Bringing Inferentialism to Science Education

Abstract

In this article, I introduce Robert Brandom’s inferentialism as an alternative to common representational interpretations of constructivism in science education. By turning our attention away from the representational role of conceptual contents and toward the norms governing their use in inferences, we may interpret knowledge as a capacity to engage in a particular form of social activity, the game of giving and asking for reasons. This capacity is not readily reduced to a diagrammatic structure defining the knowledge to be acquired. By considering the application of these ideas to the concept of electrical current and the use of analogies in science education, I hope to illustrate how they may be given practical employment as the child comes to explore within the concepts derived from historical scientific endeavours and not merely meander through her individual experiences of scientific phenomena themselves. In moving away from the representational role of analogy, our focus shifts from the quality of the analogy itself toward the quality of the discourse utilising the analogy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The emphasis here is on how one sentence is taken to justify use of another and thus to constitute a valid inference. As discussed in Section 3.1, we are concerned with material inferences and not merely inferences valid by virtue of their logical form.

  2. 2.

    Technically, it also depends upon what propositions it is appropriate to draw this inference from, but we shall keep our analysis simple.

  3. 3.

    There is some similarity here to Vygotsky’s account of the development of spontaneous and non-spontaneous concepts as parts of a single process (Vygotsky 1939; Derry 2008, 2013).

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Professor Jan Derry for introducing me to many of the ideas discussed in this article and for her invaluable assistance in its preparation.

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Correspondence to Edward Causton.

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Causton, E. Bringing Inferentialism to Science Education. Sci & Educ 28, 25–43 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-019-00027-3

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