​​Curiosity and Certainty
by Kenneth Stewart, Ph.D.

Resources to help you explore this subject:
Four Discourses on Curiosity and Certainty  
Questions for Exploring Curiosity and Certainty

Caring Curiosity

  • has an attitude of genuine interest in the other person
  • does not assume, but instead asks questions
  • seeks clarification
  • seeks new knowledge
  • has benign intentions
  • delights in learning
  • is willing to be changed by the conversation
  • wants to discover your stories

invites the other to feel special, important, understood
opens up the relationship, helps the other to flourish

The Anthropologist

Hostile Curiosity

  • is interested to the extent that new information will provide some kind of leverage
  • asks questions to confirm assumptions
  • seeks clarification for the purposes of entrapment
  • seeks new knowledge for the purposes of tripping up the other person
  • has intentions to overpower, control, or demean the other
  • learns only as much as is deemed necessary
  • is not willing to be changed by the conversation
  • wants to manipulate your stories

invites the other to feel cornered, trapped, accused
closes the relationship down, overpowers the other

The Prosecuting Attorney 



Temporary Certainty

  • is pretty sure what happened, but is open to other points of view
  • is fairly confident, but still asks questions to expand the picture
  • knows that absolute clarity is never fully attained
  • seeks new knowledge to fill in the gaps
  • has intentions to act and to be effective, but with sensitivity and caution
  • in always open to revising conclusions
  • is willing to be changed by the conversation
  • wants to know the nuances and meanings of your stories


invites the other to participate, to add ideas to the conversation
helps to create a strong team

The Scientist

Permanent Certainty

  • assumes one knows what happened - or "the way it is"

  • assumes one has an "objective" point of view

  • assumes utter clarity of perceptions

  • does not question the meaning of events drawn from experiences

  • has intentions of imposing a particular point of view

  • is not interested in learning new learning other than to reinforce previous views

  • is not willing to be changed by the conversation

  • wants to impose its stories onto yours


 invites the other to keep silent, rebel, or write you off
diminishes or wipes out the other person


The Rigid Fundamentalist 

On Curiosity - Questions to ponder . . .

What were your experiences of curiosity in your own family ?
Who else in your life has had an impact on your attitude of curiosity ?
In what contexts have you learned or turned to curiosity ?
What effects might curiosity have on your relationships ?
What effects does curiosity have on your learning ?
Under what circumstances do you feel least like being curious?
Under what circumstances does curiosity seem necessary ?

On Certainty - Questions to ponder . . .

What were your experiences of certainty in your own family ?
Who else in your life has had an impact on your attitude of certainty ?
In what contexts have you learned or turned to certainty ?
What effects might certainty have on your relationships ?
What effects does certainty have on your learning ?
Under what circumstances do you feel least like being certain?
Under what circumstances does certainty seem necessary ?