Tuesday, 15 June 2010

An overview of TK101

Sometimes when trying to write a paper or chapter, the glad start with which I begin (to use Wittgenstein's familiar phrase) proves mistaken. Although I thought I knew what I was doing it just doesn't seem to work. That, sadly, is how my introduction to tacit knowledge is at the moment. So I need to stand back and get clear on the structure. Here is a stab at the first 80% of that.

A number of philosophers have argued for the importance of something in the area, at least, of tacit knowledge. These include Heidegger, Polanyi, Ryle and Wittgenstein. But their arguments are of different kinds (empirical versus philosophical and narrowly focussed on an argument versus a more general metaphysical picture). What they suggest is the importance of something practical. But does it amount to tacit knowledge?

This prompts the question of what kind of thing tacit knowledge is? My method of answering this is to address the dual status of tacit knowledge.

Start with two arguments for the tacitness of tacit knowledge.
  • Dreyfus’s account of skilled coping provides an explicitness argument for the tacitness of the ability involved
  • Collins discusses the transfer of tacit knowledge (explicitly so called). Central is the idea that the transmission of tacit knowledge is invisible and capricious. It is tacit because it is silent in transmission and cannot be explicitly demonstrated.
But whilst both of these lines of thought suggest a reason to take tacit knowledge to be tacit, they do so only at the cost of undermining its knowledge status.

In Dreyfus’ case, there may be an ability, something practical, in play but since it is non-conceptual, animal and mindless, it cannot be a candidate for knowledge.

In Collins’ case then
  • Either the fluid conception of the transfer of tacit knowledge is simply mysterious (and thus this violates intuitions that knowledge is immune to luck)
  • Or the content so conveyed simply lies outside the ken of all concerned.
How then can we accommodate both the tacitness and the knowledge status. One clue is that there has to be a way to substantiate the idea that there is some content known. (But to say, eg, that Florence knows that snow is white would be to purchase content and hence, possibly, knowledge but only at the cost of tacitness.) So one route is to return to Dreyfus’ account of skilled coping – which at least seems to involve a kind of practical demonstration of the content – and address the non-conceptual status of coping.

Hence, a paradigmatic approach is to correct Dreyfus with McDowell.