Epistemic Practices In Adults And Adolescents

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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critical thinking
epistemic responsibility
epistemological development
epistemological reasoning
nature of science
Educational Psychology
Science and Mathematics Education
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Being epistemically responsible requires an appreciation for both the power and the limitations of human knowledge, forming and adjusting one’s beliefs in a way that is responsive to the right criteria. Epistemic responsibility is needed among the populace as well as the elite for a functional democracy. It is also crucial for the understanding of science. However, without clear, shared norms of how best to form, adjust, and justify beliefs, we cannot hold each other epistemically accountable. In this dissertation, I explore how adolescents and adults conceive of the best practices for forming beliefs. Chapter 1 asks what criteria for belief people take as legitimate, and how that affects their scientific beliefs. Chapter 2 examines epistemological reasoning in adolescence, focusing on appreciation for objective epistemic strategies and epistemic limitations. Chapter 3 explores adolescents’ cognitive norms and capacity to engage in epistemically responsible thinking, conceived here as thinking that is actively open-minded. These questions are explored using a mixed method approach, utilizing both surveys and interviews in each chapter. Surveys allow data collection from large and diverse samples. Qualitative interviews allow us to observe reasoning and justification more directly, adding nuance and illustrating thought processes. The results reveal serious disagreement concerning what constitutes epistemic responsibility, especially with respect to what counts as a legitimate reason for belief (Chapter 1). However, there is room for optimism; the majority of adolescents demonstrated the crucial building blocks for a sophisticated epistemology (Chapter 2) and norms of actively open-minded thinking (Chapter 3). We need to leverage these existing good epistemic norms and elements of understanding, especially in the young. It is my hope that this dissertation will further this goal.

Jonathan Baron
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