Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 1, pp 221–240 | Cite as

Understanding: not know-how

  • Emily SullivanEmail author


There is considerable agreement among epistemologists that certain abilities are constitutive of understanding-why. These abilities include: constructing explanations, drawing conclusions, and answering questions. This agreement has led epistemologists to conclude that understanding is a kind of know-how. However, in this paper, I argue that the abilities constitutive of understanding are the same kind of cognitive abilities that we find in ordinary cases of knowledge-that and not the kind of practical abilities associated with know-how. I argue for this by disambiguating between different senses of abilities that are too often lumped together. As a consequence, non-reductionists about understanding—those that claim that understanding-why is not reducible to knowledge-that—need to find another way to motivate the view. In the end, the fact that abilities are constitutive of understanding-why does not give us reason to conclude that understanding is a kind of know-how.


Understanding why Know-how Knowledge-that Cognitive ability 



I would like to thank the anonymous referee for very helpful comments and suggestions. For many other helpful comments and conversations, I would like to thank Nathan Ballantyne, Stephen Grimm, Diana Heney, Sam Kampa, Insa Lawler, Michael Strevens, Peter Siepel, Coran Stewart, and special thanks to John Mumm.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentFordham UniversityBronxUSA

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