the role of doubt in collaborative philosophical inquiry with children




philosophy, inquiry, collaboration, doubt, pedagogy


This paper examines cultivated epistemic doubt in the context of collaborative philosophical inquiry (CPI) with children in Years 2 to 7 at an inner-city primary school in Brisbane, Australia. The paper documents and categorises episodes of epistemic doubt expressed by children as they participated in an extended, design-based investigation of CPI. Epistemic doubt is theorised according to pragmatist notions developed by Charles Sanders Peirce (1877) who maintained that the space for inquiry is formed between ‘genuine doubt’ and a fixed or settled belief. The inquiry process is genuinely elicited when a ‘real’ experience provokes one’s sense of disequilibrium, resulting in the need to revise an existing belief. He later proposed the process may commence with ‘cultivated doubt’ (rather than genuine doubt), initiated within the inquiry by the inquirer/s desire to review their own existing beliefs and assumptions. The cultivation of doubt would then provoke further examination and re-evaluation of these beliefs, thus leading to genuine doubt at the middle point of the inquiry. The doubt expressed by the students in this study arose from classroom discourse and inquiry rather than spontaneously through direct experience, hence would be considered cultivated doubt. Two distinct categories of cultivated doubt were found: doubt as an interactive process within the group that enhanced collective inquiry; doubt as the object of inquiry. When doubt was the object of inquiry, children sought to distinguish its features and how it functioned within the group to sustain dialogue. The paper enhances our understanding of cultivated doubt during CPI and demonstrates that even quite young students can engage in the collective examination of the features of doubt. Implications for educators are elaborated in terms of the pedagogical practices that engage children productively in the exploration of epistemic doubt.

Author Biographies

elizabeth jean fynes-clinton, University of Queensland

Dr. Elizabeth Fynes-Clinton is an affiliate researcher at the University of Queensland (UQ) where she completed her PhD in 2018. Prior to completion of her doctorate, Elizabeth was employed as Head of Curriculum and Philosophy Coach at a Brisbane Primary School, during which time she led the introduction and implementation of Collaborative Philosophical Inquiry (CPI) at the school in conjunction with her research. Her current research focuses on deep reflective thinking practices through CPI and, within this frame, the role of epistemic doubt in CPI with children is a specific interest.

peter renshaw, School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia

Peter Renshaw is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Queensland, Australia.  He completed his doctoral studies in 1981 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and since then has worked at four Universities in Australia.  He maintains collaborative partnerships with scholars in Europe and North America. He draws upon Vygotsky and Bakhtin and contemporary sociocultural theorists to investigate innovative forms of pedagogy. Currently he is deploying Vygotsky’s notion of perezhivanie in the context of environmental education and children’s experiences of the more-than-human world.  The issues that currently motivate his scholarship centre on the multiple crises of the Anthropocene and the urgency to reform education practices to address these crises.


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How to Cite

fynes-clinton, elizabeth jean, & renshaw, peter. (2021). the role of doubt in collaborative philosophical inquiry with children. Childhood & Philosophy, 17, 01–31.