By Zhu Xiuhua (18S06A) and guest writer Beatrice Lee (18S06A)
This article is the first part in Raffles Press’ series, Please Mind the Platform Gap: The Road Less Taken, about non-traditional A-level subjects offered in RI. For our previous features on H2 KI, click here and here.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of RI’s academic management and should not be used as a substitute for formal academic counselling.
If you’ve always wanted to be fun at parties, then Knowledge and Inquiry (KI) is for you. Amuse your friends by exposing their logical fallacies. Befuddle your peers with logical paradoxes. Assert your intelligence by asking the big questions (“Could God create a rock so heavy even he could not lift it?” “Checkmate.”) Perhaps all you’ve ever wanted is an excuse to lean against a wall, tipping your fedora with one hand and taking a drag from your cigar with the other, while contemplating being and nothingness. Or argue heatedly with learned peers about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. KI will provide you with all this, and more.
H2 KI, offered in lieu of H1 GP, is “the study of the nature and construction of knowledge”, or more impressively, epistemology. It is a specific branch of philosophy that deals with what it means when we say we know something, and how knowledge is constructed across different disciplines – mathematics, science, history, art, you name it. The curriculum begins with a short course in logic, before moving on to a general study of epistemology – the definition of knowledge, the structure of knowledge and philosophical doubt, among other things – and finally examining the nature and construction of knowledge in various fields. If you’ve ever heard of the philosophy of science, that is a part of what we do. Learn to grapple with questions like “Is mathematics just a meaningless game with strings of symbols?”, “Does a rainbow exist in the raindrop, in the air, in the mind, or nowhere?” and “How can I be sure that the external world exists?” (spoiler alert: you can’t).
“Alright,” you say, “now you’ve gotten me all hot and bothered. But what do I need to do to gain admittance to this exclusive club?” (Yes, exclusive – generally, less than 5% of the cohort takes KI every year.) The prerequisites for RP students are an overall GPA of 3.6 and a Grade Point of 3.6 in English. Prospective candidates will have to pass a placement test, which JAE students are also welcome to sit for. In addition, RP students who have taken the “Introduction to KI” course during RI’s Gap Semester or RGS Options may sit for an earlier test; if they pass, they are subsequently exempted from the placement test.
Lessons tend to be fairly open, with plenty of room for discussions and questions. As mentioned, the cohort size typically is rather small, which means all lessons can be carried out in a classroom. You will be handed stacks of notes that grow thicker and more arcane as time passes, and you will be expected to read a fair portion of them before coming to class (or risk looking foolish when your tutor asks you a question you can’t answer).
And then there are the assessments. For the A-Levels, there are three papers in KI. Paper 1 involves writing two essays, one on pure epistemology, and the other on knowledge in a particular field of study (science, history, ethics, etc.) Paper 2 is on critical thinking, where students evaluate arguments presented to them in the form of one long passage and two short passages. Paper 3 is the Independent Study. Over a span of 6 months in Year 6, you will have to write a 3000-word paper on any topic you like, as long as it involves the nature and construction of knowledge. For instance, you could examine how divine revelation can give us knowledge. This is potentially the most taxing part of KI. While you may spend the first 3 months of JC laughing at your H1 GP peers (read: plebs) and the countless essays they have to write, you will soon spend the rest of the time weeping when you realise that although, like Socrates, you know nothing, you still have to pretend you do know something in order to crank out your paper in time. (If it gets too much to bear, rumour has it that whispering “das ding an sich” three times in a darkened room in front of a mirror summons the spirit of the long-dead Immanuel Kant, who will put you out of your misery.)
On to other practical matters, namely the question of subject combinations. As mentioned, KI is offered in lieu of GP. It serves as a contrasting subject for both Mathematics & Sciences and Humanities & the Arts. Students are encouraged to offer KI with three other H2 subjects and one H1 content subject; however, it is possible to do otherwise. Offering KI and only three other H2 subjects without a H1 content subject is not advisable, as it will create problems should you want to drop KI afterwards (yes, there is an escape hatch) due to the school’s requirement of at least 10 academic units. On the other hand, every year a few foolhardy/valiant souls decide to take KI along with 4 other H2 subjects. (As this would add up to 12 academic units, one must appeal in order to have a chance at taking a H3.) KI cannot be taken with certain “exotic” subjects such as H2 Art, H2 Music and H2 English Language and Linguistics (ELL). It is, however, possible to take KI with a third language at H2 level. Subject combination constraints will be clarified during the Introduction to Knowledge & Inquiry talk held during the January Induction Programme.
As is the wont of all materialistic, self-serving RI students, you will doubtless be wondering, “what’s in it for me?” Well, the short answer to that is: nothing. In the long run, we are all dead. God (if there is one), at the end of this, may not be too pleased to find out that you’ve been spending so much time doubting his existence. On a more serious note, several major UK universities do not consider KI a content subject in university admissions. However, since UK universities only require 3 H2 content subjects, this should not be a huge problem. KI may give you a head start if you are interested in studying philosophy at university. There are also intangible benefits, such as the skill of logical argumentation, a healthy scepticism and critical worldview, and crippling existential doubt. After all, when things get rough, you can always find comfort in one thing – that everything may be, after all, just a dream.
For more information about the 2019 H2 KI syllabus, visit the SEAB website at https://www.seab.gov.sg/docs/default-source/national-examinations/syllabus/alevel/2019Syllabus/9759_2019.pdf
(Cover image source: http://existentialcomics.com/comic/9)