Monday, September 11, 2006

Is knowing-how reducible to knowing-that?

This question came up in Rich's Epistemology survey which I'm auditing this semester. One suggestion, the one I'm *inclined* to endorse--for various reasons that may be revealed--is that all knowledge-how *can* be reduced to knowing-that.

Since we shouldn't postulate kinds of knowledge without necessity, we shouldn't endorse irreducible knowledge-how unless there are cases of putative knowing-how which we can't reduce to knowing-that.

A common objection to the reduction is something about ineffability. Knowing-how often seems incommunicable.

I think this objection can largely be handled by the use of demonstratives. For example, by daughter, who just went off training-wheels this past weekend, knows that [When I move like this, the bike goes like that.] The referents of the demonstratives will be very hard to articulate, but this doesn't stop the knowledge from being propositional knowledge.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that many of our beliefs are automatic and yet still "propositional beliefs".

I don't have a clear conception of what information is, but I think it's surely intimately related to propositional content. Minimally, I think any item of information will entail some proposition (it would be nice if information just were propositions, but I haven't thought about it hard enough to make that assertion).

There's little doubt that there is--to steal a phrase from Dretske--a "flow of information" going on in her cognitive system while she's riding her bike. Some of these will be hosted affirmatively or negatively, so I think we've got propositional knowledge here and I see no reason yet to think anything else is necessary.

9 Comment(s):

  • I feel a little torn. On the one hand I can see a lot of 'know how' being propositional but ineffable - like trying to describe one's experience of yellow. The propositions, like the experience, are there yet they are difficult to express.

    On the other hand, I have a hard time attributing propositional knowledge to some animals when they are behaving solely by instinct. It seems perfectly fine to say that a bird knows how to build a nest and a snail knows how to protect itself. I don't think these are anthropomorphisms, and I am very hesitant to attribute propositional knowledge in such cases.

    I am also not sure that this irreducible 'know how' would be a species of the same genus as propositional knowledge.

    By Blogger jon, at 9/11/2006 6:23 PM  

  • I have a fairly simple linguistic point here that I think would be relevant. Is there a distinct concept of "being able to do so and so" that clearly is distinct from what we mean by "having an item of propositional knowledge of how to do"? I'd find it hard to deny that most people certainly are familiar with such a concept. Now, do we ever use the terms "know how to" in linguistically representing that concept? Personally, I have no doubt that that concept (again, distinct from the concept of having propositional knowledge of how to do such and such) is in fact what many people mean when they use "know how to" in most cases. In any case, as long as such is the case in some cases, then that would be enough to demonstrate that there is know-how is distinct from know-that. There are certainly times when we use the words "know how" to simply and plainly mean "have the ability to perform," the latter being hardly synonymous or reducible to "having propositinal knowledge that."

    Now, I don't doubt that having propositional knowledge of how to perform an act can and often does impact our ability to perform an act. But that does not mean that the ability to perform just is the having of propositional knowledge. And it is that ability to perform an action that is often what we are referring to when we say "know how" statements. - KDF

    By Blogger kdfkwak, at 9/11/2006 6:50 PM  

  • 1. re: Yellow

    Though I'd also like to reduce qualia-involving phenomenal knowledge to demonstrative-involving propositional knowledge, I think we're in the minority. Still I think that knowledge of qualia is plausibly knowledge that it's like *this* (while mentally ostending yellowish) to experience yellow.

    2. re: Animals

    What's the problem with attributing propositional knowledge to animals? When they hear your car, your cats know that you are home. When they catch a whiff of their food, they know that they are about to be fed. That seems common sense. Granted, it might be "animal" knowledge in the sense of being unreflective, but I see no reason to think it's non-propositional. There is information being processed in their cognitive system in a way not relevantly dissimilar to when we know that bacon is cooking when we smell it or know that our wife is calling when we hear a certain ring-tone.

    3. re: Ordinary Language

    A. In general, I see no reason to think ordinary usage is a reliable guide to analytic basicality.

    B. Specifically I don't see warrant for the following inference:

    "as long as such is the case in some cases, then that would be enough to demonstrate that there is know-how is distinct from know-that."

    If I understand you, the antecedent of "such" is the following: "there [being] a distinct concept of "being able to do so and so" that clearly is distinct from what we mean by "having an item of propositional knowledge of how to do"?"

    I'm not sure about this talk contrasting concepts with meanings, but let's pass over that. If I'm reading you correctly, you're tokening something like this type of inference pattern.

    (*) If people use "S" without intending to mean "P" then S cannot be reduced to P.

    That can't be right, for we'd have a too-easy refutation of reductionist theories of the mind, and mereological nihilism, and all kinds of revisionist views, not to mention accounts of such natural kind terms as "water".

    Which concepts are in fact being applied when we make utterances and which are basic and which are derived are open questions even once usage of terms is fixed. We're looking under the hood.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 9/11/2006 10:36 PM  

  • Re language and terms. In class we seemed to agree (at least Feldman and I) that certainly in some cases it is something of a linguistic accident that we use the same term "knowledge" to cover flatly different types of things. There's to know in the senses of knowing a proposition (roughly having a de-Gettierized JTB, say), knowing a friend (having met and remembering as distinct from simply knowing a list of propositions about the frined), knowing in the biblical sense (enjoying sexual union with), etc. The fact of the matter is that use the same words to cover disparate kinds of entities. Case in point, "Ray" can be a label for a beam of light, a form of marine life similar to a skate, and a blind African-American entertainer. We are certainly marking out different concepts, irreducible to one another (any attempt to reduce Ray Charles to a form of marine life I want to hear!) in our various uses of the term "Ray" and feel no compulsion to attempt such a reduction because it is clear from the outset that nothing more than linguistic groupng is possible in this case.

    So the question is, Is know-how and know-that like apple-red delicious and apple-fuji, or is it like ray-marine life and ray-Charles? I opt for the latter, at least in some cases of the use of "know how." In my mind, to ask is know how a variety of know that is simply to ask, In the ways people commonly and acceptably use the phase "know how" does it semantically reduce to some relevant list of know thats? So to me, it does matter greatly what people mean by the terms they use. The only reason we discussed acquaintance knowledge in class at all as a "type" of knowledge is because it happens to be one of the ways people common use the verb "to know." That's it. And such seems to be the case, in my eyes, with know how, i.e., the mere ability to perform an action (which again may be positively impacted by having propositional knowledge, but is conceptually distinct from it).

    By Blogger kdfkwak, at 9/12/2006 8:01 AM  

  • You were on an unstoppable recitation of undeniable truths until you got to this point:

    "In my mind, to ask is know how a variety of know that is simply to ask, In the ways people commonly and acceptably use the phase "know how" does it semantically reduce to some relevant list of know thats?'

    I'm not sure what kind of semantic reduction you have in mind here, but compare the following parallel:

    To ask is INTENTIONALITY a variety of PHYSICAL PROCESS is simply to ask, In the ways people commonly and acceptably use the phase "THINKS ABOUT" does it semantically reduce to some relevant list of PHYSICAL PROCESSES?

    Now I'm not a materialist, but I think it takes more work than *that* to refute materialism! :-)~

    Analytic functionalism and psycho-functionalism have their problems, but the attempt to provide meaning-preserving functional charactarizations in a topic-neutral language is not doomed a priori because of what people intend in their use of different terms.

    You were right on the money, though, when you said:

    "So the question is, Is know-how and know-that like apple-red delicious and apple-fuji, or is it like ray-marine life and ray-Charles?"

    You say more like the latter. Fair enough. But it doesn't seem so to me. So now we have a clash of intuitions. That's why I gave an argument from parsimony for reducing if possible and then replied to some common objections to reduction. So as I see it, the ball is in the court of the anti-reductionist to provide me with some concrete reason why the reduction isn't possible.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 9/12/2006 8:50 AM  

  • I agree that many animals do have propositional knowledge with regard to some things. I do question whether this is true with regards to some instinctual behaviors. Or, there does seem to be some place down the evolutionary chain where creatures cease to have propositional knowledge. I would think that such creatures would still possess 'know how' of some things.

    Another example: couldn't Joe know how to be charming without having any idea of what it is to be charming or any of the relevant steps in such an activity?

    Final example: couldn't someone have a gettierized JTB with regards to the steps of some activity. As such, they would continually lack propositional knowledge of the relevant steps, but it would be a significant cost to deny that they know how to perform the activity.

    By Blogger jon, at 9/12/2006 10:05 AM  

  • Alrightly Trent Dawg, let me come at this again. (Sorry for the lengthier post here!)

    I think in your last response to me re language and involving the counterexample about intentionality, what is going on is failure to distinguish two things: 1) what the permissible linguistic/semantic/conceptual types that a given commonplace and commonly accepted usage of a term admit of, and 2) whether a given linguistic type (i.e., for now, say, what a word means in a given usage) latches onto to something in the real world.

    Let's start with a comment on my linguistic types. For now, I here simply mean to distinguish the different ways semantically a word gets used, or I'd be OK speaking of conceptual types, too, referring to the different distinct concepts that can be represented linguistically by a given term (you're right that meanings and concepts are not perfectly interchangable, but for my point let me ask that you continue to overlook that for now). So, referring to my previous example, Ray Charles and a Manta Ray would be different types of Ray, linguistic types that is. Red Delicious and Fuji, on the other hand, would be metaphysical types, i.e., different species of the same physical or metaphysical genus. If you are a metaphysical type of a larger class, that is obviously much deeper and more metaphysically substantial than being a mere linguistic type (which may be nothing more than a reflection of how arbitrary and/or flexible word assignments can be at times).

    Now, with this distinction in hand, a couple things seem clear to me. First, in class the other day, the question "What are the types of knowledge" was discussed in a manner where "types" was taken as inclusive of both linguistic and metaphysical types. We all seemed to concede that biblical knowing and knowing-who were simply linguistic types, nothing more. There was some question though as to whether know-how was a mere linguistic type or more, an actual metaphysical type of the same category that includes propositional knowledge. Actually, you and others were wondering if know-how just is (in disguised form) the same type of knowledge as propositional knowledge. Now, that's certainly fair to wonder about, but I think the fact that we included things like know-who in the list of "types of knowledge" demonstrates that asking "What are the types of knowledge" for us in class was not to ask (at least not exclusively) "Of the de re genus knowledge (which presumably would be characterized by a set of core and distinguishing properties all members of the genus of which would share)what are the different species (i.e., Red Delicious and Fuji for apples)?" but rather "Of the different ways the term 'knowledge' de dicto gets widely and permissibly used (say permissibly with respect to accepted convention or sanctioning by lexicons, etc.), what are the distinct concepts that are being marked out?" That the latter is what we had in mind is demanded, in my view, by our counting know-who as a type of knowledge, one which everyone agreed would be difficult at best to reduce to propositional knowledge - it's just an entirely different kind of thing. So that's the first thing. (Perhaps someone could try to argue there is this genus that know-who and know-that are both a part of, but I am dubious that any list of distinguising genus properties could be found that would allow inclusion of know-who but exclude other clear non-knowledge states.)

    The second thing that becomes clear to me is that, as I opened with, the fact that a linguistic type is semantically legitimized through conventions of language use does not bear at all on the question of whether the entity that is referred to by a given use of a term actually exists. In the case of "unicorn" it is obvious that no objects exist which have the distinctive set of shared properties (being a horse, having a horn) that are involved in the concept of a unicorn.

    Now, what about your example of intentionality and materialism? First, what does the concept of intentionality consist of? I'd say, at least based on what I've taken from almost, if not, every case I've heard the term used in a philosophical context, the term represents the concept of "the ofness or aboutness that is characteristic of many mental states, namely, those that take an object in some way" or something like that. Now, if that's right, then there's nothing instrinsic to that conception itself that would be inconsistent with materialism. The mind-body problem would simply be, among other things, an effort to analyze this ofness in terms consistent with a materialist doctrine (efforts of which I'd be currently dubious of).

    But, let's just say that as an item of convention it WAS the case that some people used the term "intentionality" in a way that, when detailed, would make clear that their conception of intentionality IS inconsistent with any form of materialism. Let's say the concept they carried was something like "The utterly-immaterial-and-irreducible-to-the material ofness or aboutness that certain mental states have." Now, I don't think all of that is part and parcel to the commonplace usage of "intentionality," (many may think intentionality is not reducible to purely material states and processes and functions, but that still doesn't mean that their definition of the term entails such), but let's just say it was for some group of language users. What then?

    I see two relevant implications. One, we'd have to say that the term "intentionality" admits of at least two linguistic types (distinguishing the two usages above [note that linguistic types can overlap with metaphysical types]; indeed, we'd be quick to recognize it actually admits of three types, including the use which means "deliberateness"). And second, that regarding one of the linguistic types, there is wide debate about whether the conception latches onto anything in the world. As you've stated, Trent, just because someone uses a word in a certain way, that doesn't mean what they are referring to exist (paraphrased). Just because I embed "fundamentally not reducible to the material" into my definition of a given mental property, that doesn't mean that my definition accurately pictures something "out there."

    And so, I totally agree that an idiosyncratic usage of the term "intentionality" would not in of itself refute functionalism. But that doesn't mean that that idiosyncratic usage, if it became commonplace, couldn't be considered a linguistic type of the linguistic category knowledge.

    To tie this all up, what about know-how then? Once again, it seems to me that the simple concept "ability to perform" is one of the commonly accepted meanings tied to the word "knowledge." If it's clear that that concept is distinct from the concept of know-that (as I agree with Jon in thinking that it is; a jelly fish knows how to sting, but I highly doubt it has propositional knowledge of such), then know-how is a different type of knowledge (a linguistic type, that is, which is what, again, we were in part interested in in class last time). Fortunately, in the case of know-how, in contrast to those who would use "intentionality" in the specific way germane to your counterexample, its meaning of "ability to perform" does latch onto something in the real world, namely, the property "able to perform," one everyone countenances as legitimately exemplifed in a great many cases.

    By Blogger kdfkwak, at 9/13/2006 9:06 AM  

  • I'm taking notes:

    First you distinguish between acceptable use (not quite sure what that is, but OK) and whether a term does or does not refer, right? So some terms might be used acceptably even if they don't technically refer or at least not how the speaker intends. An example here would be like what people refer to by "chair" if mereological nihilists are correct. Is that what you have in mind here?

    Next you point out that some matching phonemes have only phonetic properties in common and others represent different species of a natural kind.

    Then it's stated that we had a list of things which were *at least* phonetic matches and we were wondering which ones also grouped into natural kinds. In particular this question arose for knowing-how. (By the way, I'm sanguine about reducing know-who as well: I know who you are when I know that *that* person is you.)

    Then you say (again) that non-referring terms can be legitimately used in a language.

    About all of this we have agreed all along, of course, and so having reviewed the common ground you consider my counterexample.

    You say "there's nothing instrinsic to that conception itself that would be inconsistent with materialism." I have very little grasp on what this means. I probably disagree, but I don't think that's relevant because I can't see that the comment is relevant. It seemed to me that you were relying on the following inference rule in your original argument.

    (*) If people use "S" without intending to mean "P" then S cannot be reduced to P.

    I gave the materialism example as a counterexample to this principle, which I think it is. Lots of people clearly use mental talk--intentional explanation for example--without any intent to refer to anything purely physical, yet that doesn't entail that identity theories are false. If you can make your original argumetn without (*) then that's fair enough, but I'd have to see it.

    Next you grant the antecedent of (*) for the materialism case and query the consequences. The first consequence you mention is that it is consistent with the negation of the consequent of (*) which is to reject (*) along with me. I'm all for that! :-)~

    Then you say "that doesn't mean that that idiosyncratic usage, if it became commonplace, couldn't be considered a linguistic type of the linguistic category knowledge." which I truly don't understand at all.

    Finally, you say "If it's clear that that concept is distinct from the concept of know-that (as I agree with Jon in thinking that it is; a jelly fish knows how to sting, but I highly doubt it has propositional knowledge of such), then know-how is a different type of knowledge (a linguistic type, that is, which is what, again, we were in part interested in in class last time)."

    The conditional seems true but the antecedent does not. It is not clear to me that a jelly fish knows how to sting and it is not clear to me that it does not have propositional knowledge. Either the sting of a jelly fish is purely mechanical like a rake lying on the ground such that when you step on it you get whacked or else there is information processed. In the case of jelly fish though they have no brain they have a nervous system of interlocking neurons called a "nerve net" which runs through their skin. This is an information processing system and information consists in propositions. So I'm inclined to think they do have "animal knowledge" which is a kind of propositional knowledge.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 9/13/2006 9:44 AM  

  • So I think the thing to say in Jon's case might be that having GJTB that p is consistent with knowing p because my warrant can be overdetermined. My conscious justification can be gettierized but I still know because I've got unreflective (or "animal" for Sosa) knowledge do to reliability considerations.

    An alternative reply is simply to deny the presence of know-how in that case. As was mentioned today in class there are lots of abilities we have which do not constitute know-how. So here's a contentious suggestion for distinguishing between *mere* ability--like the ability to digest food--and know-how: the presence of propositional knowledge.

    By Blogger Trent_Dougherty, at 9/13/2006 1:26 PM