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Debate: Reason vs. Intuition – which side do you take?

Debate: Reason vs. Intuition – which side do you take?
Hi there! Emily Torner here, IB graduate at EF Academy Oxford here to tell you about two major participants in our debate we had during our first year at EF Academy. Unlike other assembly debaters, Jakob and Alessandra didn’t argue for which is the “right” or “wrong” position in an argument. Instead, they argued in support of the best “way of knowing” what is right or wrong: “reason” or “intuition”?

For the benefit of our A-Level students, I explained that within the IB Diploma program, we have a core subject called ToK. ToK, aka Theory of Knowledge, is a subject dedicated to spending time asking questions about how we come to conclusions in particular areas of knowledge (or subjects).

Within ToK, we as students attempt to take Real Life Situations and from them create “knowledge questions”. Whether it be from a particular political leader oppressing a country, or a misinterpretation of a message which resulted in war, ToK examines the ways of knowing of which caused said results.

On Tuesday morning we looked at the controversial issue of testing of products on animals – see the blog relating to the trip to last week’s trip to the Science Museum in London. Our knowledge question was: which way of knowing, “Reason” or “Intuition”, is more reliable when examining the contentious issue of product-testing on animals?

Alessandra advocated reason as being the most reliable way of knowing and Jakob advocated intuition. Here are their reflections on this unusual approach to a debate.

IB graduate Jakob Abeler reflects:

This morning was a challenge for me. Not just because I had to present in the assembly in front of my peers, but because of the topic. Usually, in debates, we are debating the matter of what is right or wrong. But in this case, Alessandra and I both agreed that animal testing is wrong!

We were debating on the matter of why we think it is wrong. I was arguing in favor of intuition against reason as the most effective way of knowing in terms of coming to the mutual conclusion.

This was tricky as I’m naturally more inclined to agree that reason is more credible. Despite this initial reservation, I took time to think about the subject more carefully and compile, through my own experiences, some examples of how intuition has prevailed.

What was also a challenge was the experience of extracting a knowledge question from a real-life situation. But upon doing this, I managed to think less superficially about the situation and more about the mechanics of thought.

I strongly recommend that you participate in the assembly, because not only can it present you with novel challenges, but also encourage you to overcome them.

IB graduate Alessandra di Nicola reflects:

When I was asked to debate for the first time I was very anxious and my first thought was to refuse. But at the end of the speech, I was thankful for the possibility that the opportunity gave me.

In the first place, preparing for an assembly debate is a way of studying deeply a topic relevant to one of your subjects or a current topic in the world; secondly, it gives you the chance of challenging yourself, so that you demonstrate to yourself that you are able to communicate in front of an audience in a language that is not your mother tongue and probably, also in a new subject!

Today’s debate was about TOK and ways of knowing, which is a new subject for me, so it was very useful in order to apply the knowledge that I learned to a real-life situation.  You should try to catch every opportunity that the school gives you. This is my personal advice.

Originally published February 23, 2018.