the role of doubt in collaborative philosophical inquiry with children

elizabeth jean fynes-clinton, peter renshaw


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.


philosophy; inquiry; collaboration; doubt; pedagogy

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