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Fostering the Virtues of Inquiry

Abstract

This paper examines what constitute the virtues of argumentation or critical thinking and how these virtues might be developed. We argue first that the notion of virtue is more appropriate for characterizing this aspect than the notion of dispositions commonly employed by critical thinking theorists and, further, that it is more illuminating to speak of the virtues of inquiry rather than of argumentation. Our central argument is that learning to think critically is a matter of learning to participate knowledgeably and competently in the practice of inquiry in its various forms and contexts. Acquiring the virtues of inquiry arises through getting on the inside of the practice and coming to appreciate the goods inherent in the practice.

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Notes

  1. See the next section for a discussion of the problems with the concept of skill to capture this aspect.

  2. See Aberdein (2007) for a discussion of the importance of distinguishing between argumentative virtues and skills, e.g.,: “The exact same fallacy, say an equivocation on a word with two subtly but crucially distinct senses, could result from either a failure of virtue, if deliberately intended to deceive, or from a failure of skill, if the utterer did not notice the double meaning" (7). Bowell and Kingsbury (2014) do, at times, use the language of virtue for all the aspects, distinguishing between epistemic reliabilist virtues (skills), motivational virtues (the commitment to rational belief and action), and regulatory virtues (the sub-virtues), but they also refer to the reliabilist virtues as skills.

  3. It may be the case, as one of our reviewers argued, that a disposition theorist could build the notion of appreciation into her account; but the account would then start to look very much like a virtues account.

  4. A notable exception appears to be graduate education, particularly in science, where fostering the spirit of inquiry is a frequent goal and achievement.

  5. Aikin and Clanton (2010) argue that there are characteristics of individual deliberators (group deliberative virtues) that can help to foster virtuous deliberation, including deliberative wit, friendliness, empathy, charity, temperance, courage, sincerity, and humility.

  6. Zenker (2014) describes a teaching and learning activity for this purpose involving what he calls “counterfactual meta-cognition” (engaging in reasoning episodes that one does not agree with personally). Another strategy is a U-shaped debate, in which students are encouraged to physically change their position around a semi-circle as they hear reasons from their peers that cause them to want to shift their view on the issue under discussion. For a more complete description of the process, see University of British Columbia (2014). Structured controversy, in which students argue for both sides of a controversial issue and ultimately come up with a balanced view, is yet another example (see Johnson and Johnson 1988).

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Correspondence to Sharon Bailin.

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Bailin, S., Battersby, M. Fostering the Virtues of Inquiry. Topoi 35, 367–374 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-015-9307-6

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Keywords

  • Argumentation
  • Critical thinking
  • Inquiry
  • Virtues
  • Practice
  • Community of inquiry
  • Pedagogy