Monday, November 19, 2012

Gettier cases and knowing-how

Knowing how (foto B.bij de Weg)

The Gettier problem calls into question that knowledge is justified true belief. We have seen it in my last blog. The theme has been intensively discussed since Gettier published his article in 1963 and for me it is impossible to follow back the whole debate, but when I look up on the Internet the argumentations put forward there is one thing that strikes me: Although the Gettier problem and its consequences for what knowledge is have been examined in many ways, nonetheless the discussion has been one-sided. Or have I missed something? For when we take a closer look at the discussion we see that the concept of knowledge involved is basically propositional knowledge or knowledge-that. But didn’t already Gilbert Ryle defend in his The Concept of Mind (1949) that there are two kinds of knowledge: knowledge-that and knowledge-how? When we apply this distinction to the Gettier problem, I think we have to reject the conclusion that Gettier cases undermine the idea that in general knowledge is not justified true belief.
Once (in my blog dated June 9, 2008) I have dedicated a blog to Ryle’s distinction, but it’s already more than four years ago, so let me repeat the essence. When we talk about knowledge-that, we mean intellectual knowledge or rationally knowing. Basically, knowing-that is about facts or theories that can be true or false. Betsy, my cow, is in the field or she isn’t. E=mc2 or E≠ mc2. However, knowing-that is not all knowledge there is. Much of what we know is knowing-how, which does not refer to what we intellectually contain in our minds but to what we can practically do with our bodies (steered by our mind, it’s true, but not only). It refers to the way we do things and are able to do them. How we ride a bike, for instance. Maybe I cannot explain verbally what I do when I am cycling, but nevertheless I can do it and I can teach others how to do it. Also most professional knowledge, skill and craftsmanship fall in this category. A carpenter can excel in his trade, even when he cannot explain in words the details of what he is doing.
I think that it has no sense to talk about the Gettier problem when we talk about knowing-how. For instance, when I know how to ride a bike, something like a Gettier problem cannot happen. Maybe I belief that I can cycle because in the past I could, but if it is no longer so, because I have become too old for it and I would fall over, it is simply a false belief. I don’t see how a kind of Gettier problem can bear on cases like this one or on other cases of knowing-how. It should have to be something like that I have the true knowledge that I can ride a bike, but when I am going to check it, I do something else although I still have the belief that I am cycling. I cannot imagine how that is possible, but maybe you can. If I am right, it can still happen that knowing-how is not a kind of justified true belief but it is not because of Gettier-like objections.

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