The Search for Truth in a Complex World: Civic and Ethical Dimensions
The discovery of truth is a cooperative enterprise, in which none of us is able to make sense of the world without others being able to check and challenge our conclusions. The success of this cooperative enterprise rests on commitments to freedom of thought and speech, and to civic and ethical ideals like pluralism, openness, and intellectual humility. But how are these principles to be balanced? How does one maintain a commitment to fearless criticism of all ideas alongside a need to maintain openness to differing perspectives? How is this collective effort accomplished in a context of increasing sorting and affective polarization? And when these ideals are weakened, what are the implications for diverse democracies?
During the 2022-23 academic year, the SNF Agora Institute is partnering with the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) at George Mason University to form a community of practice that explores how academics can respond to the intellectual, social, and political complexities of the university in the contemporary moment by “reinventing” the academic vocation around a simple question: What makes one argument better than another argument?
In particular, the relations between a disciplined search for truth, with its commitment to argumentation and evidence, and claims about the value of voice, expression, and identity will be explored. The importance of civic and ethical values, such as intellectual diversity, civility, openness, and respect for the other will be examined throughout.
Participants in this themed fellowship cohort will examine the above-mentioned issues from three angles:
(1) how to combine the principles of civility, openness, and respect with those of free expression and fearless criticism of competing ideas
(2) how to achieve that synergy in the context of polarization
(3) how to teach these ideas to students
SNF Agora will select approximately four Visiting Fellows to be part of a group of approximately fifteen participants – including IHS network scholars or academically trained non-profit professionals – in a program that combines a multi-session reading group, a fellows project, and a public-facing capstone event on the theme. The community of practice will be co-led by SNF Agora Institute Professor of Sociology Andrew J. Perrin, IHS’ Senior Director of Partnerships Michael Tolhurst, IHS’ Academic Programs Manager Michael Broderick, and Christian Lundberg, Associate Professor of Rhetorical Studies at UNC Chapel Hill.
- Fellows Reading Group: Selected Visiting Fellows will be expected to participate in six 75-minute hybrid discussion sessions monthly during September-November, 2022 and January-March, 2023.
- Fellows Project: The discussion sessions will incorporate an SNF Agora Visiting Fellows project culminating in a final product that provides an idea platform for original academic research and/or popular “translations” of published work.
- Capstone Event: At the end of the fellowship year, members of the fellowship cohort will participate in an in-person capstone convening that combines informal discussions with a public-facing panel discussion and Q&A about the civic and ethical dimensions of the search for truth.
We are not currently accepting fellowship applications.