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On curiosity as a civic virtue . . . (fragment)

From corresondence with a colleague who expressed despair for the prospects of enlightened self-government in the age of identity-protective cognition:

Image result for john dewey. . . 1. Curiosity. In How we Think (1910), ch. 3, § 1, Dewey identifies curiosity as the “most vital and significant” of the auxiliary mental “resources” presupposed by reflective thought.  He focuses on its power both to stock the inventory of “primary facts upon which inference must base itself” and to motivate “suggestion”—the unconscious or pre-conscious process by which attention is aroused and critical thought activated.  He is right to emphasize these functions.

But I wonder if we, with the benefit (?!) of our own experience, might identify another form of aid that curiosity supplies: the negation of politically motivated reasoning. PMR consists in an aggressive avoidance of and defensive resistance to evidence that challenges one’s identity-defining preconceptions. But when one is in the grip of curiosity, one is impelled to engage foreign or exotic ideas in pursuit of the anticipated pleasure of discovering that things work differently from what one could have imagined. By hypothesis, then, curiosity disarms the mental sentries that seek to bar engagement with mind-changing forms of evidence. 

If this is right, then we might elevate curiosity as a civic-cognitive virtue even above rational habits of mind. For without curiosity, the societal benefits of the latter are wasted. Indeed, without curiosity, rational habits of mind are themselves conscripted onto the side of identity-protective cognition, on the behalf of which they contribute to the annihilation of the prospects of meaningful civic participation in science-informed and –guided self-government. . . .

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Reader Comments (5)

Link drop:

I wonder how creationists in the US would view this news.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Jonathan. Thanks for the link. Fascinating & sad. Salman Hameed would no doubt have interesting things to say; maybe I can tempt him to do a guest post.

July 5, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Have you seen this: DOI: 10.1111/asap.12101 ?

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Jonathan-- thanks. I put little stock in m turk studies of politically motivated reasoning. They are a great way to ruin a thoughtful experiment design.

July 6, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


I'm glad you are no longer framing Science Curiosity (SCy) as an element of Science Comprehension in the text of this post, which the paper essentially does (albeit with some ambiguity). In your figure 10 showing some reduction of polarization at high OSI if there is also high SCy, what is the contribution to this reduction from the red and blue sides regarding each science related issue? I.e. all red, all blue, about the same for both?

July 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

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