Education and the Open Mind
My dissertation considered the educational significance of a growing field in philosophy, intellectual virtue theory. Intellectual virtues, such as open-mindedness, are characteristics of individuals who seek knowledge and understanding in admirable ways. These traits are developed over time. I became interested in the intellectual virtues interesting because they arguably play an important role in individuals' both academic and career success and in the functioning of a healthy democracy. At the same time, they are widely accessible across intellectual capability levels. For these reasons, I argued that they are vitally important to formal education. Because the virtues are traits that must be acquired over time through repeated practice, schools can provide students with opportunities to develop them. Moreover, because the virtues are widely accessible and do not depend on exceptional cognitive ability, education has the potential to develop these traits in all students, not only those with exceptional academic abilities.
My dissertation focused on one intellectual virtue in particular, open-mindedness (OM). Previous accounts of OM have focused on its role in the pursuit of knowledge, and true belief as a component of knowledge. I built upon recent work in epistemology that proposes understanding as an additional central component of the epistemic good. By recognizing both knowledge and understanding as epistemic goods, our understanding of the aims of education is broadened. I first provided a unique account of OM that incorporates the value of understanding, in addition to knowledge. With this expanded account of OM in hand, I addressed two aspects of the relationship between education for OM and educational justice.
First, I argued that OM is necessary (though not sufficient) for the possession of the capacity for autonomy and the motivation to exercise this capacity. I also considered the importance of supporting education for autonomy in liberal democratic societies based on both individual and societal interests. Here, I argued that education for autonomy and OM can be justified by appealing to several liberal democratic aims: ensuring fair opportunity in the pursuit of the good life and preparing students for citizenship in diverse society. My analysis aimed to contribute to the literature in two ways: first, by identifying a conception of autonomy that explicitly acknowledges its connections to intellectual virtue thus clarifying one aspect of its value and identifying an important component of education that supports autonomy, and second, by establishing OM as not only an virtue in the pursuit of intellectual goods but a virtue in the pursuit of the good life as well.
Second, I considered the role of individual and systemic authority in teaching. I argued that indoctrination is a particular type of abuse of authority that inculcates closed-mindedness in students. Traditional accounts of indoctrination have focused exclusively on the teacher-student relationship, ignoring the relevance of the social and cultural contexts in which teaching occurs. By defining indoctrination as occurring within teaching systems rather than purely dyadic relationships, I brought sociocultural context and disparities that exist across contexts to the forefront. My account thus provides a framework for understanding the moral responsibility not only of teachers, but also of other actors within educational systems.
Papers from my dissertation project appear in the following publications:
Journal of Philosophy of Education
Educational Philosophy and Theory
Philosophy of Education 2013
Philosophy of Education 2014