Chapter 2. Knowing how and knowing that
In the previous chapter, we...
This chapter looks to the recent debate about whether Ryle’s attack on what he calls the ‘intellectualist legend’ is successful. Ryle deployed the regress argument that was discussed in the previous chapter to argue that intelligent action cannot be explained in general as the result of prior acts of contemplating propositions. Practical knowledge is not in general dependent on theoretical knowledge. But his views have been attacked in favour of a view we will call, for convenience, intellectualism.
This new intellectualism has three elements, all of which we will examine. First, It disputes the success of Ryle’s regress argument and concludes that the regress argument provides no reason to deny that knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that. Second, it denies Ryle’s outline of a constitutive account of knowledge-how as a complex of abilities and dispositions. The new intellectualism argues that there is no link between knowledge-how and ability.
Third, it offers a rival constitutive analysis of knowledge-how as a matter of grasping that a particular way of acting is a way to act, entertained under a practical mode of presentation. Thus, knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that. The argument that knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that suggests that features of knowledge-that will also apply to cases of knowledge-how. One question which follows from that is whether Gettier examples can be constructed for knowledge-how.
We argue against both of the first two intellectualist claims. There is an interpretation of the regress argument which works against an explanation of intelligent action. And, once one distinguishes between two form of knowledge-how – theoretical and practical – there is a connection between knowledge-how and ability. Further, the latter kind does not allow Gettier examples.
Still, there is something in the intellectualist approach. Knowledge-how has a content which can be articulated via demonstratives to ways of going on. That in turn suggests – for later chapters – that tacit knowledge need not be thought of as non-conceptual, ineffable or mysterious. Even though theoretical knowledge depends on practical mastery, practical mastery need not remain mysterious.
Ryle’s view starts from the claim that knowledge-how cannot be explained through the intellectualist legend, according to which intelligent action is steered by grasp of a proposition. Ryle argues, instead, that ‘[i]ntelligent practice is not a step-child of theory’ [Ryle 1949:27] though the deployment of a regress argument.
Ryle’s argument can be found both in a paper called ‘Knowing How and Knowing That’ and in chapter two of his Concept of Mind: If a deed, to be intelligent, has to be guided by the consideration of a regulative proposition, the gap between that consideration and the practical application of the regulation has to be bridged by some go-between process which cannot by the pre-supposed definition itself be an exercise of intelligence and cannot, by definition, be the resultant deed. This go-between application- process has somehow to marry observance of a contemplated maxim with the enforcement of behaviour. So it has to unite in itself the allegedly incompatible properties of being kith to theory and kin to practice, else it could not be the applying of the one in the other. For, unlike theory, it must be able to influence action, and, unlike impulses, it must be amenable to regulative propositions. Consistency requires, therefore, that this schizophrenic broker must again be subdivided into one bit which contemplates but does not execute, one which executes but does not contemplate and a third which reconciles these irreconcilables. And so on for ever. [Ryle 1945: 2]
The crucial objection to the intellectualist legend is this. The consideration of propositions is itself an operation the execution of which can be more or less intelligent, less or more stupid. But if, for any operation to be intelligently executed, a prior theoretical operation had first to be performed and performed intelligently, it would be a logical impossibility for anyone ever to break into the circle. [Ryle 1949: 31]
There has been a recent flurry of literature both on the precise nature of this argument and thus whether it is a successful refutation of intellectualism [eg Stanley and Williamson 2001; Noë 2005]. But it seems to involve something like the following regress: Suppose all know-how can be articulated (put into words) as a piece of knowledge-that: grasping some proposition that p. Grasping the proposition that p is itself something one can do successfully or unsuccessfully, so it is also a piece of know-how. So, on the theory in question, it will involve grasping another proposition, call this q. But grasping the proposition that q is itself something one can do successfully or unsuccessfully, so it is also a piece of know-how. So, on the theory in question, it will involve grasping another proposition, call this r.... etc
Whether Ryle has a successful regress argument or not has been called into question recently most influentially by Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson. They offer the following as a summary of the premises of his argument.
Ryle’s argument has two premises:
(1) If one Fs, one employs knowledge how to F.
(2) If one employs knowledge that p, one contemplates the proposition that p...
If knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that, the content of knowledge how to F is, for some φ, the proposition that φ(F).
So, the assumption for reductio is:
RA: knowledge how to F is knowledge that φ(F). [Stanley and Williamson 2001: 413-4]
This then leads, apparently, to a regress in the following way:
Suppose that Hannah Fs. By premise (1), Hannah employs the knowledge how to F. By RA, Hannah employs the knowledge that φ(F). So, by premise (2), Hannah C φ(F))s. Since C(φ(F)) is an act, we can reapply premise (1), to obtain the conclusion that Hannah knows how to C(φ(F)).By RA, it then follows that Hannah employs the knowledge that φ(C(φ(F))). By premise (2), it follows that Hannah C(φ(C(φ(F))))s. And so on. [ibid: 414]
But Stanley and Williamson go on to contest whether there really is a vicious regress to worry about. And if not, then it seems that the intellectualist legend is unharmed. Their own development of a version of intellectualism has two components. First they argue that there is no important semantic distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that. And second, they develop an account of knowledge-how in knowledge-that terms. We will return to these two further aspects of their view of knowledge-how later in this chapter. This section will concentrate on the regress argument.
Stanley and Williamson contest that there is a stable consistent way to interpret the premises of the argument.
They first dispute the claim that if one Fs, one employs knowledge how to F. Cases such as digestion surely undermine this. Thus for example:
· If Hannah digests food, she knows how to digest food.
is surely false. ‘Digesting food is not the sort of action that one knows how to do’ [ibid: 414]
(In fact, Alva Noë plausibly argues that the condition is in fact true since its antecedent is false because Hannah does not digest her food. ‘Hannah doesn’t digest food; her digestive system does (in her or for her). Hannah may have excellent digestion, but she is not, in that case, excellent at digesting.’ [Noë 2005: 279] But this will not affect our argument.)
To preserve the truth of the first premiss, Stanley and Williamson argue, it has to be restricted to intentional actions. But then this seems to make problems for premiss 2: If one employs knowledge that p, one contemplates the proposition that p.
In support of this objection they quote Carl Ginet:
I exercise (or manifest) my knowledge that one can get the door open by turning the knob and pushing it (as well as my knowledge that there is a door there) by performing that operation quite automatically as I leave the room; and I may do this, of course, without formulating (in my mind or out loud) that proposition or any other relevant proposition [Ginet 1975: 7]
This example, they argue, shows that instances of knowledge that are often unaccompanied by distinct acts of contemplating propositions. To preserve the truth of premiss 2 requires construing the ‘act’ of contemplating a proposition as no more an intentional action than digesting food. If so then it can be saved from refutation by cases such as the one Ginet cites. But, of course, if contemplating a proposition is not an intentional action then it does not fit the only plausible interpretation of premiss 1. And thus there is no consistent interpretation of both the premises taken together that can sustain a regress. If the contemplation is not an intentional action then it need not be a case of employing knowledge how to do something and thus need not itself presuppose the contemplation of any further proposition to encode it.
Objections to Stanley and Williamson’s objection to Ryle’s regress argument
The first thing to say in response to Stanley and Williamson is that the suggestion they make for the defence of the first premiss agrees with Ryle’s focus for the argument. The target of his criticism is intelligent action not autonomic processes. So if a regress argument is to be constructed using their formulation, the second premiss has to be defended differently. Two lines of defence are plausible.
One is to accept Stanley and Williamson’s codification of Ryle’s argument but to challenge the significance of Ginet’s example. As a phenomenological point it is certainly plausible to say that one can exercise or express knowledge-that without explicitly or consciously contemplating a proposition. In the seamless cut and thrust of everyday action and conversation, there need be nothing as meditative as that phrase seems to suggest. Nevertheless,
** To be finished when I’ve read chapter 1 ! **
Ryle can accommodate Ginet’s observation by countenancing the possibility that not every act of contemplating a proposition is performed consciously. To say that it is or could be performed unconsciously is not to say that it is not the sort of thing that could be performed intentionally. Unconscious actions of contemplation are things we do nonetheless, unlike processes of digestion, which are not. [Noë **: **]
Is knowledge-how a species of knowledge-that?
In this section we will outline two arguments for assimilating knowledge-how to knowledge-that which form part of the new intellectualist backlash against Ryle’s views of the fundamental distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that. First, there is no significant semantic distinction between the two forms of knowledge. There is no reason to mark out knowledge-how as a particular contrast to the rest of knowledge. Second, knowledge-how can be expressed in specific knowledge-that terms once one accepts that knowledge-that is not restricted to cases which can be conceptualised in general and non-context-specific terms.
The idea that there is a distinction between practical knowledge, or know-how, and theoretical knowledge seems to be encoded in a distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that which complements Ryle’s regress argument and others like it. Recent work in an analytic or linguistic philosophical tradition has, however, called any such semantic distinction into question. As Adrian Moore points out, ascriptions of knowledge-how are answers to an implicit question of how something was done. But just as there can be such ‘how?’ questions, there can also be questions as to when?, where?, whether? and why? something was done.
The familiar use of ‘knows’ alongside an interrogative arises because states of knowledge, by their very nature, can be pressed into service in addressing questions, whether formulated or unformulated, whether theoretical or practical. Hence ‘knows when’, ‘knows where’, ‘knows whether’, ‘knows why’. ‘Knows how’ is just another member of this list’. [Moore 1997: 167]
But if one knows when something happened, for example, there is no need to have a special non-propositional knowledge rather than simply knowledge that it happened at such and such a time. Such knowledge-when is simply knowledge-that. Similarly, to know how something was done can simply be to know that it was done in such and such a way. Such knowledge-how is simply an instance of knowledge-that. Knowledge-how is no more special than knowledge-when, where, whether or why. All are answers to implicit questions. And all can be instances of knowledge-that.
A more promising semantic marker of a practical mode of knowledge is the use of the infinitive. It is one thing to know how something was done. It seems to be another to know how to do it. However,
[t]he important difference between its use [ie. the use of ‘knows how’] in ‘knows how the getaway was made’ and ‘knows how to charm people’ is not the difference between two senses of the phrase, as it were a “propositional” sense and a “practical” sense. It is rather the ensuing difference between the finite verb and the infinitive. [Moore 1997: 168]
Just the same kind of difference – between infinitive and finite verb – occurs in cases of knows-when. The difference between finite verb and infinitive is between corresponding implicit questions about how things are and what to do rather than between distinct kinds of knowledge.
In addition to the lack of a characteristic semantic marker, there are instances of knowledge-how to do something that seem simply to be cases of having knowledge-that. To know how to escape might be to know that one can escape via the laundry, that a way to escape is via the laundry. Such cases blur the apparent boundary between knowledge-how and knowledge-that. To know how to spell ‘comma’, for example, is nothing other ‘than knowledge that it is spelt ‘c’, ‘o’, double ‘m’, ‘a’’ [Moore 1997: 171]. As Paul Snowdon argues:
It seems to me that there are clear enough cases where ‘knowing how to’ fairly obviously does reduce to, or consists in, ‘knowing that’. For example, I am thinking about a chess puzzle and, as we say, it dawned on me how to achieve mate in three. Surely, the onset of this knowledge consisted in my realising that moving the queen to D3, followed by moving the knight to... etc., will lead to mate in three... Again, S knows how to get from London to Swansea by train before midday. S’s knowing how to do that surely consists in knowing that one first catches the 7.30 a.m. train to Reading from Paddington, and then one ... etc. Finally, if someone knows how to insert footnotes using Word then they know that the way to insert footnotes is to click on Insert and then on Reference, and so on. [Snowdon 2004: 12]
Thus, to summarise these points, there is no neat semantic marker for a practical mode of knowledge and some instances of knowledge-how seem to consist merely in knowledge-that.
The second strand of argument concerns the positive account of knowledge-how in knowledge-that terms. There is agreement amongst supporters of intellectualism that part of the attraction of a separation of knowledge-how and knowledge-that is the assumption that knowledge-that can always be expressed in context free general terms. If that were so, then given that knowledge-how seems sometimes to resist such expression, then that would be an argument for their separation.
But once demonstratives are available to express conceptually articulated thoughts, they can also be used to express the content known in cases of knowledge-how as well as paradigmatic knowledge-that. When presented with a colour experience, a subject with the general concept of ‘shade of colour’ can acquire a particular concept expressed with the demonstrative phrase ‘That colour!’ or ‘That shade!’. Such a concept is not linguistically codified but that need not preclude its being conceptual. Some further conditions have to be met for it to count as conceptual. The recognitional capacity on which the concept depends needs to last longer than the experience that gives rise to it itself even if it is short lived. As long as the capacity has some duration it can allow a particular experienced shade of colour to play a role in reasoning, via inferences for example, and thus count as genuinely conceptual.
Just as recognition can play a role in constituting a demonstrative thought which can underpin knowledge-that, so it can underpin knowledge-how. A first step is to consider a demonstrative to a way of acting – that! way – as a way to ride a bike.
[I]f we are seeking a candidate piece of information that is known to be the case in such examples as knowing how to ride a bike, it is that this sequence of actions – present to the agent and knower in the course of actions and accessed by knower as his or her actions – is a way to ride a bike. The aim of this rather rough formulation is not to slot the proposal into some standard account of knowledge, but rather, in a relatively theoretically neutral way, to indicate a candidate for what might count as the kind of information in question in such cases. The agent need not be riding a bike to have the sample actions available to him or her, because, in principle, there might be simulation devices in the context of which the agent performs the actions without actually riding a bike. [Snowdon 2004: 28]
The idea is that a demonstrative indication of a way of riding can carry the content that is known in such a case. Just as such demonstratives have become familiar in the context of knowledge-that so they can also serve to articulate the content that is known in knowledge-how.
The suggestion so far is merely schematic. It serves to suggest that it may not be impossible to articulate something known in cases of knowledge-how which do not reduce directly to knowledge-that in the way mentioned above. Those were cases in which the ascription of knowledge-how seemed to be nothing more than the ascription of knowledge of some facts as to how something was or is to be done. But in the examples given earlier, the facts known were all fully linguistically codified b(how to spell ‘comma’; how to get to Swansea by train). A demonstrative element enables thoughts which rely on contextual links such as that that! way is the way to escape. But in the case of knowledge-how to ride a bicycle, there seems to be something yet further, beyond even the demonstrative element: an essentially practical form of knowledge.
To clarify this, consider the case of a child being taught how to ride a bicycle by an adult at a stage in the learning process in which the child still has the common – if inexplicable – habit of taking his feet off the pedals, leading to instability and collision. His teacher gives a demonstration of proficient cycling, with steady pedalling, steering and gradual braking and says: ‘That’s the way to ride’. Both adult and child can entertain the thought that that! way is the way to ride. Both can acquire a piece of knowledge-that because both can acquire the knowledge-that that! is the way to ride. And thus, in one sense, both can have knowledge-how to ride a bike. They both know how to ride a bike in that they both know that that! way is one way to ride a bike. Only one of them, however, has practical knowledge how to ride a bicycle. So in the sense of knowledge-how which is connected to ability, only one has it. In what follows, when it is necessary to distinguish between these two senses of knowledge-how we will refer to them as practical knowledge-how or practical know-how versus theoretical knowledge-how.
In the quotation from Snowdon above, this distinction may be captured in the idea that the way to ride a bike is ‘present to the agent and knower in the course of actions and accessed by knower as his or her actions’. In other words, the action is not merely available to the knower as a demonstrative thought: that! way of riding is a way to ride a bike. Rather, it is specifically available to the rider as her way of riding, thus. Stanley and Williamson address this distinction more explicitly in their account of knowledge-how which builds on the idea of demonstrative content just mentioned but augments it so as to distinguish the cases of agent and spectator.
Suppose that Hannah does not know how to ride a bicycle. Susan points to John, who is riding a bicycle, and says, ‘That is a way for you to ride a bicycle’. Suppose that the way in which John is riding his bicycle is in fact a way for Hannah to ride a bicycle. So, where the demonstrative ‘that way’ denotes John’s way of riding a bicycle, (28) seems true:
(28) Hannah knows that that way is a way for her to ride a bicycle.
Relative to this context, however:
(29) Hannah, knows [how PRO, to ride a bicycle].
seems false… Where the demonstrated way is the only contextually salient way of riding a bicycle, (28) and (29) ascribe knowledge of the same proposition to Hannah. But this proposition is ascribed under different guises. In (28), knowledge of the proposition is ascribed to Hannah under a demonstrative mode of presentation. In (29), Knowledge of that proposition is ascribed to Hannah under a different mode of presentation, what we call a practical mode of presentation. [Stanley and Williamson 2001: 428-9]
(‘PRO’ is a kind of pronoun to mark the subject of the infinitive. It means either the subject of the main clause or something like ‘one’ in English.)
So, here is our complete account of knowing-how. Suppose modes of presentation are semantically relevant. Then (29) is true relative to a context if and only if there is some contextually relevant way ώ such that Hannah stands in the knowledge-that relation to the Russellian proposition that ώ is a way for Hannah to ride a bicycle, and Hannah entertains this proposition under a practical mode of presentation. [ibid: 430]
On this account, knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that not only in those cases where the answer to the implicit question of how something is to be done turns out to be expressible in straight forwardly knowledge-that terms but also in cases of practical know how. The content of the knowledge is captured through the demonstrative thought. Its practicality is captured by the idea that the content is entertained under a ‘practical mode of presentation’.
An account of the nature of knowledge-how on these lines allows for an answer to the question: in what does knowledge-how consist? It consists in the grasp of a way of doing something under a practical mode of presentation. This is therefore a rival to the Rylean account that knowledge-how consists in a complex of abilities and propensities. Before discussing it further, it will be helpful first to examine the criticism of Ryle’s approach by supporters of the new intellectualism.
The connection, if any, between knowledge-how and ability
Ryle’s response to his regress argument is to flesh out some account of how the ‘exercise of intelligence in practice’ is not a twofold operation of considering a prescription and then executing it but rather one thing.
His account stresses action and ability. Considering a boy learning to play chess, Ryle suggests that this may begin through explicilty learning the rules. But eventually his making only correct moves need not be the result of citing such rules to himself. He may even forget how to articulate the explicit rules. Equally, however, one can learn how to play chess only by watching moves made or corrected and withdrawn, without ever acquiring a theory of correct play.
[T]he boy is not said to know how to play, if all that he can do is to recite the rules accurately. He must be able to make the required moves. But he is said to know how to play if, although he cannot cite the rules, he normally does make the permitted moves, avoid the forbidden moves and protest if his opponent makes forbidden moves. His knowledge how is exercised primarily in the moves that he makes, or concedes, and in the moves that he avoids or vetoes. [Ryle 1949: 41]
Over the course of the Concept of Mind, Ryle develops a number of distinctions between capacities and mere habits and between task verbs and achievements which contribute to his positive characterisation of knowledge-how. But the basic idea is the connection between such knowledge and ability and hence a distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that.
This connection is, however, contested by the new intellectualists.
It is simply false, however, that ascriptions of knowledge-how ascribe abilities. As Ginet and others have pointed out, ascriptions of knowledge-how do not even entail ascriptions of the corresponding abilities. For example, a ski instructor may know how to perform a certain complex stunt, without being able to perform it herself. Similarly, a master pianist who loses both of her arms in a tragic car accident still knows how to play the piano. But she has lost her ability to do so. It follows that Ryle's own positive account of knowledge-how is demonstrably false. [Stanley and Williamson 2001: 416]
The converse implication from ability to knowledge-how is also questioned.
A man is in a room, which, because he has not explored it in the least, he does, as yet, not know how to get out of. In fact there is an obvious exit which he can easily open. He is perfectly able to get out, he can get out, but does not know how to (as yet)... Martin is someone who can do fifty consecutive press ups. Let us suppose that none of us here can do that. It would be, I suggest, quite counterintuitive to say that Martin knows how to do something we do not know how to do. Rather, he is, simply, stronger then we are. He is stronger, but not more knowledgeable. [Snowdon 2001: 11]
Thus if the putative connection that Ryle stresses between knowledge-how and ability can be questioned, then that undermines Ryle’s positive account of such knowledge and thus provides a further, and independent, line of argument for intellectualism.
Why might knowledge-how not imply ability? Recall the distinction we drew earlier between practical versus theoretical knowledge-how. The latter can be correctly ascribed to someone who has theoretical knowledge how something can be or is to be done. To repeat an earlier example, one knows how to get from London to Swansea by train before midday by knowing that one first catches the 7.30 a.m. train to Reading from Paddington, and then one from there onwards etc. In at least some such cases of theoretical knowledge-how, there need be no implication from knowledge to ability. Thus is the ski instructor’s knowledge of how to perform the stunt comprises knowledge that it consists of five steps, there is no implication for ability. In general, theoretical knowledge-how seems to carry no implications for ability. The Rylean can concede that when the knowledge-how is of this sort, there is no such connection.
There are, however, some cases of theoretical knowledge-how which do at least raise the expectation of an ability. John Bengson and Marc Moffett contrast two examples [Bengson and Moffett **]. Consider
· Irina knows how to do a quintuple salchow.
Like the example of the ski instructor it seems that the following claim does not follow.
· Irina is able to do a quintuple salchow.
It is thus possible that Irina knows how to do a quintuple salchow, but she is unable to do one. By contrast if
· Irina knows how to add.
then it seems that
· Irina is able to add.
And it would be very odd, at the very least, to say that Irina knows how to add, but she is unable to do so. (Bengson and Moffett suggest that in the latter case there is some sort of entailment from the knowledge to the ability even if there are exceptions with large numbers etc.) In the former case, the knowledge ascribed might be theoretical knowledge-how. She knows that in order to do a quintuple Salchow, one must take off from the back inside edge of one foot and land on the back outside edge of the opposite foot after five complete rotations in the air. Such knowledge carries no implication for an ability actually to make that jump. Even if what is ascribed in the second case is also ascribed on the basis of a similar theoretical consideration there does seem a connection to ability. A theoretical ascription might be made on the basis of knowledge the axioms of Peano arithmetic and the definition of addition. Thus to know how to add might be to know that... But even so this case does seem to carry some expectation of an ability. In the absence of particular defeating conditions, such as an abysmally short memory or an inability to focus on figures, an inability to add would undermine even the ascription of the theoretical knowledge. A failure to be able to add would suggest, in the absence of further explanation, a failure to understand the truths ascribed. Such cases complicate the idea that theoretical knowledge-how carries no implications for ability. In some cases it seems that it does.
But, in any case, that does not seem to be what is in play in Stanley and Williamson’s other example: the pianist who loses both of her arms in a car accident. Stanley and Williamson claim that whilst she has lost her ability to play, she has not lost her knowledge-how to play. Hence the Rylean connection between know-how and ability is threatened even in a case which looks to be practical rather than theoretical knowledge-how. But it is not clear that this is so.
A defence of the connection could be made in one of two ways. One can either argue that she no longer knows how to play the piano or one can argue that she still knows how to play and she is still able. Alva
Noë suggests the latter line:
I agree that there would be no contradiction in supposing that Maestra knows how to play [the] piano, even though she cannot now play. But this doesn’t show that knowing how to play the piano is not the same as having the ability to play. For there are (uncontroversially) at least two different ways one can be unable to play the piano (or exercise a skill). One might be unable to play because one doesn’t know how; because, that is, one lacks the ability. Or one might be unable to play because, even though one does know how, conditions whose satisfaction is necessary for one to exercise one’s ability are not satisfied. For example, no matter how good a piano player I am, I won’t be able to play piano if there is no piano ready to hand. Lacking access to a piano would mean I would be unable to play, even though I would not, for that reason, lack the relevant know-how. This explains, I think, our shared judgement about Maestra. We judge she knows how to play even though she is now unable to play, because we think of the loss of her arms as comparable (in the relevant sense) to the loss of her piano. [Noë 2005: 283]
This line of argument requires thinking that the lack of arms is akin to a lack of a piano on which to exercise an ability. That may seem hard to swallow. But it is tricky to know what to think about such a case given the paucity of details Keep in mind that in order that this example is distinct from the interpretation offered above of the ski instructor (in order to offer the broadest argument against Ryle) the kind of knowledge ascribed is not merely theoretical knowledge-how. It is not merely knowledge that notes are struck with fingers in such and such order. Rather, it is knowledge that such and such a way is a way to play the piano where the way is picked out through a demonstrative thought and also as her actions or under a practical mode of presentation. So one way to think of her remaining knowledge is as knowledge ‘from within’ of how and where her fingers would need to be moved, if she still had any, to strike the notes and thus to play the piano. But now, lacking arms, hands and fingers thus to locate a space of possible movement it is not clear that she still can have this knowledge. It s not clear that she has either the practical know-how or the ability. The injured pianist is thus not a knock down objection to the connection between practical knowledge-how and ability. If we concede that she does retain her knowledge, we can also argue that she retains her standing ability to play. It is just that it can no more be exercised without arms as it can without a piano. If on the other hand, it seems strange still to say that she retains that standing ability, that may be because without relevant body-parts through which to locate a space of possible action, she no longer has practical knowledge either. (The threat to the converse implication from ability to knowledge is less of a worry to a Rylean position. That a man is able to escape an unlocked room unbeknown to him shows that he has a certain sort of liberty but it does not connect to his intelligent actions. Likewise the stronger athlete.) So a Rylean can concede that knowledge-how is ascribed in two ways which are blurred by relevant semantic markers (such as the use of the phrase ‘knowledge-how’ or the infinitive of the verb which follows) and have to be picked out in context. One of them is an answer to an implicit question of how something is to be done which, in the context, requires merely theoretical knowledge with no implication for ability. The other marks a practical capacity for which the Rylean connection to ability holds. Counter examples to the Rylean connection seem to turn on an interpretation of the former theoretical sort. There is no reason to think that they work for the latter sort. Practical modes of presentation Although Stanley and Williamson reject the connection between knowledge-how and ability, their analysis of knowledge-how includes the idea of a practical mode of presentation. This enables them to distinguish between the case of the proficient cyclist and the learner, both of whom are able to recognise that a particular way of acting (that! way) is a way to ride a bicycle. The learner may have theoretical knowledge-how. He may be able to answer questions as to how to ride a bicycle by saying that one needs to keep the feet on the pedals; that one not actively steer the bike so much as lean; that braking should be smooth. Such answers are general and fully linguistically codified. But he may also, in the presence of his teacher’s graceful performance, be able to add to those answers a context-dependent demonstrative: “In fact, one should ride like that!”. Still, that is merely theoretical practical knowledge. The teacher, by contrast, is able to entertain the thought that a particular way is the way to ride a bike in a different way: under a practical mode of presentation. Stanley and Williamson introduce the practical mode of presentation by analogy with a first person mode of presentation.
Suppose that John is looking in a mirror, which he mistakenly believes to be a window. Seeing a man whose pants are on fire, and not recognizing that man as himself, John forms the demonstrative belief that that man is on fire. Intuitively, however, John does not believe that his own pants are on fire. That is, relative to the envisaged context, (26) is true and (27) is false:
(26) John believes that that man has burning pants.
(27) John believes that he himself has burning pants
Given that 'that man' refers to John, however, the complement clauses of (26) and (27) express the same proposition, namely, the singular proposition containing John. To distinguish between (26) and (27), contemporary advocates of Russellian propositions appeal to different modes of presentation under which that proposition is entertained. In the envisaged context, (26) is associated with a demonstrative mode of presentation (or guise) of the relevant proposition, whereas (27) is associated with a first-personal mode of presentation of that very same proposition. [Stanley and Williamson 2001: 428]
John does not believe that his own pants are on fire but he does believe that someone’s pants are: the man that he can see. So he believes, of that man, that his pants are on fire. Since that man is himself, he believes, of himself, that his pants are on fire. His belief is true (as in fact it is) if and only if his own pants are on fire. That is also what would have made true the belief that he does not – yet! – have: namely, that is own pants are on fire. Despite that similarity (what would make the beliefs true, both the actual belief he has and the one he might have had and will surely come to have), there are different beliefs in play. Crucially, the different beliefs lead to different actions. In the actual case he might move forward to try to open a window and warn someone else of their predicament. In the counterfactual case in which he realises that that man is actually himself, he will attend to his own clothes. One way to accommodate the sameness and difference in play is to think that there is a common state of affairs (John’s pants being on fire) which can be thought of in two ways: either as that! man’s or as mine. The two ways of thinking motivate or rationalise different further beliefs and actions. One is a demonstrative belief. The other is a first person belief. the thoughts are thus differently presented to the thinker. The different properties of these different ways of holding thoughts that are related to the same state of affairs is widely taken to justify philosophers postulating such distinct ‘modes of presentation’.
Stanley and Williamson argue that the same sort of argument justifies the postulation of practical modes of presentation (in addition to first person modes and demonstrative modes). Just as there’s a difference between
(26) John believes that that man has burning pants.
(27) John believes that he himself has burning pants
so there is a difference between the learner/spectator and the proficient cyclist both of whom are able to think, of a way of cycling, that that! is a way to ride a bike.
(28) Hannah knows that that way is a way for her to ride a bicycle.
(29) Hannah, knows [how PRO, to ride a bicycle].
Just as the difference in the former case turns on how thoughts that are related to the same state of affairs or fact can be differently entertained so, in the latter pair, the difference is in how a fact – that a particular contextually indicated way is a way to ride a bicycle – is thought about.
They do not provide much by way of further elaboration of the nature of practical modes of presentation pointing out that it is also very difficult to characterise the nature of first person modes of presentation. But this does not, they argue, show that practical knowledge is not propositional or a species of knowledge-that. There are, however, some complications with this approach: 1: There is a disanalogy between first person modes of presentation and practical modes. The former stand in justificatory relations to other thoughts and actions. But it is not clear that the latter is justificatory but rather enabling. Realising that one’s own trousers are on fire is a reason to direct one’s attentions to oneself rather than anyone else. It justifies thoughts and action with a different focus to the thought that that! man’s trousers are burning. But entertaining the thought that that! way is a way to ride a bike under a practical mode of presentation does not seem to play the same justificatory role. Of course, if one believes that one knows how to ride a bicycle then, like any belief, that belief stands in justificatory relations to other beliefs and actions. So, similarly, if one believes that one entertains thoughts about ways to ride under practical modes of presentation, that belief will justify others. But it is not clear that the practical mode of presentation itself can be captured through its justificatory relations. 2: The analysis suggests that Stanley and Williamson’s criticism of the Rylean connection between practical knowledge-how and ability is surprising. Given the lack of independent characterisation of the practical mode of presentation, it is characterised instead through the difference between the cases summarised as 28 and 29 above. That is the difference between having and not having practical knowledge-how. But given that Stanley and Williamson are aiming to shed light on that distinction, they cannot rest content simply with an unanalysed appeal to its existence. So the distinction seems instead to depend on the fact that a proficient cyclist knows how to ride a bicycle not just in the sense that she can answer questions about in what that consists but in the practical sense that she is able to do it as an intelligent action. That in turn suggests that what the practical mode of presentation is designed to capture is the connection between practical knowledge-how and ability: a Rylean connection. Since they think that the injured pianist retains knowledge of how to play the piano even though she has lost the ability to play it, she must be able to entertain thoughts about relevant actions under practical modes. But without some broader account of why she retains this ability (to entertain such thoughts), a brute appeal to the example does not help shed light on such practical modes and on how they can serve as a rival to the Rylean conception of in what practical knowledge-how consists. With the connection to ability in place however it is hard not to agree with Alva
Noë’s view of the project.
I don’t mean to suggest that that the fact that Stanley and Williamson analyse knowledge-how as a special kind of knowledge-that derogates from their claim that it is, for all that, a bona fide species of knowledge-that. They are right to defend themselves against that charge (433ff). What I would suggest is: (1) Stanley and Williamson’s analysis is merely technical – it presents a new notational or conceptual framework within which it is possible to make the same old distinction. (2) Whereas the distinction between knowing how and knowing that is pretty straightforward and is easily illustrated with examples, the account of the distinction that Stanley and Williamson offer is somewhat obscure. [Noë 2005: 287 italics added]
Intellectualism, knowledge-how and Gettier cases
If intellectualism is correct and knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that then one would expect features of knowledge-that to have equivalences in the case of knowledge-how. One such possibility is that of Gettier cases.
Gettier cases have been familiar in debates about knowledge since the 1960s to criticise the justified true belief analysis of knowledge-that. In such cases, a subject has a true belief for which they also have a justification but, intuitively, this still does not amount to knowledge. Gettier’s own examples include this one:
Suppose that Smith and Jones have applied for a certain job. And suppose that Smith has strong evidence for the following conjunctive proposition:
(d) Jones is the man who will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.
Smith's evidence for (d) might be that the president of the company assured him that Jones would in the end be selected, and that he, Smith, had counted the coins in Jones's pocket ten minutes ago. Proposition (d) entails:
(e) The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.
Let us suppose that Smith sees the entailment from (d) to (e), and accepts (e) on the grounds of (d), for which he has strong evidence. In this case, Smith is clearly justified in believing that (e) is true.
But imagine, further, that unknown to Smith, he himself, not Jones, will get the job. And, also, unknown to Smith, he himself has ten coins in his pocket. Proposition (e) is then true, though proposition (d), from which Smith inferred (e), is false. In our example, then, all of the following are true: (i) (e) is true, (ii) Smith believes that (e) is true, and (iii) Smith is justified in believing that (e) is true. But it is equally clear that Smith does not know that (e) is true; for (e) is true in virtue of the number of coins in Smith's pocket, while Smith does not know how many coins are in Smith's pocket, and bases his belief in (e) on a count of the coins in Jones's pocket, whom he falsely believes to be the man who will get the job. [Gettier 1963: 122]
Whatever the appropriate philosophical response to such an example – whatever its consequences for a justified, true belief analysis of knowledge, and whatever might need to be added to that analysis to rule them out – it seems that our intuitions about the nature of knowledge allow for the construction of cases like this where the three conditions at least appear to be met and yet this still does not amount to a case of knowledge. So it would be evidence that knowledge-how really is a species of knowledge-that if similar cases could be derived for it.
Whilst Stanley and Williamson report that they doubt ‘that every kind of knowledge-that is susceptible to Gettier cases’ they still suggest that although ‘one might think it is difficult to conceive of Gettier-cases for knowledge-how. But if knowledge-how is really a kind of knowledge-that, there should be such cases.’ They go on to sketch such a case:
Bob wants to learn how to fly in a flight simulator. He is instructed by Henry. Unknown to Bob, Henry is a malicious imposter who has inserted a randomizing device in the simulator's controls and intends to give all kinds of incorrect advice. Fortunately, by sheer chance the randomizing device causes exactly the same results in the simulator as would have occurred without it, and by incompetence Henry gives exactly the same advice as a proper instructor would have done. Bob passes the course with flying colors. He has still not flown a real plane. Bob has a justified true belief about how to fly. But there is a good sense in which he does not know how to fly. [Stanley and Williamson 2001: 435]
Note first that in cases of theoretical knowledge-how there seems to be no difficulty in sketching a Gettier case. All that is needed is that the theoretical knowledge-that which enables a subject to answer the question of how to do something is held by the subject for Gettier style justifications.
From the earlier case of knowing-how to get from London to Swansea by train before midday by knowing that one first catches the 7.30 a.m. train to Reading from Paddington one could construct a Gettier case in which one’s apparent knowledge of the 7.30 a.m. train to Reading from Paddington was in fact merely a true belief justified in an appropriately flawed manner (for example, via a false lemma).
But the example given by Stanley and Williamson looks instead to be of practical knowledge-how. Even in this case, they suggest, an ability to fly a plane arrived at in an appropriately wrong way will fail to count as knowledge-how to fly the plane. This, however, puts intuitions about practical knowledge-how under some strain. As Ted Poston argues, there is a conflict between the necessary requirement for something to count as a Gettier case of know-how and for it to count – contra to its Gettier status – as knowledge.
The first premise of the argument states that Gettier cases for know-how, if they exist, require that the subject intelligently and successfully φ, where φ ranges over actions. In general, Gettier cases for know-how, if they exist, would require that the intelligence condition and the success condition are satisfied. These conditions are analogous to the justified belief condition and the truth condition in Gettier cases of knowledge-that. In a Gettier case for know-that justified belief comes apart from the truth in a way that is incompatible with knowledge-that. So also, in a purported Gettier case for knowledge-how the intelligence base the subject uses doesn’t connect to success in the right way to yield knowledge-how…The second premise of the argument is that one knows how to φ, if one can intelligently and successfully φ. If, for instance, Sally intelligently moves this way and that way with the goal of riding a bike and she succeeds then Sally knows how to ride a bike. So given the first premise, the sufficient condition for knowing how laid down in the second premise is satisfied. Therefore any alleged Gettier case for knowing how will turn out not to be a Gettier case, for it will be a genuine case of knowing how. [Poston **: **]
The important step of this argument is the second. It would not help intellectualists to challenge Poston’s specific suggestion for how Gettier cases of know-how are to be constructed. The key claim is that successful action (of the right intelligent sort) implies possession of know-how.
Poston goes on to suggest that the underlying disanalogy between knowledge-that and know-how is that the latter is not affected in the same way by intuitions of luck. Acquiring the right sort of skill though luck does not undermine the status of the know-how ascribed on the basis of that (right sort of) skill. ‘Knowledge-how isn’t constrained by the same anti-luck intuitions as propositional knowledge’ [ibid].
We suggested that luck affects practical knowledge-how in a different place to the justificatory condition on a putative Gettier case of know-how.
Take an example of beginner’s luck. Never having bowled, I pick up the ball and bowl a strike. Having bowled a strike, we might with justification say that I can bowl a strike. But it would be strange to say, in this case, that I know how to bowl strikes (or even to bowl). Is this an example of ‘can do’ in the absence of ‘knows how to do’? No. First, as a general rule, skills aren’t acquired all at once, in a fell swoop. They’re built up or acquired gradually and there may not be sharp lines here. In so far as it would be wrong to say that I know how to bowl strikes, that’s just because I’ve yet to acquire the ability or skill. [Noë 2005: 280]
To have practical knowledge-how is to have an ability of a particular kind. (This qualification, to which we will return, is necessary to rule out the difference between someone who can do fifty press ups and someone who can only do twenty.) But to have that ability is not just to be able to do something once, by beginner’s luck. It is, rather, to have a reliable complex of abilities and dispositions which supports counter-factuals. Had one attempted it again, the chances are that one would have been successful. The luck that is ruled out by an ascription of practical knowledge-how is not how one acquired the relevant skills but that one did.
This suggests that Gettier examples can be helpful in our analysis. We introduced the distinction between theoretical and practical forms of knowledge-how to distinguish between cases where the ascription of knowledge-how as an implicit answer to the question of how to do something carried no general expectation of an ability from cases where it did. The distinction has two immediate difficulties.
First, how can it avoid a dormitive-virtue-like vacuity? Since the idea of the distinction between theoretical and practical forms of knowledge-how was set out as it was, how can the claim that only the latter supports a Rylean connection to ability be informative? Equally, how can the concession to intellectualism that theoretical forms do not in general (modulo the conceptual examples mentioned above) support that connection be constrained so as not to concede the game?
Second, since one of the morals of the new intellectualism is that demonstratives can be used to construe context-dependent thoughts on propositional or theoretical terms, and, additionally, it construes even practical knowledge-how as a species of knowledge-that, it is difficult to frame the distinction. Intellectualism holds that even practical knowledge-how is an answer to an implicit question of how something is to be done even if the thought involves a practical mode of presentation.
The possibility of constructing Gettier examples serves as a second diagnostic test. Where knowledge-how supports Gettier examples, there it is theoretical. Where is does not, there it is practical. For the bulk of this book, we are concerned with practical knowledge-how.
Assessing intellectualism and Ryleanism
The intellectualist backlash against Ryleanism has three main ingredients. First, it disputes the efficacy of the regress argument. Second, it disputes the assimilation of knowledge-how and capacities or abilities. Third, given that it is not ruled out by an effective regress argument and given that there is no plausible constitutive account based on capacities or abilities, it offers a positive analysis of knowledge-how in knowledge-that terms.
We have attempted to argue against the first and the second of these claims. Something like Ryle’s regress argument sheds light on the relation of theoretical and practical knowledge. As Ryle says, ‘[i]ntelligent practice is not a step-child of theory’. And once one distinguishes between theoretical and practical forms of knowledge-how, recognising that there are no general context-independent semantics markers, the second claim can be disputed. There is a connection between practical knowledge-how and ability.
What then of the third aspect? Despite the fact that this chapter and the previous one have attempted to articulate and defend a view of practical knowledge which owes much to Ryle, the intellectualist account has a key virtue for shedding light on practical knowledge and hence tacit knowledge, the main subject of this book.
The recognition that knowledge-that need not be expressible in context-independent and general terms undermines an important unfortunate assumed contrast between it and knowledge-how. On that assumption, knowledge-how is distinct in part because it resists codification in fully linguistic, context-independent terms. But further, with no model for an alternative to that form of articulation for knowledge-that, this assumption can put under strain the idea that knowledge-how is really a form of knowledge at all. The reason for this is that it can seem to lack any kind of conceptual articulation and thus any kind of content. Since outside conceptual articulation, it is not clear what grasp we have of any notion of a content to be grasped by a knowing subject. But if there is no content to the subject’s ‘attitude’ to the world, how can this be a form of knowledge at all?
Whilst some philosophers whose work is associated with tacit knowledge, such as Hubert Dreyfus (although he takes himself to be articulating something deeper and less intellectual than tacit knowledge), embrace this idea, we do and will return to our disagreement with Dreyfus in chapter 4. But it is useful here to summarise our agreement with intellectualism.
Like intellectualism, we agree that demonstrative thoughts serve as a model for the articulation of the content of both theoretical and practical knowledge-how. (Some theoretical knowledge-how can be given fully linguistic, context-independent specification. By contrast, all practical knowledge-how relies on some demonstrative element.) Demonstrative elements can underpin thoughts that cannot be articulated using linguistic tokens only. Such thoughts can underpin knowledge-that. So knowledge-that can be articulated using demonstratives. The same applies to knowledge-how. There is thus no reason to take the fact that the content of such practical knowledge cannot be fully linguistically articulated to suggest that it is in any sense ineffable. It can be expressed through suitable practical demonstrations in which actions themselves serve to convey what it is that is known.
This line of thought may prompt three immediate worries.
First, even though the failure of full linguistic codification need not imply that knowledge-how is not conceptually articulated (any more than it implies that theoretical knowledge is not conceptually articulated), there may, still, be reason to think that some forms of practical knowledge-how, especially those relevant to tacit knowledge, are not conceptually articulated. One reason for thinking this has already been suggested in the previous chapter by the various versions of the regress argument. If these show that theoretical knowledge presupposes practical knowledge, might that not show that such practical knowledge is somehow pre-conceptual. We will return to this question in discussion of Dreyfus and John McDowell in chapter 4.
Second, even though the failure of full linguistic codification need not imply that knowledge-how is not conceptually articulated, there may still be reasons to think that some forms of practical knowledge-how, especially those relevant to tacit knowledge, are ineffable. One reason for thinking this is that whilst practical knowledge might be expressible piecemeal, its full expression may seem impossible. We will return to this question in the discussion of Adrian Moore’s reading of Witgenstein in chapter 5.
Third, as has already been discussed in this chapter, whilst a demonstrative indication of a way of riding a bike makes available the thought that that! way is a way to ride, there remains a difference between the thoughts that a spectator and a proficient teacher can thus have. In an account of know-how, this appeal to a demonstrative element does not capture what seems, against a Rylean background, to be the key thing: the difference between having and not having the ability to ride in that way. And thus it might seem that that key aspect is, precisely, not expressed or articulated in the way so far indicated.
This worry can be initially addressed here. Our aim is not to undermine the Rylean emphasis on the priority of practice which follows from the regress argument. There is no need to think that, in accordance with what Ryle calls the ‘intellectualist legend’, one can explain skilful practice through prior grasp of propositions. Thus there is no reason to think that the difference between the learner and the teacher can be first explained and then crossed by the marshalling of propositions. But what the teacher can do, which the learner cannot yet do, can be expressed by saying that it is doing this! And that demonstrative element can bring a practice into the realm of thought.
But let us probe the gap between the teacher and learner a little more. Suppose that the lesson takes place near a circus and one the clowns rides by. Both pupil and teacher can agree that despite the clown’s manifest skill, that! is not a way for the pupil to attempt to ride by contrast with the teacher’s staid and modest approach thus!. But agreement at that level may mask aspects of the teacher’s way of riding that the learner has simply not grasped. He has, perhaps, not noticed the placing of the balls rather than the instep of the teacher’s feet, nor the way she concentrates on turning circles, rather than simply pressing down, with her feet. For the teacher, these are all aspects of her performance which can be gestured towards and recognised in others’ performance. The pupil’s lack may thus, in part, be an intellectual one. With this contrast, the teacher’s ability does seem to approach meriting the label ‘knowledge’. It is a fitting together of articulable subsidiary elements.
But perhaps the pupil is an old cycle lesson hand. He knows that he should do all those things. He can spot particularly fine examples among his fellow learners. It is simply that he cannot attune his body to the simultaneous demands he understands and how one does that, how one learns to do everything together, might be something about which the teacher has no views. So whilst some explanations of a failure of knowledge-how may be explicable as a failure to grasp some contents, practical knowledge-how also involves an ineliminable substrate.
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