The Moral Foundations of Educational Research: Knowledge, Inquiry, and Values

By Pat Sikes; Jon Nixon et al. | Go to book overview

6
Research as thoughtful practice

Jon Nixon, Melanie Walker and Peter Clough

Without the breath of life the human body is a corpse; without thinking
the human mind is dead.

(Arendt 1978, Vol. 1: 123)

We take as our starting point the relation between thought, action and judgement as explored by Hannah Arendt throughout her life but particularly in her later work. Arendt defines the purpose of human thought with reference to the structural features of human agency. Thinking, she argues, is the means by which all human beings grapple and come to terms with the boundless indeterminacy of action. Thinking can never have an instrumental, means/end relation to action precisely because (a) the consequences of any action are indeterminate and (b) the prime purpose of thought is to seek to understand that indeterminacy. Thinking 'is not a prerogative of the few but an ever-present faculty in everybody; by the same token, inability to think is not a failing of the many who lack brain power, but an everpresent possibility for everybody' (Arendt 1978, Vol. 1: 191). We locate Arendt's elaboration of the relation between thought, action and judgement within a broader Aristotelian frame of reference, in which we seek to position the practice of educational research.

This conceptualization of the relation between thought, action and judgement does not lend itself well to prevailing trends within educational research. We live in an evidence-sodden society: that for which there is no evidence is beyond cognizance. We have lost the nerve for bold inductive inferences that project beyond the known data. Yet that is precisely what thought requires. Policy makers whose policies were entirely and exclusively evidence-based would be incapable of projecting into an unknown and uncertain future. Similarly, practitioners whose practice was entirely and exclusively evidence-based would be incapable of foresight and circumspection. This is not to say that evidence is irrelevant to thinking,

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