pp 1–23 | Cite as

Know-how, action, and luck

  • Carlotta PaveseEmail author
S.I.: Knowledge and Justification, New Perspectives


A good surgeon knows how to perform a surgery; a good architect knows how to design a house. We value their know-how. We ordinarily look for it. What makes it so valuable? A natural response is that know-how is valuable because it explains success. A surgeon’s know-how explains their success at performing a surgery. And an architect’s know-how explains their success at designing houses that stand up. We value know-how because of its special explanatory link to success. But in virtue of what is know-how explanatorily linked to success? This essay provides a novel argument for the thesis that know-how’s special link to success is to be explained at least in part in terms of its being, or involving, a doxastic attitude that is epistemically alike propositional knowledge. It is argued that the role played by know-how in explaining intentional success shows that the epistemic differences between know-how and knowledge, if any, are less than usually thought; and that “revisionary intellectualism”, the view that know-how is true belief that might well fall short of knowledge, is not really a stable position. If its explanatory link to success is what makes know-how valuable, an upshot of my argument is that the value of know-how is due, to a considerable extent, to its being, or involving, a kind of propositional knowledge.


Know-how Knowledge Action Success 



I am grateful to Bob Beddor and Dan Greco for helpful discussions on topics related to this essay. This project also benefited from comments at the Copenhagen Epistemology Workshop and the Knowledge First Workshop at Cardiff. I am particularly grateful to Tim Williamson and Clayton Littlejohn for their comments in that occasion. The critical remarks of two anonymous referees have led to substantial improvements.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Center for Logic, Language, and Cognition (LLC)University of TorinoTorinoItaly

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