Educating for ignorance

Rik Peels, Duncan Pritchard
2020 Synthese  
It is widely thought that education should aim at positive epistemic standings, like knowledge, insight, and understanding. In this paper, we argue that, surprisingly, in pursuit of this aim, it is sometimes necessary to also cultivate ignorance. We examine several types of case. First, in various circumstances educators should present students with defeaters for their knowledge, so that they come to lack knowledge, at least temporarily. Second, there is the phenomenon of 'scaffolding' in
more » ... ion, which we note might sometimes involve the educator quite properly ensuring that the student is ignorant of certain kinds of information. Third, if ignorance is lack of true belief, as a number of commentators have claimed, then in those cases in which students believe something truly without knowing it and teachers show that they lack knowledge, students may abandon that belief and thus become ignorant. In examining the role of ignorance in education, we explore exactly which kinds of ignorance are valuable in teaching situations and draw attention to important epistemic differences between ignorance on different levels. Education has many goals, such as the political goal of producing good citizens, or the economic goal of ensuring that education serves the economic interests of society. But one clear goal of education is epistemic. Indeed, this is arguably not simply one goal of education amongst many, but is rather a constitutive part of the educational enterprise, in the sense that a social practice that merely served political, or moral, or prudential, or economic (etc.,) ends, and which didn't also serve epistemic ends, would not be in the market to count as an educational practice in the first place. It is a moot point what these epistemic ends are, however. At the very least, one would expect education to lead to useful cognitive skills and a body of true beliefs. Usually, however, educational theorists set the epistemic ends at a higher threshold. This might include, for example, the propagation of knowledge, or at least reasoned belief. 1 Or it might involve setting the epistemic bar even higher, such as demanding the development of intellectual virtues and related epistemic standings like understanding. 2 Yet, what all accounts of the epistemic ends of education have in common is that they focus on epistemically positive phenomena, such as rationality, knowledge, understanding, insight, reliable belief formation, and the manifestation of the intellectual virtues. 3 Given that the overarching epistemic goals of education are positive epistemic standings, one might well suppose that negative epistemic standings like ignorance-which is surely a paradigmatic negative epistemic standing-have no role to play in educational practices. We claim that this would be a mistake. In particular, while ignorance obviously cannot be one of the core epistemic goals of education, we argue that nonetheless deliberately cultivating ignorance can sometimes be a bona fide educational practice. One reason why an educational practice might be explicitly geared towards the generation of ignorance is that the epistemic ends of education are coming into conflict with its non-epistemic ends. Accordingly, there might be instances where, say, the social ends of education are served by overriding the epistemic ends and thereby promoting ignorance. Recently, for example, various philosophers have defended the moral value of ignorance, such as when it comes to ignorance of certain technological possibilities, risks, and privacy. 4 Accordingly, one might hold that similar considerations could apply in the educational case to ensure that sometimes ignorance should be deliberately generated for non-epistemic reasons.
doi:10.1007/s11229-020-02544-z fatcat:5ly6fdykp5ek3cvi7a3guip4vq