, Volume 160, Issue 1, pp 123–153 | Cite as

Consciousness, context, and know-how

  • Charles WallisEmail author


In this paper I criticize the most significant recent examples of the practical knowledge analysis of knowledge-how in the philosophical literature: David Carr [1979, Mind, 88, 394–409; 1981a, American Philosophical Quarterly, 18, 53–61; 1981b, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 15(1), 87–96] and Stanley & Williamson [2001, Journal of Philosophy, 98(8), 411–444]. I stress the importance of know-how in our contemporary understanding of the mind, and offer the beginnings of a treatment of know-how capable of providing insight in to the use of know-how in contemporary cognitive science. Specifically, I claim that Carr’s necessary conditions for know-how fail to capture the distinction he himself draws between ability and knowing-how. Moreover, Carr ties knowing-how to conscious intent, and to an explicit knowledge of procedural rules. I argue that both moves are mistakes, which together render Carr’s theory an inadequate account both of common ascriptions of knowledge-how and of widely accepted ascriptions of knowledge-how within explanations in cognitive science. Finally, I note that Carr’s conditions fail to capture intuitions (heshares) regarding the ascription of know-how to persons lacking ability. I then consider the position advocated by Stanley & Williamson (2001), which seems avoid Carr’s commitments to conscious intent and explicit knowledge while still maintaining that “knowledge-how is simply a species of knowledge-that" (Stanley & Williamson, 2001, p. 411). I argue that Stanley and Williamson’s attempt to frame a reductionist view that avoids consciously occurrent beliefs during exercises of knowledge-how and explicit knowledge of procedural rules is both empirically implausible and explanatorily vacuous. In criticizing these theories I challenge the presuppositions of the most pervasive response to Ryle in the philosophic literature, what might be described as “the received view." I also establish several facts about knowing-how. First, neither conscious intent nor explicit representation (much less conscious representation) of procedural rules are necessary for knowing-how given the theory of cognition current in cognitive science. I argue that the discussed analyses fail to capture the necessary conditions for knowledge-how because know-how requires the instantiation of an ability and of the capacities necessary for exploiting an ability—not conscious awareness of purpose or explicit knowledge of rules. Second, one must understand knowledge-how as task-specific, i.e., as presupposing certain underlying conditions. Conceiving of know-how as task-specific allows one to understand ascriptions of know-how in the absence of ability as counterfactual ascriptions based upon underlying competence.


Consciousness Know how Functional connection David Carr Stanley and Williamson Knowing that Task-specific ascription 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCalifornia State University, Long BeachLong BeachUSA

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