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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reflections on My Talk at SLU

I had a great time at SLU yesterday. During my lunch with Eleonore Stump I learned that Eleonore is currently working on issues related to my work on knowledge-wh. Eleonore is especially interested in the neurobiological grounding of knowledge-how and objectual knowledge -- an approach which I find very fruitful. My own approach is primarily linguistic.

My talk went well. One issue that came up during Q & A concerned my analysis of knowledge-how. I treat knowledge-how as a species of knowledge-wh. The reason for this is that it is merely a fluke in English that 'how' is not a wh-word (in old English, old Nordic and Danish 'how' is a wh-word -- that is, it is not strictly speaking a wh-word but rather the equivalent of a wh-word in those languages). So, an adequate analysis of knowledge-wh should be extendable to knowledge-how. In my paper on knowledge-wh I offer a general analysis of knowledge-wh and knowledge-how which is based on my previous analysis of pseudo-clefts. On my analysis, 'wh' clauses are predicates. Two examples:

On my analysis, 'John knows what Mary did at 3 p.m.' cashes out to 'there is an x such that John knows that x is what Mary did at 3 p.m.'

And 'John knows how to play the piano' cashes out to 'There is a w such that John knows that w is how to play the piano' (this instance of my general analysis is very similar to Stanley and Williamson's analysis of knowledge-how)

Most of the questions after my talk concerned my analysis of knowledge-how. Among other things it was pointed out by Scott Berman, Jim Bohman, John Greco, Michael Barber, Joe Salerno and others that John may not know how to play the piano even if there is a w such that he knows w is how to play the piano. My immediate reaction was to refer to the gap between knowledge states and knowledge reports. After the talk Michael pointed out that there is a kind of ambiguity in 'knowing how' (not a lexical one). Sometimes we use 'knowing how' to talk about an ability to do something, and sometimes we use it to talk about knowing-ways (or in some constructions: degrees, as in 'John knows how difficult this task is'). That seems right to me. What I wonder is: how do we analyze 's knows how to F' in the ability sense? (compositionally, that is) Any ideas?


Aidan said...

Hi Brit,

I don't have any sort of answer to offer to you question, but I can suggest a piece of reading that might potentially be of interest to you: 'Know-How and Concept Possession'.

There's an abstract at the top, so you can see if it's likely to be of use. (The link works much better in IE than in Firefox, sadly).

Brit said...

Thanks for the reference, Aidan! The article definitely seems relevant. Maybe it will answer my question.

Mikkel Gerken said...

Perhaps the first thing to note is that an ability to v is neither necessary nor sufficient to know how to v (in the 'ability sense' of know how).

You may be able to tolerate vast amounts of snaps without knowing how to tolerate vast amounts of snaps.

You may know how to play football although you are not able to play football (say, because of your broken leg).


PS: Just learned that you and Joe are also comming to Aberdeen for the linguistics in epistemology show. Should be fun!

brit said...

Hi Mikkel
Thanks for this. I will need to re-think knowledge-how.

See you soon.