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2008/2009 Colloquium Abstracts

April 23, 2009
David Wiggins

Title: "Knowing How to and Knowing That"


Abstract: There is more at stake than at first appears in controversies concerning practical knowledge, knowledge-how-to and knowledge-that. In part I, I argue by reference to Aristotle's account of ethical virtue and the practical good that the possibility of an ethos or way of living, acting and being such as Aristotle describes rests first and foremost upon the capacity to learn by doing, thereafter upon a 'knowing how to go on' which depends upon habituation and cannot consist in any kind of knowing whose content is stateable as a proposition.

Part II connects this finding with Gilbert Ryle's anti-intellectualist claim that knowing how and knowing that are mutually irreducible. In this part, I illustrate how these powers of the mind need one another and I furnish examples of the sorts of thing that are achieved in the back and forth between them. On Ryle's behalf, I suggest that the simplest case of knowing how without knowing that is the case where someone learns to do something by trying to do it, then doing it, without ever learning that such and such is the way for him/her to do it. Stanley and Williamson suggest that knowing that can absorb knowing-how-to if we treat one who knows how to V as knowing that this way, way w, is a way to V. I have two reservations. First, there are many cases where it is doubtful whether such a proposition can be formulated. Secondly, their proposal closes over a real grammatical bifurcation among the occurrences of the English verb-phrase know how to. In some places the verb must govern an infinitive; at other places it must govern an indirect question in how to. Once we acknowledge this bifurcation, we see over again how Ryle's two mental powers conspire and collude to bring into being so much that is familiar to us -- and to Aristotle.

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