Rationality, bias, and prejudice: developing citizens’ ability to engage in inquiry

Educational Philosophy and Theory 53 (11):1161-1170 (2021)
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Bias and prejudice are well known aspects of all societies and political arenas. They motivate a wide variety of fear-mongering policies and seem to be deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of people, interfering with their reasoning and better judgement. In this paper, I explore how bias and prejudice come about and how they can be put to more productive use in a democratic context. Humans aren’t as rational as we might expect. We often fail to think logically and applying abstract reasoning is a challenge. When concepts are difficult for us to grasp, we often use our pre-existing ideas and experiences. Our biases and pre-conceived notions allow us to make better sense of complex problems. Bias is unavoidable. If we accept that we have pre-existing beliefs and can identify them accurately, they can serve an epistemic purpose in deliberation. We can use bias and prejudice as the starting point for meaningful inquiry as well as critical self-reflection. In order to accomplish this we need to place a greater educational focus on critical thinking skills. This type of education develops both our specific skills for analysis, evaluation and problem solving, but also builds the essential dispositions for open-mindedness and tolerance that are essential for effective deliberation.



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Luke Zaphir
University of Queensland (PhD)

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