Lani is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Her interdisciplinary research spans the fields of philosophy, educational theory and experimental psychology. She is interested in the many ways in which the practice of asking questions affects our everyday lives and the way we learn.
Lani’s current three-year research project focuses on the role that questioning plays in helping us to learn and understand, and to participate in social and political institutions. Viewing education as a primary context for training the skills involved in good questioning, Lani has conducted experimental research in classrooms testing the effects of question-based pedagogy. She is particularly interested in how good questioning can both determine and define a person’s intellectual character leading her to examine the relationship between good questioning and intellectual virtues such as attentiveness, open-mindedness, intellectual humility and intellectual courage. In addition, Lani has been exploring the role that good questioning plays in initiating and guiding discussion, both in and out of the classroom, and the wider implications of her research for questioning practices in diverse contexts, such as business, healthcare, law and journalism.
Lani has recent and forthcoming publications exploring the value of student questioning in education and for democracy, as well as the epistemology of education and the intellectual virtues of curiosity and inquisitiveness.
Lani was a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma in 2016/17 and completed her PhD, entitled ‘Why Ask: The Epistemology of Questioning’, at the University of Edinburgh in 2015. Watch her presenting at the ‘Three-Minute Thesis’ competition final in Edinburgh.
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Read Lani’s thesis abstract below:
Why Ask: The Epistemology of Questioning
Imagine living one day without asking a single question. Why not try it. How long before a question surfaces in your mind. How long before you are compelled, by force of necessity or habit, to ask it. Questioning is an integral part of our everyday lives. We use it to learn, to communicate, to express ourselves and to understand our world. Questioning binds us to common goals, allows us to establish common ground and plays a central role in our daily search for information; whether that be understanding the quantum universe or simply knowing the price of milk. What we ask, how we ask and where, when and who we ask determines a large proportion of what we come to know about our world and the people that we share it with. That is why questioning matters. Regardless of who and where we are, questioning occupies a familiar, ubiquitous and indispensable place in our epistemic lives.
This thesis examines the nature and value of questioning. It opens in Chapter One with an overview of the history of questioning in the Western philosophical tradition, uncovering divergent roles for questioning in distinct historical contexts, and changing attitudes towards the practice in line with underlying epistemological commitments. In Chapter Two a contemporary context for the epistemology of questioning is offered, providing an indication of the nature and scope of contemporary philosophical inquiry into questioning, and outlining a contemporary epistemological context for the investigation. Chapter Three begins the analytical investigation, presenting a characterisation of questioning as a social epistemic practice, and a characterisation of questions as acts, drawing on the results of a large online survey. Chapter Four investigates the value of questioning, highlighting its role in the acquisition of epistemic goods, such as knowledge and understanding, and in the dissemination of these goods within epistemic communities. Chapter Five examines the nature and practice of good questioning, presenting a component-based account of good questioning, drawing on the results of an original empirical study conducted with schoolchildren. Chapter Six explores the nature of virtuous questioning, offering a characterisation of the intellectual virtue of inquisitiveness and highlighting the distinctive role of inquisitiveness in the intellectually virtuous life. Finally, Chapter Seven investigates the role that questioning plays in education and presents an argument in support of educating for virtuous questioning.
The epistemological examination of questioning captures its essential character and significance. Questioning matters because of the purpose that it serves; that of finding things out. We ask questions in order to gather information on the basis of which we form beliefs and decide how to act. Through the information that we gather and the beliefs that we form, we arrive at knowledge and understanding. Questioning matters because it forms the basis of what we know and understand, as individuals and communities. This thesis examines questioning in light of its central epistemological significance. As such, it provides the groundwork for an epistemology of questioning.
Research context at University of Edinburgh:
During her time as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, Lani was primarily based in the Epistemology Cluster with links to the Ancient Philosophy Cluster. She is also linked, through her supervisory team, to the Psychology Department at Edinburgh in connection with the experimental component of her research.