Our Founding principles: Human ethics, scientific inquiry and democracy

Our mission at the Centre for Inquiry Canada is based on a long tradition of humanist ethics and scientific inquiry. Democracy is required if these ethics and the inquiry are to have an impact on our world.

John Dewey was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 and a leading figure in what is called philosophical pragmatism. He coined the term “warranted assertibility” to describe a collective effort to put claims about truth to the test of people’s real-world experiences in an attempt to arrive at the best statement of fact possible.

Dewey’s process of inquiry is an antidote to ‘bad’ thinking in all forms. All claims are subjected to the experiences of others in the real world. If one person makes a claim, we ask others to confirm it. The more others confirm it, the closer we come to understanding what is true. And if new evidence emerges from our experiences that does not confirm the claim, our positions might change. It is a never ending, self-correcting process of subjecting claims to continuous testing through public experience.
Democracy is a key part of this process because it invites the participation of as many people as possible. For example, an ethical position may seem reasonable in theory or at first glance, but when the consequences of that claim are tested in the real world by many people it may be that the claim is not pragmatic and does not do what it is supposed to do. This ethics test based on consequences and pragmatism will then guide our future actions.

The process of submitting all claims to the experiences of many others does not replace the structured scientific method. In fact, it adds another layer as scientific findings and expertise are put to the test by a democratic community. This democratization of inquiry” means that democracy is not just a political structure or a subject of study, but also the means by which active citizens learn about what is true and how to use that knowledge as a basis for ethical action.

By helping Canadians to learn this process, CFIC enables them to become lifelong learners who are skeptical of fast and easy positions and claims. They become more active citizens and investigate questions and issues thoughtfully and by communicating with others. They put claims and their consequences to the test in the real world. They are better able to make decisions and take action within their social groups and communities. In this way values are developed through thoughtful action within the democratic community.