Friday, 27 August 2010

The riddle of tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is a riddle. On the one hand, it is tacit: it cannot be put into words. This in turn suggests that it is not articulable. It can, perhaps, only be shown rather than said (cf Moore’s account of the knowledge of the meaning of the word ‘red’ which exceeds any enumeration). Some authors suggest that it is capricious and that its transfer from one person to another is unpredictable and cannot be verified (cf Collins). Or one might model it on a form of mindless skilled coping, a mere animal ability that requires no conceptual input (and is thus not conceptually articulated) (cf Dreyfus although for him skilled coping is more basic than any form of knowledge).

But if these approaches to it are correct, then the idea of tacit knowledge comes under threat. Without some content to be known, how can this be a species of knowledge? Stressing its tacit nature undermines its status knowledge.

One might react against this by aiming to articulate a content to be known. The most obvious approach to this is through something like a conceptually structured thought available to be known. But this response threatens the tacit status since once the content of knowledge is articulated it seems that it cannot be tacit any longer. What is to stop its being put into words?

How then can the twin requirements of being being tacit and being knowledge be met or at least balanced?