P4C, Community of Inquiry, and Methodological Faith

  • Dale Cannon


In this paper I venture to bring out and disclose an element of faith at the heart of the kind of critical inquiry that we encourage and foster in philosophy with children. It is clearly distinct from doubt, the kind of doubt we customarily associate with what makes critical thinking critical, but, properly understood, it grants to doubt and critical reflection essential roles in the process. What I mean by “faith” in this connection may be understood as trust and confidence in the process of thoughtful inquiry (especially with thoughtful peers). Our coming to recognize the centrality of faith in this sense within philosophy with children may entail some changes in our thinking about where philosophy with children fits into the larger cultural movements of our time and as well about how involvement in philosophy with children bears upon the beliefs and traditions of the sub-cultural backgrounds of children who participate. I should make clear that my perspective is informed by the philosophical insights of Michael Polanyi into what he
calls the tacit dimension of all kinds of knowing, even the most rigorous and formal, especially considering knowing as an
ongoing process. Polanyi focuses a great deal on what he speaks of as “the fiduciary [i.e., faith] coefficient of our knowing”
– indeed, of all explicit propositions we may happen to entertain or hold. He takes as his paradigm of knowing (that is, the
knowing process) the anticipation of an approaching discovery, whether in the natural sciences or in other areas.
I will also relate my discussion to the well-known controversy between W. K. Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief” and
William James’ “The Will to Believe.” I contend that James’ most important point in that controversy has much more to do
with general epistemology than philosophy of religion.