A dispositional account of practical knowledge
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Is knowledge-how, or “practical” knowledge, a species of knowledge-that, or “theoretical” knowledge? There is no comfortable position to take in the debate around this question. On the one hand, there are counterexamples against the anti-intellectualist thesis that practical knowledge is best analysed as an ability. They show that having an ability to ϕ is not necessary for knowing how to ϕ. On the other hand, the intellectualist analysis of practical knowledge as a subspecies of theoretical knowledge is threatened by its own set of counterexamples, which convincingly establish that practical knowledge lacks many of the typical characteristics of theoretical knowledge. Most strikingly it does not even appear to require a belief. In this paper, I develop an account of practical knowledge that avoids these counterexamples. It also manages to preserve both the status of such knowledge as a cognitive achievement and its apparently close conceptual relation to abilities. I start with the counterexamples against the necessity of abilities for practical knowledge and show that they fail because they underestimate the cognitive demands of attempts. I then make use of the logic of dispositions to bridge the gap that counterexamples against the necessity of abilities for practical knowledge open. It is argued that, instead of the ability to ϕ, it is a specific disposition to have the ability to ϕ that constitutes practical knowledge about ϕ. The resulting theory is an anti-intellectualist position that preserves essential intellectualist motivations and thus should be satisfactory for proponents of both views.
KeywordsKnowledge Knowing how Practical knowledge Abilities Intellectualism Anti-intellectualism
The account presented in this paper was inspired by Sydney Shoemaker’s theory of properties in “Causality and Properties” (1997). I finished the paper while working on the DFG-funded project “Disagreement in Philosophy” at the University of Cologne. Earlier versions were presented at GAP.9 in Osnabrück, Sept. 2015 and at the Cologne-Leuven Epistemology Meeting in Cologne, Oct. 2015. I am grateful to the audiences of those conferences for helpful questions and comments. Furthermore, I am particularly indebted to Thomas Grundmann and David Löwenstein for very stimulating and fruitful discussions. I also want to thank my colleagues who commented on earlier drafts of this paper: Dominik Balg and Steffen Koch.
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