You are on page 1of 31



Published in Metaphilosophy 35, 4 (October 2004). All rights reserved.


Community of philosophical inquiry (CPI) is a way of practicing philosophy in a group which is

characterized by conversation; which creates its discussion agenda from questions which are

posed by the conversants as a response to some stimulus—whether text or some other media--

and which includes discussion of specific philosophers or philosophical traditions, if at all, only

in order to develop its own ideas together about the concepts under discussion. The

epistemological conviction of community of philosophical inquiry is that communal dialogue,

facilitated by a philosophically educated person, recapitulates and reconstructs the major

elements--and even positions or claims--of the tradition, in one form or another, through the

distributed thinking characteristic of dialogical discourse. The pedagogical locus of control of

CPI is the group as a whole, which is understood as potentially self-regulating through a process

of ongoing dialectical transformation. The role of the facilitator is to act, among other things,

from the Socratic “position of ignorance,” as a bridge between concepts and arguments, and as a

trigger for conceptual system transformation.

Some definitions

By “community of philosophical inquiry” (CPI) I mean a way of practicing philosophy in

a group which is characterized by conversation; which creates its discussion agenda from

questions which are posed by the conversants as a response to some stimulus—whether text or

some other media--and which includes discussion of specific philosophers or philosophical

traditions, if at all, only in order to develop its own ideas together about the concepts under

discussion. As a pedagogical form, CPI is dialogical and multilogical rather than monological,

constructivist rather than transmissional, and its curriculum is at least partially co-constructed

and emergent. As a form of communal discourse, it aspires to an ideal speech situation in the

sense that power is present in the discursive system, not as reified in role hierarchy or arguments

from authority, but in the transformative, systemic dynamics of dialogue. It may also be thought

of as a form of collaborative, playful, dialogical “worldmaking” in Goodman’s (1978, 7-17)

sense of the term; in fact its characteristic discursive patterns bear a striking resemblance to his

five “processes that go into worldmaking,” practiced as a conversational art.

As a philosophical form, CPI may be thought of as “philosophy to the people,” in that it

operates on the assumption that philosophical concepts and the dialectical process of their

development are common to all of us. Philosophy as a practice interrogates and reconstructs the

ideas and beliefs which underlie and/or follow from our epistemological, ontological, ethical,

aesthetic judgments—and thereby our scientific and metaphysical systems, as well as the

meanings and value we ascribe, not just to our lives as wholes but to our practical and morally

significant actions. The epistemological conviction of community of philosophical inquiry is

that communal dialogue, facilitated by a philosophically educated person, recapitulates and

reconstructs the major elements--and even positions or claims--of the tradition, in one form or

another, through the distributed thinking characteristic of dialogical discourse. Such a definition

assumes that philosophy as community of inquiry is a form of discourse that can be practiced

wherever two or more are gathered together, and by whoever is capable of some form of

facilitating the communal conceptual interrogation I have just described. In this paper I want to

explore the structure and dynamics of this discursive form from both an archeological and a

systemic point of view, and to reflect on the particular function of a facilitator of such a group

discourse. This analysis applies as much to groups of five year olds as it does to college age

students, senior citizens, frequenters of philosophical cafes, or any discussion group, planned or

spontaneous, which has stumbled upon philosophical terrain. I will begin with some broad

questions about the form.

Community of philosophical inquiry: some background and some questions

Community of inquiry pedagogy presupposes a shift in the role of the teacher whose

implications are only just beginning to be explored. The transition from teacher to facilitator,

and from a transmission to a dialogical model, was announced in 1965 in Paulo Freire’s highly

influential book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1965) under the rubric of “solving the student-

teacher contradiction.” Beginning in the 1970’s, Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp (see

Sharp 1992, 1993), in the process of reimagining philosophy as a form of discourse appropriate

for and accessible to children, drew on Dewey’s social theory and logic of inquiry, Peirce’s

epistemology and philosophy of science, Buchler’s theory of judgment, Vygotsky’s relational,

interactional learning theory, and multiple other inchoate and as yet untraced roots in

argumentation theory, informal logic, and theory of dialogue, to reconstruct and develop a term

originally used by Peirce—“community of inquiry.”

Lipman’s and Sharp’s synthesis reconstructed philosophy as a communal, dialogical

activity. So conceived, community of philosophical inquiry (CPI) is a recapitulation of Socratic

practice with a major and determinative difference: in CPI, the controlling factor in the direction

of the argument, and the source of its self-correcting movement, is no longer one powerful,

dominant member of the group, but the systemic, dialectical process of the group itself. In CPI,

the deconstructive/reconstructive process that Socrates takes solely upon himself is distributed

among all members, and has its source between them—that is, in their interactions. This

assumes several things about the logic of communal inquiry: first, that the critical faculty—the

capacity to evaluate arguments according to logical principles--is generic, in potentia anyway, to

humans, based as it is on the schematics of logic, language, thought, and their interaction; and

second, that when faced with a situation of collaborative inquiry into matters of philosophical

meaning, interactions based on that critical faculty are triggered which act to evaluate,

deconstruct, or build upon the arguments of the assembled interlocutors. The pedagogical locus

of control of CPI is, in other words, shifted from one individual to the group as a whole, which is

now understood as potentially self-regulating through a process of ongoing dialectical

transformation (Kennedy 1999a). Under these assumptions, there is still a place for a designated

pedagogue, but his or her role becomes quite different from the traditional univocal or polemic

one. Understood not just as a philosophical but as more general educational ideal, community of

inquiry theory offers a superordinate epistemological and methodological framework for various

late 20th century reformulations of the classroom, from cooperative to individualized learning,

and from cross-age grouping to strategies based on multiple intelligence theory—all of them

based ultimately on imagining learning as a dialogical rather than a monological process.

Whence this historical phenomenon? Does it, for example, follow a larger shift in the

way post-industrial social systems organize themselves, thereby leading to a shift in the way

educational institutions act to reproduce those systems? Or is it an emergent element within

educational institutions themselves which promises to change the social systems of which they

are a part? Does it promise a reconstruction of, not just curriculum, but school organization on

larger levels? Is it an effect of or a stimulus for the changing nature of the student-teacher

relation? Is it characteristic of—and only supportable within—certain political systems,

specifically, one characterized by democratic practices and dispositions? Is it a methodology


which can be applied across all curricular areas, or only within disciplines which don’t depend

on the acquisition of “hard” data for successful assimilation? Is it inherently subversive of social

and political status quos—that is, does it implicitly challenge the structures of authority,

beginning with the educational—i.e. the adult-child relation--which act to maintain relations of

social and economic domination and oppression? As an educational reform, should it be

understood as one particular style among a range of possible ones which exist in ecological

balance, or as an educational baseline? How many different forms can it take and still be called

what it is?

Community of inquiry: some archeological and some futuristic considerations

One way to begin to approach these questions is to seek out even broader frameworks

than they themselves seek to explore. The phenomenon of community of inquiry seems to be

related, for example, to the emergence in the postmodern era of constructivist epistemology. The

latter is, at least in one of its aspects, a theoretical response to the practical fact that, to the extent

that we live in an increasingly interconnected, intervisible, common world, we also live in an

increasingly pluralistic knowledge environment. The more knowledge-perspectives I am

exposed to—whether of gender, class, sexuality, self-understanding, religious belief, aesthetic

value and so on—the more alternative versions of truth I encounter. The more alternative

versions of truth I encounter, the more my particular truth is challenged, at least in its claim to

universality, which has, traditionally anyway, been considered one necessary condition for

calling something true. There is a contradiction here, which indicates that it might be a

dialectical problem. I am required both to think more for myself, since I am faced more and

more with my own decisions about my truth—which statistically I could be the only person in the

world to hold--and to think more with others, because I am more and more aware of the relativity

of my truth vis a vis others, and the necessity of coming into some sort of coordination with the

truths of others in order to cope collectively. Given this situation, community of inquiry is a form

of pedagogy which, in its emphasis on thinking for oneself and with others (Kennedy 1999b)

represents a form of preparation for dealing with this new truth environment. Through the

process of CI, we individuate even as we coordinate--with the other and with the group of others,

which as a whole is in turn another kind of other. Even as we articulate our own subjectivity in

contradistinction to each other subjectivity, we come to understand ourselves as a collective

subject. We come to understand that, not just our belief systems but our very selfhoods are

under continual reconstruction, and always in relation to the other. We have entered a new

subject-world, self-other boundary condition.

The new boundary condition is reflected theoretically in the rise over the course of the

last century of field and systems theory. In the realm of psychology, gestalt and field theory

have been slowly working to redefine our notions both of subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

Gestalt theory implicitly understands the self as a form better defined as an organism than, as

was implicit in the ancient Platonic tripartite model, a discrete unit, or “substance.” An organism

has different kinds of boundaries than a unit. First, it is permeable, in interactive exchange with

what it boundaries on. It moves and reshapes as the boundaries of the other do. It takes its

definition from the other as well as giving the other its definition. Its boundaries are irregular

and continually shifting, and those shifts are determined by situation, or context.

The self is in a continual negotiation with the other and the situation in which it finds

itself, working to define itself as a diverse unity—both an individual and a part of a whole

structure which is more than the sum of its parts; and a “borderline” phenomenon, which takes

its identity from the selves with which it shares boundaries as much as from some individual

teleological principle within itself. Community of inquiry could be described as a structural

response to the ambiguity which this realization introduces into the process of “selving.”

Through the psychodynamics of CI—which are, if not isometric with, then in analogical relation

with the cognitive dynamics of the critical dialogue which is the main business of community of

inquiry—borders are explored, probed, pushed against, raised, taken down, adjusted, and so on,

in a continual process of self-correction.

The process is a dynamic one, and requires the same endurance on the social-emotional

level as what Dewey (1997[1910], 13) refers to on the cognitive level as the endurance of

“suspense”—or the ability to maintain “that state of doubt which is the stimulus to thorough

inquiry”--associated with what he calls “reflective” thought. In the group encounter which is

community of inquiry, individual boundaries shift in relation to the system as a whole, which in

turn is influenced by each individual boundary shift or stasis. Resistances are encountered—

local areas of stagnation, which are eventually triggered to change by other elements of the

system. There is clash, advance and retreat, hardness and softness, the brittle and the porous. As

Paul Schilder (1948) described it, individuals are continually “traveling into and out of each

other,” posturally, kinesically, in memory, fantasy, and mimetic proprioception—both on the

bodily-kinesthetic and on the symbolic level. In the process we come to recognize that we are

both the field and individual elements within the field, and that their foreground-background

interplay—including reversal of the two--is continual. What we can learn is to bear with the

fundamental, inquiry into who we are and what we might become which this form of dialogue

represents, knowing that it will always be transforming, and sensing its potential for unity. We

sense a common telos—an imminent drive toward greater meaning—both on the psychological

and on the theoretical/speculative/cognitive level. In the dialogue of subjectivities which is CI,


each individual becomes more itself and also more relational; its perspective, both cognitive and

social-affective, is both clarified and grounded in the perspectives on which it boundaries.

Also foundational to community of inquiry is dialectical theory, which, broadly speaking,

has its origins in philosophical Romanticism, with one culmination in Hegelian dialectic, another

in Marx’s revision of Hegel, and which was opened into a wider cultural and intellectual stream

by the developmental thought—both biological and psychological—of the later 19th century. The

analysis of the process of development of organisms and the application of that analysis to

human psychological development reveals the dialectic in concrete form, and also thereby opens

the way to systems theory. Organisms are systems which, the more complicated they are, the

more they develop through reversal, regression, sudden leaps, periods of stagnation, and chance

interactions with other organisms. When applied to non-organic phenomena which are even less

determined--like weather patterns, or relationships, or personal and cultural development—

analysis also reveals dialectical patterns with teleological characteristics, which appear as a

horizon for chaotic development.

We find this same process operating in the form of dialogue that is community of inquiry,

in this case in the realm of communal philosophical dialogue. In CI discourse, the development

of the “argument” is chaotic but has a direction (Lipman 1991). It proceeds non-sequentially,

relatively unpredictably, and irreversibly—three major characteristics of open systems. Also like

other open systems, it is characterized by moments of dislocation and disorganization—and by

phenomena like role reversal and polarization, stagnation, triggering phenomena, unpredictable

organizers (for example, an idea which seems irrelevant at first, but eventually shifts the whole

context or direction of the argument), ambiguous control (everyone in the system is exercising

some measure of control, which creates ambiguity), and the “non-additive integrative element,”

or an element of the system which emerges and organizes everything around it. It is in continual

deconstruction and reconstruction—system is transition.

The significance of this process for reconstructing educational discourse is multiple. The

attempt to design a pedagogical form which understands itself as allowing and even profiting

from the characteristics described by open systems theory represents a social and cultural

advance. To trust chaos is to recognize its implicit order-seeking character. Historically,

institutionalized systems have attempted to discipline chaos by imposing closed and static

organizational and discursive forms. This is particularly true in schools, where children and

youth have long represented--for adults--instinct, impulse, and dangerously untamed nature. To

the extent that community of inquiry models itself on open systems, it signifies a trust in human

“nature” and the implicit meliorative orientation and self-organizing tendencies of human

processes—both individual and collective. If we are not afraid of chaos, it is because we sense its

directional urge toward new, more satisfactory forms of order--even in the midst of dramatic

transition, we see a new order emerging. Hence it is a preparation for the world we are now and

forever entering—a world of increasing interconnectedness, and therefore of increasing

transitionality, since the more elements there are in a system, the more complex it is, and the

more vicissitudes it undergoes. CI as a discursive form and process trains us to make judgments

which are system-positive: to become enablers and facilitators of the system rather than

totalitarian controllers of it.

Community of philosophical inquiry

Community of inquiry can be practiced as a pedagogical form within all the academic

disciplines, but is expressed in paradigmatic form in community of philosophical inquiry, where

the discursive relation between the empirical and the abstract differs from other content areas.

From the point of view of school (and, for that matter, university) curriculum, community of

inquiry pedagogy, when applied to any discipline, leads to an inquiry into the philosophy of that

discipline, in that communal dialogue is characterized by the questioning of fundamental beliefs

and assumptions. Historical inquiry, for example, when pursued as communal dialogue, will

lead inevitably to a deeper level inquiry into its grounding axiomatic principles, then one level

further into the questions to which these axiomatic principles are propositional responses—What

is a historical fact? Is there one logical theory of historical explanation? Is there a historical

individual? Can historical conclusions be objective? Is history linear, cyclical, or chaotic? Are

there laws of historical change?

This is to say that any dialogical inquiry, pursued far enough, becomes philosophical

inquiry. If this is so, it has implications for the role of philosophy in any form of education—

including primary and secondary—which practices communal inquiry, even if it is practiced as

just one pedagogical modality among others. It also, as I have already argued, has implications

for how we understand philosophy broadly as a practice. Practiced in the dynamic system-

context of CI, philosophy is an intensely meaningful, transformational group process, in which

the ongoing reconstruction of subjectivity which the development of the group system—or

collective subject--entails is isomorphic with the ongoing reconstruction of ideas entailed by the

development of concepts. CPI is as much a psychodynamic process as it is a speculative one, and

as such is a recapitulation of the ancient Pythagorean ideal of the goal of philosophy as

“therapy,” or healing; except that its core process and the engine of its movement is, not the

transmission of esoteric, revelatory doctrine brought by a universal genius, but the dialectical

movement of dialogue itself. CPI is an exercise in theory rather than ideology. If it has a

metaphysics, it is the metaphysics of the dialectic, and as such has no content per se, only

process—or rather, content and process are two expression of the same developmental



Dialogue is not just a skill, but a set of dispositions, and an intersubjective psychological

and discursive space where I and the other come mutually under interrogation--not interrogation

by some truth or set of propositions standing outside of or beyond us, and not even interrogation

by each other, but by the deconstructive and transformative power of the question itself—which,

if it is a philosophical question, calls both my and the other’s assumptions to account (Silverman

1986). In this space, every question addressed to the other is also addressed to myself. It is the

space where we search together for the assumptions we can share, which is an integrative process

involving identifying the same in the different and the difference in the same. Agazarian and

Gantt (2000) identify this process as fundamental in the development of psychotherapeutic group

systems. It can also be applied to the development of concepts in group dialogue. It assumes that,

although we are not so naïve as to think we can ever reach the horizon of a unified perspective,

yet the particularly human work which is ours is to move dialectically toward a differentiated


Dialogue, which Gadamer (1987, 1980), following Plato, translates as “traveling apart

toward unity,” assumes the open-system nature of what we call knowledge. There are two

overlapping systems of values and judgments—our internal/subjective one, and the

external/intersubjective. These two systems are in a dialectical relation. Dyadic dialogue is the

moment of mutual interrogation of two internal systems. Dialogue as community of inquiry is

the confrontation of all the internal systems assembled with the external system of the

community as a whole. Within CI, dialogue happens between individuals, between each

individual and the whole, and between all possible combinations on the continuum between

those two: one individual and two others, two individuals and the group as a whole, and so on.

The whole is of course the larger system, and the more open one, although its potential for

development and transformation depends on each subsystem (Agazarian and Gannt, 2000). Like

all systems, its direction of movement is toward unity in the form of an optimal both

differentiation and coordination of its various elements—which in the case of CI is the

coordination of the perspectives of all the individuals in the group. It will never reach this goal

and survive as a system, for to do so would be to reach entropy, which is system death. And the

dynamism, or eros of the system lies in “traveling apart”—the making of distinctions in the

interests of finding new connections; the identification of contradictions in order to resolve them

on a broader level; the discovery of deep assumptions in order to reformulate them as

hypotheses; the submission of generalizations to exemplification in order to test their

universality; and so on.

In the dialogue within and between each individual internal system of values and

judgments—of which we can find at least a rough analogue in Piaget’s structuralist notion of

intelligence as interaction between organism and environment understood as a unity—and the

external system, or “distributed” structure of the group, both are in a continual process of

adaptation. In the language of CI, this is called “self-correction.” For the individual, it implies

the complicated process of thinking for oneself—that is, evaluating and synthesizing the group’s

structure of judgment in the light of one’s own—and thinking with others, or evaluating one’s

own structure of judgment in the light of the group’s. Since CI is an open system, this process is

non-linear and relatively unpredictable. The group may self-correct as a result of one

individual’s contribution, or visa versa. More often than not, the sign of self-correction is the

general reduction of defense reactions and the greater acceptance of ambiguity, or the cognitive

suspense which living and allowing open system entails. Those in dialogue—whether as

individuals or in groups, clarify through further complication.

Recognizing and tolerating complexity and ambiguity is a fundamental necessity for the

development of, not just cognitive capacity, but mutual tolerance and a value of compassion as

well. The capacity to enter and sustain dialogue is, on a social and emotional level, the capacity

for hope—the capacity not to give up on the other; to recognize one’s need for the other’s

perspective; to accept that mutual understanding and agreement is a process, not a state, and thus

always arriving. On a conceptual level, it is the epistemological faith that, at some omega point,

all judgments coordinate, and that this virtual location is the inherent—if, from the position of

human finitude, unreachable--telos of the dialectical process of conceptual development.

The facilitator’s role

The function of the successful facilitator in this discursive and psychodynamic structure

is not an easy one to describe. The traditional roles of the teacher as knowledge-deliverer,

disciplinary or epistemic authority, inspirer, or even knowledge-triggerer or “midwife”—the

role, for example, which Socrates presumes to play in his conversation with the slave boy in

Meno—may have local functions, but each of them will mean completely differently when

expressed in the context of a group process which is understood as autopoietic, i.e. as a dynamic,

self-organizing system. A facilitator is not a logical necessity in such a system, but, exceptional

cases aside, is an empirical one. On the other hand, given that the implicit goal and direction of

the group in CPI is toward auto-facilitation—whereby each individual member of the group

exercises to some degree the leadership skills which enable the maturation process as a whole—

to that extent, the goal of the facilitator is to distribute his or her function, and thereby to become

just another member of the group. Thus, the facilitator is a coach and a catalyst for the inherent

autopoeisis of group dialogue. She or he models the skills of group dialogue, but also makes

more complicated interventions, whether related to the current psychodynamic structure of the

group-as-a-whole, or to the current conceptual structure of the argument-as-a-whole.

The facilitator is an authority, but, as is recognized in group psychotherapy, an authority

who must be “killed and eaten” by the group in order for the latter to appropriate and internalize

his or her functions. To chart the isomorphism between the emergence and formation of a

philosophical system in the context of group inquiry, and the emergence of what Agazarian and

Gannt (2000) call a “working” group in the realm of the psychodynamics of intersubjectivity —

i.e. a group which has successfully dealt with issues of authority and intimacy and whose

processes are therefore clear enough of emotional defenses to function optimally—requires us to

imagine a group with long and intensive experience together. The former—an emerging

philosophical system—is, however, from the beginning recognizably forming around the

traditional categories of philosophy. The ontological, epistemological, ethical and aesthetic

issues which are first taken up are mostly dependent on the texts, typically (but not necessarily)

offered by the facilitator, which evoke them. But once the nodal themes of “person”—most

usually the gateway to a consideration of being—knowledge and belief, and the ethical and the

aesthetic forms of “right” have been touched upon, the CPI typically finds itself returning

recursively to them, from different angles and in different combinations. The emergent

philosophical system which the group is always constructing and reconstructing will never be

complete—any more than will the psychodynamic system which is represented by the

relationships between group members. Nor is either system in any way invulnerable to levels of

chaos or stagnation which are intense enough to lead to system failure. In addition, the

construction of group time and space in school situations typically limits groups to about the

amount of time—depending on the developmental pace of each group—to get started.

The CPI facilitator begins by describing and modeling the language game “community of

philosophical inquiry,” which on the most visible level is made up of the skills of group

dialogue, and includes simple but necessary discursive behaviors--not always easily learned--like

restating the positions of others, summarizing, calling for clarification, asking for or offering

examples and definitions, pointing out contradictions, connecting and distinguishing ideas,

building on another’s idea, attempting to delineate the steps of the argument so far, disciplining

oneself and others in the interests of full and balanced participation, suggesting new or related

directions, calling for a slowing down or a speeding up of the dialogue, and so forth. When the

process is working well, there is a sense of a broadly patterned cycle of emergent growth,

moving from a proliferation of themes, ideas and propositions to the work with the inter-

relationships between the concepts which have emerged, followed by a search for definitions by

which to develop criteria for the concepts, followed by the emergence of examples and

counterexamples which clarify or change the concepts, followed by the emergence of one or

more concepts in a new form, or of related concepts through which the main concept can be

clarified, and so on. Since this is a non-linear process, it is characterized by branching,

recursion, and unpredictable emergence of apparently unrelated material—and is always

characterized by the presence of communicative “noise”—i.e. ambiguity, contradiction and

redundancy (Agazarian and Gannt 2000, 166-167)--all of which also provide potential for

development through exploring the cognitive dissonance they generate. In addition, it is never

unaccompanied by issues of personal, sub-group, and whole-group power—even when the

developmental authority crisis with the leader has been successfully resolved (Kennedy 1997).

Rather than attempting to enumerate or codify techniques of facilitation in CPI, I want to

sketch a few basic positions which the facilitator in the process can take. These might be

described as macropositions—stances, styles, attitudes or forms of attention. Undoubtedly there

are more than those mentioned here, and these could be described differently. And they are

defined to a certain extent by how they differ from the macropositions which characterize

traditional instruction. Their major difference is that they depend on a global relocation of the

facilitator in terms of her or his understanding of her position and function in the group, which in

turn hinges on understanding the group as an open system.

The position of ignorance. Facilitation is a form of expertise, and as such is governed

by a certain relationship between tacit, or background knowledge--gathered from experience and

available intuitively and non-systematically--and self-conscious or foreground knowledge, with

which it interacts in a dialectical relationship (Polanyi 1966). The more the expert knows, the

more intuitive she or he becomes in applying that knowledge, and the less she or he consciously

or planfully uses any particular technique or method—except the anti-technique of

backgrounding technical knowledge in order to give oneself spontaneously to the discursive and

intersubjective moment. This means that there are no fixed rules for what can or cannot be part

of CI curriculum or pedagogy. The facilitator understands each group as a particular

constellation of individuals who form a pattern which will never be repeated. As such, the way

in which the argument emerges in this group will be like no other’s; therefore no two facilitating

moves will ever be alike except as the expression of a random order.

Given the fact that every situation has a new and unique face, the facilitator lives with

radical uncertainty. This uncertainty may be difficult to maintain, but it is a positive one: it

represents the possibility of transformation in the group system, or the collective subject. No

move made by the facilitator will necessarily have the same effect as the same move made in

another situation, and no situation is ever repeated. There are, it is true, certain fundamental

moves which can more or less be depended upon to open and help maintain the dialogical space:

these are the behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal, known as “active listening,” or, in CI theory,

“translation”—offering a restatement of someone’s point, asking directly for clarification,

summarizing, tentatively connecting two different points, and so forth. They are reflective

moves in that they don’t offer any new ideas or information to the group, but simply attempt to

make visible, clarify, or connect what has already emerged.

Two levels of logical movement can be seen—or felt—operating in the argumentation

process of CPI. There are relatively simple logical moves, which are the most visible, and

follow Aristotelian patterns—which is to say that they conform to the “law” of contradiction.

These are moves such as identifying an underlying assumption, restating a point as a logical

proposition or as a syllogism, pointing out the necessary implications of a statement (showing

what follows), identifying a contradiction, stringing a series of points together in a logical

sequence, and so (Cannon and Weinstein 1993) are equivalent to active listening on a logical-

linguistic level. They do not exactly leave everything as it is—in fact no intervention does--

because they make them more clear, which is not how they were. They can be transformative, in

the sense that, once the underlying Aristotelian logic of a statement is clarified, it changes the

way it signifies in the argument. In the context of the group dialogue, they act somewhat like x-

rays—they reveal the underlying logical structure of the argument within one local freeze-frame,

which does not extend far either into the past or the foreseeable future. They can also, as often

as not, reveal the absence of underlying logical structure in the argument, or the logical

contradictions which the argument, at that moment, is managing to hold together.


The next logical level is the system-level, and is not Aristotelian but Hegelian, or

dialectical. Here the law of contradiction does not suffice to satisfy the appearances. If the

facilitator is a logician as well, she might, as she attempts to grasp the movement of the

conversation, find a boundary zone between the two logics by extrapolating forward—like a

chess player—on the Aristotelian level, but where difference of degree becomes difference of

kind is likely to remain moot. Here there is also the suggestion of isomorphism between the logic

of the conceptual process and the psycho-logic of the group’s development.

The logic of dialectical or open systems--in that it attempts to describe the possible within

an evolving structure which is non-linear, relatively unpredictable, and irreversible--breaks down

the classical separation between observer and observed, and makes of the facilitator a creator as

much as an observer of system development. At this level, the position of ignorance—or the

foreground-background switch which brings the facilitator fully into the lived moment of the

dialectical play of discussion, is no longer a choice. System moves are spontaneous and have

generally unpredictable effects. They include things like suggesting returning to a previous topic

or moving on to another one, or the move of consciously doing nothing—for example of

allowing the conversation to continue even though it seems to all but those participating at the

moment to be leading nowhere—or of initiating a focusing exercise2 of some kind, or calling on

someone who has not spoken. The facilitator can not be said to choose these moves as a result of

any conscious strategic calculus, but feels them, as a painter feels a color to be appropriate in a

certain place, or a musician a rhythmic or harmonic or melodic shift. Like any expert, the

facilitator finds him or herself working with parts and wholes in a different way than the novice

or the technician. He or she feels the system—the shifting and ambiguous relationship between

part and whole, the possibility of reversal, of the part becoming the whole, or that vertiginous

moment when the whole becomes the part of a yet undiscovered new whole; or the moment

when two parts combine in new ways, or polarize, thereby implicitly evoking a third which

promises to unify them.

In order to feel the system, the facilitator must allow the system. In order to allow the

system, he or she must purpose to avoid attempting to control it—although any intervention by

anyone within the system is in fact an attempt at control. Furthermore, the system develops as

much through resistances and conflicts within it as through symmetrical or harmonic patterns. It

is inevitable that the facilitator will apply constraints, insist on sequential movement of the

argument, attempt to slow things down or speed them up. But his or her control, as Lushyn

(2001; and Lushyn and Kennedy 2000) have argued, is ambiguous, and perhaps the most

dramatic difference between the model of CI facilitation and the traditional normative model of

teaching is that facilitator lives with the existential realization that he or she, along with each

other person in the system, is a microcosm or fractal of the system. To the extent that the system

is not conscious—and any fully conscious system is entropic--he or she cannot be conscious; the

teacher can not stand outside the group any more than can anyone else within it. And he knows

that every intervention he or anyone else makes will change the system in some way—

quantitatively at certain moments (e.g. another argument, or another perspective to take into

account), and, at relatively unpredictable moments, qualitatively. The phenomenon of entropy in

physics would seem to indicate that the direction of the system is toward an ultimate harmony,

although an ultimate harmony represents system death. In terms of CI, the direction in which the

argument leads is, as I have already said, toward a complete coordination of perspectives.

Epistemologically, this corresponds with C.S. Peirce’s definition of “truth” as “what the

community will agree on in the long run” (Raposa 1989, 154). Any system move—whether it

appears as activity or passivity—is in the interests of that assumption, although it may on the

surface appear to be a move which increases chaos or stagnation.

Bridge. The facilitator considers the CPI to be, not so much the receptacle of or the

source of the knowledge which will be communicated to each individual, as the matrix within

which that knowledge will emerge--and the vehicle through which it will be selected and

articulated. This means that curriculum and pedagogy are mutually determinative. The initial

form of the curriculum is a set of readings of some kind, designed to stimulate questions of a

philosophical nature—triggers for philosophical anamnesis. The questions which emerge from

the group typically either mirror the text’s philosophical problematization of the world, or

problematize the text from a philosophical point of view. Each individual in the group is

encouraged to offer a question, and the resulting set of questions makes up the agenda for the

ensuing discussion—i.e. the curriculum, which is thus both individually and collaboratively

negotiated and constructed.

The discussion plan is a landscape through which the group and each individual in it

move as they discuss. As Dewey (1897) pointed out, the location in which the students meet the

knowledge organized in the texts must be the ground of their own experience—what he called

their “psychological” as opposed to “logical” knowledge of the conceptual material of

philosophy. In CPI the experience, the prior knowledge, and the deep assumptions of each

member of the group are distributed throughout the group as something like a field phenomenon,

and the facilitator acts (or does not act) with the purpose of bringing them to expression through

dialogue in a way which makes them available to each member—i.e., which moves them (while

preserving them) from the “psychological to the “logical” level. In the process, individual

meanings become, to the extent they can through discourse, common to all.

When we say that this experience, and the resultant construction of knowledge which

follows from its entry into dialogue, is “distributed,” the implication is that it forms an

intersubjective system. It is a communicative whole. Each subject in the group is in the process

of internalizing the knowledge and the skills which are constructed and communicated between

subjects. If a member uses a syllogism in order to make a point, his or her interlocutors hear that

syllogism in some way as if they were articulating it. Vygotsky (1978, 56-57) called this the

“intrapsychical reproduction of the interpsychical.” What happens between us also happens

within each one of us. This is the basis of community of inquiry learning theory.

One of the functions of the skilled facilitator is to act as a synaptic bridge for the

continual redistribution and reconstruction of knowledge among group members. He or she does

this on the most obvious level through the hermeneutical practices of restatement, clarification,

summarization, and the drawing of implications and projection of consequences. A facilitator is

most commonly heard saying, in one way or another, “Are you saying that . . .?” or “If that is

the case, then mustn’t such and such follow?” or “How does that relate to what so and so said?"

But even as this moment-by-moment work of helping to connect the emergent parts goes on, the

facilitator is also--as much as is possible--holding the whole emergent pattern in mind. Given

that the emergent whole is non-linear and relatively unpredictable, this role involves as much

imagining a whole as recognizing one. The facilitator who is paying attention to the emergent

whole is always looking for the boundaries, markers and larger pieces of the argument, and to

their junctures, seams, shifts and transformations. Above all he or she is paying attention to the

elements of the structure which are in contradiction, for it is these elements which represent its

transformational potential.

Given the knowledge that any intervention he or she makes—including a simple attempt

to summarize the whole--will influence the whole—the facilitator is faced with an apparently

infinite set of choices. The most straightforward strategy is to act recursively. He or she circles

back—restating, connecting or juxtaposing present arguments with previous ones, summarizing

—while at the same time looking forward through offering implications of arguments, and trying

out interpretations of the whole emergent structure of the argument on the group. He or she

connects smaller parts with the perceived whole, imagines alternative directions which the whole

might take, and identifies positions which don’t fit with the direction the whole seems to be

taking, knowing that they might represent significant triggers for the eventual transformation of

the whole in another, more complex and satisfactory direction. As a bridge, the facilitator is

constantly attentive to the possible relationships between the elements of the system.

Because of the indeterminacy of the system, because the possible permutations it could

take—given the chaotic element of what Peirce called “tychism” or chance (Corrington 1995)—

are infinite, the facilitator can never act completely inductively, i.e. make decisions solely on the

basis of past experience. He or she also has an infinite choice of emphasis--whether to pursue,

whether to attempt to suppress, whether to allow, whether to steer strongly, whether to merely

suggest, whether to introduce another modality in the form of an exercise, whether to seek

closure or fend it off, and so on. The facilitator exercises control the way the system self-

controls—ambiguously. Ambiguous control presupposes that control is distributed throughout

the system, and can change location at any moment. It can emerge in an individual or in a

subgroup, be exercised by the group as a whole; it can jump, slide, dissipate, spread, focus, or

permeate from one part of the system to another. From the point of view of the psychodynamics

of the group, control can be equated with power, and power can be equated with energy. “Good”

energy—high spirits, harmonious feelings, intensely positive interaction, a strong sense of the

emergent whole—is a manifestation of power just as much as are obvious conflicts of will or of

judgment. In fact a strong sense of the emergent whole is typically associated with a clear sense

of contradiction within the system—contradiction on the verge of dialectical mediation. The

facilitator and the participants at an advanced level of group development interact with this

energy the way a sailor interacts with the wind, or a surfer the waves.

Following the Vygotskian principle of internalization, every bridge the facilitator makes

acts as a potential model for each other member of the group. He or she is teaching the art of

playing in the system, but it is a serious form of play. No bridge offered or connection seen and

articulated is guaranteed to go anywhere; each is provisional until its effects are known, and the

facilitator can only take partial responsibility for any effect, whether it leads to positive system

change or not. The bridges he or she assays are multi-dimensional: a conceptual bridge is also

an emotional bridge, which is also an intersubjective bridge. In the interactions of CPI, we soon

realize the isometric character of thought and feeling. They are equivalent to something like

particle and wave: every thought hangs for its ultimate implications on a feeling state, and every

feeling is an apprehension inchoately struggling to become a thought. Philosophy practiced as

communal, oral dialogue, in its sonorous immediacy, reconstructs the discipline as a whole

human activity, in which thought, feeling, physical presence and the developmental, dialectical

processes of intersubjectivity form a multi-modal unity.


Trigger. A system in complete chaos appears to have no connections between its

elements—or else it is a situation of polarized or redundant elements, which is characteristic of

system stagnation. Even a system in an apparent state of harmonious development has emergent

elements of chaos and/or stagnation within it. Those two elements, in fact, could be said to be

preparatory states for system transformation. All that is certain is that the system will move.

Broadly speaking, it can move toward either death or life—i.e. toward disintegration and

dispersion of its elements and their reformation as parts of other systems, or towards relative

harmony and adaptation, or a state of “thriving.” In human systems, and especially those

grounded in a normative ideal of dialogue, ambiguity and indeterminacy are magnified because

of the element of free will. An element of a weather system, or even a traffic system, cannot

either refuse or purpose to alter the system. It could be argued that the forms of refusal or intent

to modify of which humans are capable is system-determined on another level. In either case,

the phenomenon of human systems is rendered more complex.

Any member of the group can act as a trigger for system transformation, and no one

person, including the facilitator, can control transformation in the sense of either causing it or

preventing it. There is no one element within the system which can make it move when it is not

ready to move, or prevent it from doing so when it is, although the character or direction of

movement can be influenced by human choice. As in the cases of backgrounding and bridging,

the facilitator differs from other committed participants only by virtue of his or her experience

with the system phenomenon of CI.

Any move triggers the system in some way. Even silence on the part of one participant is

a “move” in the sense that it eventually accumulates and causes a reaction. Maturation on the

part of the group comes as each individual member comes to understand this, and, in

consequence, to understand his or her primary responsibility for the development of the whole.

Again, the isomorphism between the dynamics of the intersubjective process and the dynamics

of the auto-construction of the argument holds. In modeling a presence which understands the

effect it is having on the group, the facilitator enters a three-way attentional split between 1) his

or her personal felt sense of the argument—of what is important and what is not, of the

significance of an example which has come to mind, or the sense of some missing element, or

even the sense that the way in which the concept under discussion is being framed is either

limited or misguided; 2) the state of the argument as a whole, apart from his or her personal

appropriation of it—its emergent structure, its shape and direction, its various pieces and their

relations, its current contradictions, the assumptions which are not being acknowledged or

explored. This is an “objective,” abstract form of attention—of watching the whole--which

resists and warns against the urge for personal intervention; 3) the psychosocial state of the

“collective self” as a whole—the participatory distribution of the members of the group, the

sense of group attention, the affective sense of both the whole and of individuals, the awareness

of subgroups, the sense of real or potential domination by one or more individuals (including

herself) or subgroups, an ongoing awareness of those who are silent.

The facilitator (or any relatively mature participant) is held in this triple space of

attention, and it is the space from which he or she acts, knowing that each act will trigger a

system shift, however slight. Given that he or she gives herself to this suspension between these

forms of attention, he himself is triggered to trigger. In most cases, she knows what she has done

only by its effects. His or her philosophical knowledge—of the tradition and of its characteristic

discourses and forms of argumentation—is necessary but not sufficient for the development of a

collective philosophical subject. In fact if we allow for the evidence of experience that the major

questions and basic positions of the philosophical tradition are often spontaneously recapitulated

through group dialogue3—and that philosophical argumentation is a universally human language

game, based on a dialectical relation between knowledge and being which can be evoked through

dialogue—then both the tradition and the language game are already present in the group in a

distributed form.

The facilitator’s role is to trigger and bridge these ways of thinking and talking which we

call philosophical, to bring them maieutically into group awareness. Any other pedagogy is

monological, whether cast in the form of a conversation or not. Socrates’ “dialogues,” for

example, show for the most part one pre-eminent philosopher thinking aloud, orchestrated by

some conveniently submissive students. Thus the distinctively non-Socratic adage of the CPI

facilitator—to maintain a position which is “pedagogically strong and philosophically self-

effacing.” As the collective philosophical subject matures, the balance can be reversed, for the

group itself internalizes and acts out the pedagogy, and the facilitator is free to be philosophically

strong because the rest of the group is, in turn, strong enough to maintain dialogue with him or

her. Effective facilitation requires a form of sensitivity to otherness, to difference, and an ability

to nurture a potential in others which may already be present in him or herself. The latter entails

a capacity for strategic self-effacement which the greatest philosophical mind is, it would appear,

capable of lacking completely.

The CPI facilitator triggers system change—both conceptual and psychodynamic—

through identifying with the system to the point where it triggers her or him. This is the result of

an attentional state which manifests behaviorally as a balance and a tension between monitoring

and intervention. If he or she holds back too much, the system is liable to stagnation. If he or she

speaks too much, he or she either dominates and closes the system—another form of stagnation

—or triggers chaos. What distinguishes community of inquiry as a pedagogical form is that the

facilitator, because he or she cannot take a position outside of the group/system, shares every

effect and vicissitude with every other member. Any movement she initiates or enables within

the system will effect him or her as much as any other. This is perhaps the crux of the major

paradigm shift in education first announced by Paulo Freire (1965, 59, 67) in the mid twentieth-

century as dialogical education, which he associated with the task of “solving the student-teacher

contradiction.” “Through dialogue,” he says, “the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-

the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers.”

Some conclusions

Community of philosophical inquiry is a reconstruction both of philosophy and of

education which also reconstructs the relationship between them. Education understood as group

inquiry implies philosophy as a fundamental element of curriculum, but not philosophy as

traditionally or academically understood. The philosophy which results from collaborative,

dialogical inquiry into the disciplines emerges as a natural outgrowth, or stage, of that inquiry.

Understood as an inquiry into the founding assumptions of the disciplines, philosophy is a

fundamental dimension of every discipline.

Community of inquiry reconstructs philosophy as a group dialogical process—as an

interactive, egalitarian, oral-discursive event which approaches the written tradition

hermeneutically, and always as if for the first time. Philosophical texts are read as provocations

rather than as canonical statements. Arguments from authority are rejected. The connection

between philosophy and democracy—if the latter is understood in the Deweyan sense as a form

of social practice rather than just a form of political organization—is already implicit in the role

played by Socrates in the Athenian polis. The “gadfly” eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice

for “following the argument where it leads.” If philosophy as collaborative dialogical inquiry is

an inherently deconstructive activity, and if it is intrinsically connected with democracy as social

practice, then democracy as social practice is intrinsically at odds with education understood as

the primary social institution through which the state reproduces itself, for education must

suppress the deconstructive impulse in order to reproduce the state—its economies, its politics,

its hegemonic practices, and the values which support these.

Educational institutions in the modern state are not expected to change the social systems

of which they are a part, but to produce subjectivities—or subjects--which maintain and uphold

them. Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth.” Read from a Freirean perspective, this

means, of entering into dialogue with them; for whatever the non-dialogical tendencies of

Socrates—or, as likely, Plato’s historical revision of Socrates—he founds the fundamental

setting and idea for community of philosophical inquiry. As such, he inaugurates a new form of

the adult-child relation, based on dialogue rather than indoctrination, and reason rather than

authority. The passage from child subjectivity to adult “subject”—in the Foucaultian sense of

one who has been “subjected” (Foucault 1979, 26)—which it is the business of education-as-

reproduction to organize, is just the crucial point in the hegemonic process which Socrates—and

CPI—destabilizes and subverts. So understood, CPI as a normative educational form has

enormous implications for the evolution of a form of social life which seeks to overcome—

beginning with the adult-child relation--relations of domination as a necessary form of power for

the maintenance of individual and group order and stability. The CPI facilitator is a first

pedagogical model for this evolutionary step.


Agazarian Yvonne M. and Susan P. Gantt. 2000. Autobiography of a Theory: Developing a

Theory of Living Human Systems and its Systems-Centered Practice. London: Jessica

Kingsley Publishers.

Cannon, Dale, and Mark Weinstein. 1993. “Reasoning Skills: An Overview.” In. Thinking

Children and Education, edited by Matthew Lipman, 598-604. Dubuque, IA:


Corrington, Robert S. 1995. The Community of Interpreters. Second Edition. Macon GA:

Mercer University Press.

Dewey, John. 1897. The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Dewey, John. 1997 [1910]. How We Think. Mineola, NY: Dover.

Foucault, Michael. 1979. Discipline and Punish. New York: Vintage.

Freire, Paolo. 1965. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1980. Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato.

New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Gadamer Hans-Georg. 1987. The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy. New

Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Goodman, Nelson. 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis, Ind..: Hackett.

Kennedy, David. 1997. “The Five Communities.” Inquiry 16, no. 4 (Summer: 66-86.

Kennedy, David. 1999a. “Philosophy for Children and the Reconstruction of Philosophy.”

Metaphilosophy 30, no. 4 (October): 338-359.

Kennedy, David. 1999b. “Thinking for Oneself and With Others.” Analytic Teaching 20, no. 1

(November): 15-24.

Lipman, Matthew. 1974. Philosophical Inquiry: A Manual to Accompany Harry Stottlemeir’s

Discovery. Montclair, NJ: First Mountain Press.

Lipman, Matthew. 1991. Thinking in Education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lushyn, Pavel. 2000a. “Personal Ecology and Social Change.” Psychology 1, no. 8: 21–26 (in


Lushyn, Pavel. 2000b. “Personality Change: On the Threshold of the Constructivist Paradigm.”

Practicing Psychology and Social Work 8: 32-35 (in Russian).

Lushyn, Pavel. 2001. “A Few Psychological Projections into Philosophy for Children.” Analytic

Teaching 22, no. 1: 39-44.

Lushyn, Pavel, and David Kennedy. 2000. “The Psychodynamics of Community of Inquiry and

Educational Reform: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Thinking 15, no. 3: 9-16.

McCall, Catherine. 1993. “Young Children Generate Philosophical Idea.,” In Thinking Children

and Education, edited by Matthew Lipman, 569-592. Dubuque, Ia: Kendall/Hunt.

Polanyi, Michael. 1966. The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Raposa, Michael L. 1989. Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion. Bloomington: Indiana University


Schilder, Paul. 1948. The Image and Appearance of the Human Body. New York: International

Universities Press.

Sharp, Ann Margaret. 1992. “What Is a Community of Inquiry?” In Critical Thinking and

Learning, edited by Wendy Oxman, Nicholas Michelli and Lesley Coia, 295-312.

Montclair, NJ: Montclair State University.


Sharp, Ann Margaret. 1993. “Community of Inquiry: Education for Democracy.” In Thinking

Children and Education, edited by Matthew Lipman, 337-345. Dubuque, IA:


Silverman, Hugh J. 1986. “Hermeneutics and Interrogation.” Research in Phenomenology 16:


Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

I am indebted to Dr. Pavel Lushyn, Professor of Psychology at Kirovograd State Pedagogical

University in Ukraine and a practicing group psychotherapist, for his application of systems

theory to dialectical psychology.

Matthew Lipman and colleagues have developed a series of manuals for each of the

philosophical novels in the Philosophy for Children program. Each manual contains literally

hundreds of discussion plans and exercises which focus on the concepts distributed through the

stories, and provide many simple, powerful models for philosophical exercises appropriate for

any age level. See for example, Lipman 1974.

For a transcribed example of this phenomenon, see McCall, 1993.