Why ask: the epistemology of questioning
Watson, Lani Hayley Marie
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Imagine living one day without asking a single question. Why not try it. How long before a question surfaces in your mind. How long before you are compelled, by force of necessity or habit, to ask it. Questioning is an integral part of our everyday lives. We use it to learn, to communicate, to express ourselves and to understand our world. Questioning binds us to common goals, allows us to establish common ground and is a vital tool in our daily search for information. What we ask, how we ask and where, when, and who we ask determines a large proportion of what we come to know about our world and the people that we share it with. That’s why questioning matters. Regardless of who we are, questioning occupies a familiar, ubiquitous, and indispensable place in our lives. This thesis examines the nature and value of questioning. It opens in Chapter One with an overview of the history of questioning in the Western philosophical tradition, uncovering divergent roles for questioning in distinct historical contexts, and changing attitudes towards the practice in line with underlying epistemological commitments. In Chapter Two a contemporary context for the epistemology of questioning is offered, providing an indication of the nature and scope of contemporary philosophical inquiry into questioning, and outlining a contemporary epistemological context for the investigation. Chapter Three begins the analytical investigation, presenting a characterisation of questioning as a social epistemic practice, and a characterisation of questions as acts, drawing on the results of a large online survey. Chapter Four investigates the value of questioning, highlighting its role in the acquisition of epistemic goods, such as knowledge and understanding, and in the dissemination of these goods within epistemic communities. Chapter Five examines the nature and practice of good questioning, presenting a component-based account of good questioning, drawing on the results of an original empirical study conducted with schoolchildren. Chapter Six explores the nature of virtuous questioning, offering a characterisation of the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness and highlighting the distinctive role of inquisitiveness in the intellectually virtuous life. Finally, Chapter Seven investigates the role that questioning plays in education and presents an argument in support of educating for virtuous questioning. The epistemological examination of questioning captures its essential character and significance. Questioning matters because of the purpose that it serves; that of finding things out. We ask questions in order to gather information on the basis of which we form beliefs and decide how to act. Through the information that we gather and the beliefs that we form, we arrive at knowledge and understanding. Questioning matters because it forms the basis of what we know and understand, as individuals and communities. This thesis examines questioning in light of its central epistemological significance. As such, it provides the groundwork for an epistemology of questioning.