The tireless quest for knowledge extends over centuries of human exploration, encompassing a variety of academic disciplines that systematically and thematically study the world around us, such as biology, history, and religion amongst other.JD1 The duration of their historical development significantly differs, as some disciplines are as old as 3,000 years, while others have a lifespan of only a century.JD2 The prescribed statement thus establishes a directly proportional relationship between the historical development of an academic discipline and the quality of the knowledge it produces: the older the discipline, the more qualitative its knowledge.JD3 In this context, “quality” is defined by the accuracy, applicability, plausibility, and ability of a piece of knowledge to withstand criticism. Meanwhile, “duration of historical development” can simply be understood as how long the specific discipline has been recognized and studied as such.JD4 In the following essay, I will refute the provided claim by arguing that high quality knowledge does not necessarily follow a long duration of historical development. I will support this point by examining in two disciplines that emerged in drastically different points in human history: Mathematics and Economics.JD5
To begin with, Mathematics, at first glance, appears to show a directly proportional relationship between the quality of its knowledge and the duration of its historical development.JD6 Its study began at around 3,000 BC in Ancient Babylon and Egypt, continuing in 600 BC in Ancient Greece (where its name was coined from the word ??????/mathema), then onto the Islamic Golden Age around the 10th century, as well as during the European Enlightenment.1 This narrative thus leads to various questions, such as: Does the historical duration of study of a discipline lead to more knowledge or better knowledge? What knowledge production processes lead to high-quality knowledge?JD7 Thanks to these centuries of long historical development, whereby scholars researched, debated, and built upon each other’s knowledge across different cultures and time periods, successive and systematic discoveries in this discipline produced high-quality knowledge.JD8 This process was undoubtedly aided by the content-based nature of Mathematics, which is overwhelmingly based upon the way of knowing of reason, rather than more culture-specific perceptive modes, such as imagination and language; if a fundamental mathematical statement is proven, that means it is accurate, applicable, plausible, and able to withstand criticism.JD9 Historical development allows different perspectives to be exchanged and elaborated, building high-quality knowledge that, in turn, lays the foundation for the production of more knowledge in the future.
A real-life example that demonstrates the directly proportional relationship between duration of historical development and quality of knowledge is Euclidean geometry’s Pythagorean theorem, which establishes that in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.JD10 One cannot logically refute or discredit this statement, which is attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras but was indisputably built based upon Babylonian formulas that predated him.2 This rich background of historical development shows how scholars from all over the world have developed and expanded mathematics through the ages to produce high-quality knowledge that lasts to this very day.JD11 Another real-life example, which demonstrates not the resulting high-quality knowledge but rather the process that led to it, is that of the Persian mathematician Mu?ammad ibn M?s? al-Khw?rizm?. His seminal work in number systems and quadratic equations was transmitted to the West in the 12th century as a consequence of the rise of Islam.JD12 3 Yet again, adequate historical development was instrumental in late Medieval and modern mathematical discoveries of Western civilization that produced high-quality knowledge in this discipline used to this very day. Even in my Higher-Level Mathematics course in the IB, through my studies of calculus, I can understand the high level of quality of this body of mathematical knowledge that is backed by a rich and global history of academic scholarship.JD13
A counter-claim to this argument could be made with reference to the area of pure Mathematics, which ignores practical considerations and approximates a form of philosophical debate over logic and proof premised upon reason, putting to question the idea of high-quality knowledge.JD14 4 Let us take, for example, the Banach-Tarski paradox: given a solid ball, there exists a decomposition into a finite number of point sets, which can be reassembled to yield two identical copies of the original ball.JD15 5 This paradox faced debate, controversy, and criticism for the whole century that followed it even though it originated from a rich backdrop of long historical development surrounding mathematical knowledge. In other words, the duration of historical development of mathematics may lead to high-quality knowledge, but it does not guarantee it per se. This case of pure Mathematics demonstrates that knowledge that is inapplicable, hotly contested – and therefore not established as high-quality – can be produced despite the many centuries of academic scholarship.JD16
At the same time, in the discipline of Economics, which belongs to the overarching area of knowledge of the Human Sciences, there is a production of high-quality knowledge despite the short lifespan of the discipline.JD17 To what extent is the quality of knowledge in an academic discipline determined by the needs of society rather than its historical development?JD18 The case of Economics illustrates that a directly proportional relationship between the duration of historical development and the quality of knowledge may not exist in this discipline in the same way that it does in some cases in Mathematics.JD19 The study of economics as an academic discipline effectively began in the 18th century with Adam Smith, who was inspired by French physiocrats that were amongst the first to methodically study how economies work.6 Knowledge could not be produced before in economics, because the very concepts of the market and trade as we know them today were not prevalent until the 16th century, when the structure of European economies started to become more complex.7 Economic scholarship has exploded only in the modern historical era, showing that the rapid economic expansion of European countries led to the rapid formation of this discipline in the 18th century and the production of high-quality knowledge used today in government and business without long historical development to support it.
A relevant example that serves to show that historical development is not necessary to produce high-quality knowledge is that of the fundamental schools of modern economic thought. Academic theory behind economic governmental policy is essentially separated between Keynesianism, which flourished after the 1930s based on the writings of renowned British economic John Maynard Keynes, and monetarism, which gained traction among scholars and policymakers in the 1970s.JD20 8 Even though they criticize and debate with each other, Keynesians and monetarists in tandem can and have time and again comprehensively explained the phenomena and fluctuations of our modern economies. They thus produce and apply robust, high-quality knowledge that is accurate based on ongoing market trends, plausible and applicable in the form of policymaking, and able to withstand criticism, including that of one another. In a mere matter of decades, the most significant systems of knowledge in the discipline of Economics have flourished without the need for long historical development to achieve high quality.JD21
Nonetheless, one could question the very claim that high-quality knowledge has been produced altogether in the case of Economics, a young discipline that lacks a long history.JD22 This can be illustrated in detail by the example of the economic crisis that struck the USA in 2008 and spread to Europe and the world shortly thereafter. During the years of hardship that followed, many commentators and writers questioned the validity of Economics as a discipline and even blamed it for propagating lies and false knowledge, given that it had been unable to prevent this catastrophe that left millions unemployed, or even homeless.JD23 9 The argument can thus be made that the lack of long historical development in Economics may have actually led to low-quality knowledge, which was inaccurate and inapplicable to reality, as evinced by the crisis of 2008.JD24 Yet it must be considered that Economics deals with the challenge of predicting human behavior and, for this reason, only offers hypothetical models that concede a condition of ‘ceteris paribus’ (meaning “all other factors being the same”), thus providing tools and analytical frameworks, not ready-made answers.10 In that sense, its knowledge still remains of salient and high quality. It is without doubt that the way of knowing of emotion, rather than reason, affected this negative assessment of the quality of economic knowledge.JD25 More specifically, strong dynamics of disillusionment, anger, and fear were evoked by the negative shared experience of the economic crisis that began in 2008, taking aim at this discipline’s short history and promising nature.
To conclude, to what extent is high-quality knowledge the exclusive product of long historical development?JD26 It becomes clear that high-quality knowledge does not require long historical development per se, but can result from it sometimes. In other words, an fixed relationship between these two variables that is directly proportional does not exist.JD27 As demonstrated above, Mathematics show that historical development can lead to high-quality knowledge (i.e. Pythagorean theorem) but does not always guarantee it (i.e. Banach-Tarski paradox), whereas Economics show that high-quality knowledge can arise without long historical development (i.e. Keynesianism and monetarism, 2008 economic crisis).JD28 Studying a variety of disciplines through the IB curriculum, I too observe how the academic histories of disciplines vary dramatically and strive to approach their different historical developments with enthusiasm as well as skepticism.JD29 In the quest for high-quality knowledge, it is thus crucial for scholars to appreciate and acknowledge historical development when that exists to reap its benefits, yet not to glorify it as a necessary prerequisite and suffer from short-sightedness and assumptions in their research.JD30