heart?” emerges. As a result, confusion is provoked making the task of determining knowledge from belief a difficult one. While determining knowledge many tend to give reason more weight, however at times reason may be unworthy of such weight depending on the area of knowledge one is discussing. Perception, language, emotion, and reason are threads in a quilt used to determine knowledge. Even though all threads appear in the quilt, the emerging thread is determined by the area of knowledge.

When looking at the areas of mathematics and science, it is clear that reason is the emerging thread in the quilt; the thread of emotion does not even seem to appear. For instance, in math, when one is trying to prove that point X is the midpoint of line AB, he goes about things using sequential, logical steps while moving from one point to the next. Firstly, he would measure the distance from A to X, then he would use his logic and to try to prove that the distance from X to B is congruent to the distance from A to X. Thus, he would measure the distance from X to B, and find that it is in fact equal to the distance from A to X making X the midpoint of the line AB. After proving this, one then uses deductive reasoning and generalizes by saying that a point that lies exactly in the middle of the line is the midpoint of that line. Reason was what made the statement “X is the midpoint of line AB” knowledge; emotion played no part. Proofs and the scientific method follow logical steps, and the conclusions formed at the end are a process of deductive/inductive reasoning.

When dealing with art, all the threads of the quilt seem to emerge, however emotion tends to have the greater effect. Since art is extremely subjective and personal, emotions tend to play a bigger role in determining knowledge because they communicate one’s reactions to his perceptions and create within him his own thoughts concerning the artwork. A year ago, the song “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap[1] (Appendix A) came on the radio leaving me filled with sadness. I believed the song was about heartbreak and about how difficult it is to have the one you love leave, and since art is so personal, knowledge concerning art is subjective, thus my belief became knowledge to me. The song had such an effect on me that I searched for the lyrics that same day. While listening to the song, I read its lyrics only to find that the depth and meaning I found while listening to it were non existent when I read the lyrics. Lines such as: “Trains and sewing machines. All those years they were here first” made absolutely no sense to me; it seemed that it was random gibberish. However, my emotions indicated to me that there was more to the song; they indicated to me that this song was about love. The singer’s voice, the beat, and the melody of the song all helped provoke such a sad emotion within me. My reasoning told me that this song was definitely not about heartbreak, but my emotions indicated otherwise; I went with my emotions. Not only does emotion play a major role in music, but it also plays a role in most art. In poetry, plays, movies, and others, the artist persistently appeals to emotion either through the use of emotive language or through visual aids that provoke a specific emotion. Artists would not appeal to emotion if it did not help the audience to understand the message the artist was trying to convey. If emotion was not a good indicator of knowledge in art, authors would not resort to figurative language that convey emotion, songwriters would not use emotive words that provoke emotion in the listener, and directors would not use visuals that provoke emotion in their movies. Some might say that reasoning is used for determining knowledge in art, specifically through optical illusions. For instance in the picture of the duck/rabbit[2] above, one instantly sees a duck, however through reasoning he is able to see the duck’s beak as rabbit ears and thus is able to see the rabbit. Even though reasoning can be used, emotion tends to play a bigger role in determining knowledge due to the immense subjectivity of art.

Social sciences are used to make sense out of the somewhat strange human behavior thus through reasoning and appealing to the mind human behavior can be explained. While searching for and analyzing patterns, we tend to use reason, thus reasoning emerges in the social science quilt. If you look at Economics you realize that all the observations and conclusions formed are based on logic and reasoning. One of the fundamental economic laws, the Law of Demand[3], simply states that as the price of a good rises, people will demand less of it. This law was formed after economists used their reasoning to recognize a pattern in the market, and consequently used deductive reasoning to form their conclusion. The law itself makes sense, and through reasoning economists were able to label this law as knowledge. Since social sciences deal with human behavior, some might believe that emotion is a good indicator since one must feel in order to fully understand man’s actions. Even though emotion can be a good indicator, it is not without its drawbacks. Everyone is different and consequently everyone feels differently, thus it would be difficult for one to fully understand how another person may be feeling. Although emotions may help strengthen the understanding of human behavior, they can not be solely depended on due to the variability of human feelings.

Reasoning plays a major role in History, as through reasoning one is able to understand the causes and effects of previous events. While examining the Cuban Missile Crisis[4], one uses reasoning to determine the causes and effects of the crisis. Since Cuba is extremely close to Florida, it is clear that the development of weapons so close to the US created fear and panic in the White House, leading to the US threat to Cuba. Furthermore, through reasoning one can conclude that the crisis will worsen the relationship between the two and lead to socioeconomic consequences on Cuba due to the power of the US. Reasoning determines how you know in history, while emotion determines what you know. When events get retold, they become so tainted with emotion that they influence your own thoughts. For example, the way a Lebanese Christian would tell the events of the Lebanese Civil War would be different than the way a Lebanese Muslim would say it; each person will tell the events in a way in which they appear to be the victims. Each person’s beliefs, experiences, and feelings create a bias that taints the events being told and influences what the listener knows. History is facts told with a bias dependant on the speaker, thus many consider the added emotion part of the knowledge claim. A problem with using emotion is that, sometimes, we are unable to filter out the passion of the person who is telling events and we consider the bias and emotion as knowledge and take it as fact.

In ethics, emotion seems to be the emerging thread in the quilt. The ethical dilemma of abortion makes complete sense; if you don’t want something, get rid of it. However emotions speak to some and tell them that abortion is unethical. The guilt one would feel when undergoing an abortion would prove it is unethical. Those who believe that abortion is ethical result to reasoning and say that since the fetus is not developed yet, abortion is ethical. Furthermore, reasoning says that they have valid reasons for not wanting the baby and thus they should abort. Often in ethics, reason contradicts emotion resulting in controversy. However, it seems that emotion may be a better indicator of what is considered ethical, because, in ethics, our reasoning tends to justify things in order to benefit our self interest.

Emotion has such an overwhelming power on man that it can impose the speaker’s beliefs on the listener. In an excerpt of Saddam Hussein’s speech to the Iraqi’s marking the fourteenth anniversary of the end of the Iraq-Iran War[5] (Appendix B), Hussein strongly plays on Islamic and Arab patriotism in order to gather the support of the Iraqi people. By using words such as “jihad” and “forces of evil”, Hussein makes the Iraqis believe that it is their duty to defend Iraq against its enemies. He imposes such a strong belief on them, that to them it becomes knowledge that Iraq’s enemies will be disgraced. War itself is not reasonable, but through emotion Saddam Hussein managed to manipulate what the Iraqis believed. Hussein’s passion and anger is transferred to the listener making him take Hussein’s words as facts. It is clear in this circumstance that emotion can transform knowledge into belief without justification; in other words, we respond so passionately to emotion that at times, we take whatever we’re told as knowledge.

Emotion and reason both play major roles in determining knowledge depending on the area of knowledge one is observing. Our emotions convey to us things our minds simply can not understand, and our reason conveys to us things that our hearts do not. Both indicators are problematic; however, without them, many knowledge claims cannot be justified.

[1] Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap, May 20, 2005,, March 3, 2006 <>
[2] Optical Illusion Art Gallery #1, February 23, 2005. Cool Optical Illusions, March 2, 2006, <>
[3] James D. Gwartney, Economics: Private and Public Choice (London, UK: The Dryden Press, 2003) p. 57
[4] J.A.S. Grenville, A History of the World in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, USA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994) p.506
[5] Extracts from Saddam’s Speech, August 8, 2002, BBC News, March 1, 2006, <>


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Hi, this essay is quite reasonable piece of work, btw. what happended to Samar? How did he die?

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