Monday, May 19, 2008


Knowledge How and Understanding Revisited

I very quickly came to the conclusion that I'd put the emphasis in the wrong place in my earlier post. I wrote there:

"Toy account or not, I think the guiding account provides the basis of a challenge to the claim that the case is a counterexample to any account that lacks the understanding condition."

But it's not really the account that I want to draw attention to. It's the availability of an alternative diagnosis of why Irina fails to know how in the case described in the post. The reason Marc and John take the case to counter-exemplify any account that lacks their understanding condition is presumably that they take it as obvious that the right diagnosis of the case is that she fails to know how because she fails to understand how to perform a Salchow. What I really wanted to draw attention to in the post was a rival diagnosis. According to the rival, Irina fails to know how because, roughly, it's lucky that her true belief about how to X leads her to successfully X, just as in Gettier cases it's lucky that one's justified belief turns out to be true. Really I'm suggesting that the Irina case is an example of what once seemed like an elusive beast; it's a Gettier case for knowledge how. Gettier cases for knowledge how are ones in which the connection between one's true belief or knowledge about how to X and one successful X-ing is too lucky. The role of the guiding account should really just be to illustrate one way we might give content to the notion of luck being appealed to, one that makes the analogy to standard propositional knowledge particularly clear.

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Thanks, this helps make clear what you were up to. It's a very cool thought that luck might be that which undermines Irina's know-how in the Salchow case. Of course, as you say, the relevant notion of luck employed by this alleged alternative diagnosis will have to get spelled out eventually. The comment I made on the earlier post is meant to suggest, among other things, that such spelling out will involve reference to misunderstanding -- or something necessarily equivalent, as it were. The thought is this: my other comments aside, absent a reason to think that this can be avoided, it would seem that we don't yet have reason to consider this "beast" a foe rather than a friend.
Hi Aidan,
A point about the dialectical structure of our discussion. We take the ski-instructor case to show that having an ability to F is not necessary for knowing how to F. Assuming that conclusion, we are left to consider the possibility that an ability to F is sufficient for knowing how. If it were, then we would be faced with a disjunctive account of know how. So our primary reason for invoking the Irina case is to show that the ability is not necessary either. But perhaps more importantly, the case shows just how important one's grasp of the relevant concepts is to knowing how. In fact, I think (I haven't really consulted John on this, so I won't speak for him) that the mere fact that such a case can be constructed puts heavy pressure on neoRyleanism because it shows just how cognitively sophisticated the states are which generate know how. And finally, if one goes our route, one gets a unified, non-disjunctive account of know how.

So I think it is a bit of a simplification to say that our reason for going the route we do is simply that we take it to be obvious that this is the correct diagnosis.
Thanks for the comment, Marc. As John will tell you, it was discussing your papers with him that really got me interested in this topic.

I'm happy to accept the case as a counterexample to neo-Ryleanism. So let's take as common ground that your primary aim has been realized (btw, I take it you meant to write that your primary reason for invoking the case was to defeat the sufficiency claim, rather than the necessity claim).

Now, the claim I was taking issue with was that only an account of knowledge how that includes something like your understanding condition will fail to be counterexemplified by the Irina case. I realize, of course, that you weren't meaning to rule out the possibility of gerrymandered conditions on knowledge how; if one proposed that knowledge how required the absence of any 'severe neurological abnormality', then one could account for the intuitive judgment about the case. But that's not interesting to anyone, I take it.

The suggestion I was making is that we're not yet mandated to take the case to show the necessity of an understanding condition. The case as described is a token of many types; it's a case in which the subject fails to possess mastery of the relevant concepts, but it's also a case in which it's a happy coincidence that she can successfully perform a Salchow, even given her knowledgeable belief about how to do so. My suggestion was that our judgment that Irina fails to know how might be sensitive to the latter fact rather than the former.

I apologize if I oversimplified the pressures leading you to adopt the position you do. It may be that this stems from a more fundamental disagreement over what the ski instructor case shows. The kind of diagnosis I'm offering won't impress those, like you and John, who take the case as decisive against any plausible-looking ability requirement. Conversely, if one doesn't accept your earlier critique of ability requirements, the worries about having a disjunctive account don't arise (as far as I can tell), and it seems like you guys have overlooked a rival explanation of why Irina fails to know how in the case. So it may be that one's entry point to this discussion is heavily shaped by one's views on the effectiveness of the ski instructor-type cases.

I still remain hopeful that someone more competent will write the paper I'd like to write on the success/ability requirement. It deserves paper-length treatment, I think.
Yes that is exactly what I was getting at. If you just take the Irina cases in isolation of the overall dialectical situation (or if you don't accept our judgments/diagnoses about some of the earlier cases), the available moves will be very different.
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