Warp, Weft, and Way

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Practicising to know: Practicalism and Confucian philosophy

This article “Practicising to know: Practicalism and Confucian philosophy” is co-authored by me and one of my colleagues, Stephen Hetherington, an advocate of a version of knowing-how (a version he names ‘Practicalism’). In this paper, we explore how Confucian philosophy lends support to Practicalism.

Practising to Know: Practicalism and Confucian Philosophy. Co-authored with Stephen Hetherington. Published in Philosophy, July 2012, 87 : pp 375-393. Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2012. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0031819112000289.

Abstract:

For a while now, there has been much conceptual discussion about the respective natures of knowledge-that and knowledge-how, along with the intellectualist idea that knowledge-how is really a kind of knowledge-that. Gilbert Ryle put in place most of the terms that have so far been distinctive of that debate, when he argued for knowledge-how’s conceptual distinctness from knowledge-that. But maybe those terms should be supplemented, expanding the debate. In that spirit, the conceptual option of practicalism has recently entered the fray. Practicalism conceives anew the nature of knowledge-that, as being a kind of knowledge-how. In this paper we enlarge upon this conceptual suggestion. We draw from an ancient Chinese text, the Analects of Confucius, explaining how it lends some support to practicalism.

 

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July 12, 2012 - Posted by | Chinese philosophy

13 Comments »

  1. This is not exactly an objection.

    A chewing being is a kind of breathing being. It does not follow that chewing is a kind of breathing.

    In some society it might be literally true that being a parent is being a kind of payer of bills. There’s a problem, though, with the formulation ‘Parenting is a kind of paying’. For insofar as ‘parenting’ and ‘paying’ name kinds of relation or activity, the formulation suggests the proposition that the one kind is a species of the other. And that proposition does not follow from the fact that parents are a kind of payer. Clearly the relation “parenting” is not a species of the relation “paying” [sc. of bills], since the two relations are borne to different kinds of thing: children and bills.

    Knowing-that is a relation borne to propositions, while knowing-how is not. So I’m worried about the formulations ‘Knowing-that is a kind of knowing-how’ and ‘Knowledge-that is a kind of knowledge-how’ – especially the former.

    Perhaps such a worry lies behind the fact that the paper goes out of its way to stick to the latter language rather than the former, despite the latter’s far greater oddness even (I guess) in the epistemological literature.

    While ordinary language has the phrases ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’, it hardly has the phrase ‘knowledge how’. And I wonder whether we ever use the word ‘knowledge’ when we’re talking specifically about knowing-how rather than knowing-that. I’m not sure why, though I suppose the reason must be interesting.

    Though knowing-how-to is a relation borne to activities or tasks rather than propositions, the paper suggests that the knowledge-how-to-xyz that constitutes my knowing-that-p is my bearing some relation or set of relations to p: “To know that p is to know how to perform various pertinent actions, ones bearing upon or reflecting p in particular” (376). Knowing-how-to is not a genus of these relations to p, it is an element from which these relations to p are constructed.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 14, 2012 | Reply

  2. Oh, here’s an objection.

    The activity stuff that at least tends to accompany knowing-that-p includes not only intelligent skills (know-how) but also intelligent dispositions (knowing-to). And since dispositions aren’t in general reducible to skills, maybe intelligent dispositions aren’t reducible to intelligent skills.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 14, 2012 | Reply

  3. For example, the paper says that according to practicalism, knowing that you are sitting on a chair is:

    “Your knowing how to answer accurately …
    questions about where you are sitting,
    and/or
    your knowing how to make inferential links accurately
    between such an answer and other claims or thoughts,
    and/or
    your knowing how to describe accurately to yourself
    what you are doing,
    and/or
    your knowing how to accommodate your body accurately
    to a circumstance of sitting on a chair,
    and/or
    so forth.”

    Now suppose I have the skill but not the disposition to perform the right inferences: do I know I am in the chair?

    Another objection comes to mind. Must the essential skills and dispositions be intelligent skills (know-how) and intelligent dispositions? Here then is a rival theory for Practicalism: Kineticism. For each proposition p, the state of knowing-that-p is a complex of skills and dispositions. Or rather, to keep separate my earlier objection about dispositions and my present objection about intelligence, let’s just drop the dispositions and define KineticismS as the theory that knowing-that-p is a complex of skills, even though I suppose that makes a much worse theory.

    Of course Practicalism implies KineticismS, because all intelligent skills are skills. But KineticismS is a more accurate theory if the kind of intelligence that makes a difference between know-how and mere skills is inessential to knowing-that-p.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 14, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Bill,

      Some quick responses to the specific questions:

      Q.”Now suppose I have the skill but not the disposition to perform the right inferences: do I know I am in the chair?”

      A. The discussion is about attributions of knowledge, not simply self-awareness of knowledge. The point of the e.g. (which you cited) is to say that, in such a case, it would be plausible for anyone (not necessarily, although it may be, in the first-person) to attribute knowledge.

      Q.”Another objection comes to mind. Must the essential skills and dispositions be intelligent skills (know-how) and intelligent dispositions?”

      A. No.

      Comment by karynlai | July 24, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi Karyn,

      I’m beginning to think I was wrong to assume that you are a friend of practicalism!

      Regarding your answers to the two objections to practicalism, which I expressed as two questions:

      To your answer to the first question: I’m sorry I was unclear! I wasn’t asking about self-attribution; I was just using myself as an example of a person.

      I see from the Research Summary on your faculty page that you think zhi in the Analects is more about knowing-to than knowing-how; so I imagine you are sympathetic to this objection to practicalism.

      To your “No” answer to the second question: According to the paper, practicalism says “Yes.” That’s why the paper mentions knowing-how.

      So I wonder – are you saying you agree with the objection, and practicalism is wrong? Or are you saying only that the paper misrepresents practicalism, and that a proper presentation of practicalism would speak merely of skill instead of knowing how?

      For my part, while I think it’s easy to see the difference between ability and skill, I don’t have a very clear idea of the difference between skill and knowing how. Do you have a view about that?

      Comment by Bill Haines | July 26, 2012 | Reply

    • Stephen Hetherington’s book is reviewed by B.J.C. Madison here:
      http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/28899-how-to-know-a-practicalist-conception-of-knowledge/

      The review convinces me that one of my objections was misplaced. The objection was that as between skill and knowing-how, practicalism seems to err in choosing knowing-how as the key term with which to sketch an account of propositional knowledge. What the review shows is that the book’s practicalism is a broad conception that basically does not distinguish between ability and knowing-how. We can conclude that the book’s practicalism does not choose at all between skill and knowing-how; so I can’t complain that practicalism makes the wrong choice between those two.

      I can still, however, say that practicalism ought to choose something like ability or skill in preference to knowing-how. Madison seems to agree in the review: “the proposed account seems more plausible when cast in terms of abilities, but … it does not when cast in terms of knowledge-how.”

      So one might think there’s still a problem for the paper, insofar as the paper relies on the idea that practicalism makes some reference to a kind of “knowing” other than propositional knowledge.

      However, it’s unclear to me that the paper does actually make any use of that idea in its argument. My attempted sketch of the paper’s core argument (beginning of comment #7 below) is easily enough recast to make no mention of “knowing-how,” and I think such a recasting may give a clearer view of the basic line of thought.

      Comment by Bill Haines | August 1, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thanks for your comments, Bill. They’re really valuable. Stephen Hetherington has defended Practicalism at length in a number of his publications. His most recent articulation of it is in: Stephen Hetherington, How To Know: A Practicalist Conception of Knowledge (Malden, MA:Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)

    Comment by Karyn Lai | July 16, 2012 | Reply

  5. I simply forgot, before, to say Hi, Karen! and to thank you very much for bringing this piece to our attention. It’s a terrific paper, and I’ve learned a great deal from thinking about it.

    Does anyone know whether any of my objections above has been addressed anywhere? 🙂

    Here’s another question I have about practicalism. The paper remarks that practicalism sees believing that p as inessential to knowing that p. But that point doesn’t seem essential to practicalism as defined in most detail, in the passage I quoted in #3 above. I wonder whether a practicalist would still be inclined to accept the non-necessity of belief, if she came to accept Eric Schwitzgebel’s action-oriented account (or sketch toward an account) of belief:

    I’ve argued that to believe some proposition P is nothing more or less than to be disposed to act and react in a broadly belief-that-P-ish way – that is, to be disposed, circumstances to being right, to say things like “P”, to build one’s plans on the likelihood of P’s truth, to feel surprised should P prove false, etc. Among the relevant dispositions is the disposition to consciously judge that P is the case, that is, to momentarily explicitly regard P as true, to endorse P intellectually (though not necessarily in language).
    https://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/is-it-psychologically-possible-for-the-skeptic-to-suspend-all-belief/

    True, that’s about dispositions and not intelligent skills. But never mind for now.

    My thought is that someone who accepts an action-oriented account of propositional knowledge might in the same spirit want to (or have to) accept an action-oriented account of belief, in which case she might want to (or have to) retract her idea that propositional knowledge doesn’t require belief.

    As this question is peripheral to the paper’s main argument, I’m separating it from the following.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 19, 2012 | Reply

  6. Here I’ll argue that the paper doesn’t find in the Analects anything that leans toward practicalism. But it’s a complicated paper, and some of it I’m sure I don’t understand.

    1 – PRACTICALISM

    The paper presents practicalism as something like A:

    A. Knowing-that is a kind of knowing-how (or rather, a kind of cluster of bits of knowing-how).

    Without the parenthetical clarification, one could imagine that A is meant to imply B:

    B. ‘Know’ is basically univocal, encompassing propositional knowledge by encompassing its genus, intelligent skill or know-how.

    But I think B is not intended. Because:

    If B is part of practicalism, then my comment #1 in this string presents an objection to practicalism. For B seems to say that the “knowing” relation to that-p in propositional knowledge is a species of the “knowing” relation to how-to-φ in know-how. To defend B against this objection, the obvious move would be to offer an account of the latter relation, the knowing relation involved in intelligent skill, in order to show that our knowledge relation to propositions is a species of that more general relation. (Such an account would seem to require a conception of the relatum how to φ, the thing we know in having intelligent skill, that make it a genus of propositions, the things we know in having propositional knowledge.) I don’t see anything in the paper to suggest that such a project is contemplated.

    In sum, it seems to me that practicalism offers no general conception of knowing. Thus practicalism offers no general conception of knowing that emphasizes knowing-how. Rather, it involves two distinct conceptions of two things it calls “knowledge” in different senses; it does not claim that one is a species of the other.

    Regarding the first, knowing-how, practicalism offers no particular conception.

    Regarding the other, knowing-that, practicalism offers a scheme for a conception.

    2 – MANY KINDS OF KNOWING

    Maybe epistemologists used to assume that the only kind of knowing is knowing-that. I guess that assumption is understandable. But once it is pointed out that there is also knowing-how, I don’t think it’s understandable to assume that there are no further kinds.

    Most obviously, there seem to be at least these prima facie other kinds:

    Smith knows to φ.
    Smith knows [topic or thing] X.
    Smith knows [person] P.

    (And then there’s the use of ‘know’ in “for three months he did not know the taste of meat” 三月不知肉味, 7.14.)

    Offhand, knowing-X would seem to tend to involve some knowing-that and some (other) knowing-how (in different proportions depending on what X is, and depending on the context of utterance). And beyond those two it may involve further things: knowing-to, perhaps, or acquaintance (e.g. with smells).

    Practicalism as presented in the paper makes no claim about any of these matters.

    3 – IDENTITY VERSUS CONSTITUTION

    We might distinguish these two:

    Each piece of knowing-that-p is a cluster of pieces of know-how.
    Each piece of knowing-that is constituted by pieces of know-how.

    “Constituted,” in philosophical contexts, tends to refer to the material cause relation. A certain piece of bronze is the matter of a statue. This relation does not imply identity. For example, one can destroy the statue without destroying the piece of bronze.

    A wooden table is constituted by wood, and it is constituted by carbon and a few other elements. But a table with a metal top is not constituted by wood, nor is it constituted by those few elements.

    In one place the paper seems to present practicalism as the view that knowing-that is constituted by knowing-how (376). I’m not sure that’s the paper’s intent. But I think the constitution-claim may be a more accurate articulation of the underlying picture than is the identity claim.

    4 – PRACTICALISM v. HANSEN’S GUIDANCE

    Though the paper doesn’t mention this issue, I think it may be helpful to note that the question whether the Analects fits practicalism is at best orthogonal to the question whether Chad Hansen is right to say that the Analects (and other texts of the time), in theorizing about language, thought about it mainly as a mode of guidance, not as a vehicle of beliefs or a way to express propositions.

    Three reasons:

    First, guidance is concerned with what the guided actually tend to do, at least as much as with what they merely know how to do.

    Second, practicalism is a theory about propositional knowledge. The less you are thinking about propositional knowledge, the less your thinking can reflect a practicalist view.

    Third: On the one hand, one might argue as follows. “The main rival to practicalism is a view that propositional knowledge is about our relation to representations of propositions (mental sentences, spoken or written sentences, whatever). And Hansen holds that early Chinese theorists did not believe in mental representations, and did not theorize about language as representations of propositions.”

    But the truth is that practicalism itself, as presented in the paper, regards propositional knowledge as a cluster of skills, especially skills in handling representations of propositions. Of the four kinds of skills listed in the paper’s most detailed account of practicalism (quoted in comment #3 above), certainly two and arguably three kinds are skills in handling representations of propositions. (Of course, what makes something a representation of a proposition is what we do with it.)

    Thus, for example, practicalism is prima facie radically unlike the view that propositional knowledge about people is intelligent skill in choosing and managing people.

    5 – ZHI AS “KNOWS HOW” IN THE ANALECTS

    The basic vision behind the paper might be that in the Analects, the core image of zhi is knowing-how, so that if the Analects were to think that all zhi is reducible to some one kind, that would be the kind.

    Now, if it turned out to be true that the Analects always uses zhi to mean “know how,” and never uses it to mean “know that,” that wouldn’t show that the Analects supports practicalism. Rather, it would suggest that zhi does not run parallel to ‘know’, and in particular that zhi diverges in that it does not include the subject-matter of practicalism, which is knowing-that.

    Fortunately the paper does not make that kind of argument. And of course what we find in the Analects as in other early texts is that ‘zhi__’ sometimes plainly means “know that __ exists or obtains” (i.e., either knowing that x exists, or knowing x’s F, e.g. knowing the pines’ and cypress’ being the last to lose their leaves): 4.7, 4.21, 5.5, 5.8, 5.19, 7.19, 8.3, 9.23, 9.28, 13.2, 14.1, 14.38, 15.14, and 18.6. The word can plausibly be read in that way in 23 more passages.

    Does zhi in the Analects at least sometimes plainly mean “know how”? That is, do we ever find a phrase of the form ‘zhi T’ (or ‘zhi … T’), where T is a particular task or activity, and the phrase means “know how to T”?

    I think there are just two Analects passages in which zhi plainly means “know (how)” (5.22: 不知所以裁之, 19.24: 多見其不知量也), though e.g. Legge reads the latter a different way. (It doesn’t mean “know how” in 1.12 知和, nor in 11.12知死, nor in 11.26知方.)

    So I think it cannot be maintained that knowing-how is the central picture of zhi in the Analects.

    6 – INTELLECTUALISM

    These considerations
    suggest that the search for truth or the possession of conceptual
    knowledge is not unimportant in Chinese philosophy. However,
    neither truth nor conceptual knowledge has the same priority as
    in contemporary western epistemology. Unlike intellectualism,
    Chinese philosophy does not have a particular metaphysical commitment
    to (true) belief as basic. This claim is substantiated in the contemporary
    research literature on Confucianism.
    (385)

    That is to say, Chinese philosophy does not adhere to the kind of reductionism that is the opposite of practicalism. But this point does not suggest that Chinese philosophy leans toward practicalism. Practicalism as presented in the paper (the part of the paper that presents practicalism) simply does not involve any view whatsoever about the relative importance of propositional knowledge among kinds of “knowing”.

    In fact, it is not clear to me that practicalism conflicts with intellectualism. Each view is an open-ended reductionism-schema saying that each thing of one kind reduces to a cluster of things of the other kind. Maybe there’s a regress involved in accepting both. Here’s a two-part reason for thinking that there isn’t:

    (i) Every proposition is the conjunction of two weaker ones, suggesting that any piece of propositional knowledge is infinitely divisible into smaller bits of propositional knowledge; and the same may be true of bits of know-how. And:

    (ii) All talk about these matters is at least somewhat vague. Some of our knowing is more fully knowing than is other knowing. So maybe some knowing that reduces to some knowings-how, which reduce to some less good examples of knowing-that; the knowing fades out before the second or third or hundredth reduction; so infinity never arises as a problem.

    7 – MANIFESTATION, WHAT?

    The primary epistemic term in the Analects is zhi (知), corresponding
    to ‘knowledge’ although it is used more frequently as a gerund –
    and most appropriately translated as ‘knowing’ – where it refers to the
    manifestation of knowledge. (382)

    I don’t understand what ‘manifestation’ is supposed to mean here. Some passages suggest that by ‘manifestation of knowledge’ the paper means “exercise of knowledge.” But I don’t think ‘knowing’ means exercising knowledge, or that zhi means exercising knowledge.

    (That’s not a criticism of practicalism.)

    (A possible exception is the peculiar use of ‘know’, and what I take to be a peculiar use of zhi, in 三月不知肉味 “for three months he did not know the taste of meat.” But I wouldn’t myself call this an exercise of knowing.)

    I can see how the knowing of some narrow or particular thing might be regarded as a manifestation of knowing more general premises, or of methodological knowledge. And we might take zhi standing alone to mean, in many cases, something like “wisdom” – say, very general knowledge and/or comprehensive methodological knowledge. In that sense knowing something in particular could be a “manifestation” of zhi — but saying that it is a manifestation of knowledge rather than a piece of knowledge would simply be wrong.

    8 – THE KEY SORT OF PASSAGE

    Where
    the conversations focus on whether a person has knowledge of a particular
    subject matter, evaluations are made on the basis of whether a
    person is or has been able to carry out a specific task. This gives the
    impression that ‘knowing-how’ is an appropriate understanding of
    the term
    zhi. (383)

    (I won’t pursue here the differences among ability, skill, and know-how.)

    It should be uncontroversial between practicalists and non-practicalists that “knowing X,” where X is some broad topic, typically involves some propositional knowledge and some know-how that is not prima facie reducible to propositional knowledge. Thus everyone should agree that one may often reasonably argue that a person does not know X, on the basis of the fact that she is unable to do Y.

    It should also be uncontroversial between practicalists and non-practicalists that being able to perform some specific task within the broad field of X does not strictly imply that one knows X, though in the right special contexts it may convince a reasonable person.

    Therefore, passages that fit the quoted description would not “[give] the impression that ‘knowing-how’ is an appropriate understanding of the term zhi.”

    How could it be thought that such passages would give that impression? I guess the tacit argument is something like this:

    a. Knowing X, for any topic X (e.g. history), is constituted in large part by propositional knowledge.
    b. Where Smith’s Z is decent evidence for Smith’s knowing X, Z probably amounts to some large part of knowing X.
    c. If Jones takes Smith’s ability to do Y as evidence that Smith knows X, Jones must be supposing that the ability to do Y amounts to a large part of knowing X. (from b)
    d. If Jones offers Smith’s ability to do Y as evidence that Smith knows X, that gives the impression that Jones supposes that propositional knowledge is constituted by abilities. (from a, c)

    Two responses:

    (i) Quite aside from anybody’s reductionism, propositional knowledge is commonly an important element supporting or helping to constitute some knowing-how. If you don’t know what the rules are, you don’t know how to play the game. If you don’t know when to wear brown socks, you don’t know how to perform the ritual. So if Q is simply the name of some large body of propositional knowledge, the ability to do Y may pretty much coincide with a large chunk of Q, quite aside from whether propositional knowledge is itself reducible to knowings-how.

    (ii) The argument above lacks prima facie application to the special case of “zhi [broad topic] X” where X is specifically a body of activities or procedures – for example, knowing ritual. Even in English, we might well expect that in the special case where X is a body of activities or procedures, knowing-X involves a relatively large amount of what is prima facie knowing-how.

    9 – ACTUAL PASSAGES

    Let’s have that quote again:

    Where
    the conversations focus on whether a person has knowledge of a particular
    subject matter, evaluations are made on the basis of whether a
    person is or has been able to carry out a specific task. This gives the
    impression that ‘knowing-how’ is an appropriate understanding of
    the term
    zhi. (383)

    This is a claim about all or most passages focusing on knowing [topic] X. The paper cites no passage in direct connection with this claim.

    I have gone through the Analects carefully, and found only two passages that might be thought to fit the quoted description. From the Chinese Text Project, with Legge’s translation:

    3.23
    子語魯大師樂。曰:「樂其可知也:始作,翕如也;從之,純如也,皦如也,繹如也,以成。」
    The Master instructing the Grand music master of Lü said, “How to play music may be known. At the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony while severally distinct and flowing without break, and thus on to the conclusion.”

    12.22
    樊遲問仁。子曰:「愛人。」問知。子曰:「知人。」樊遲未達。子曰:「舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。」樊遲退,見子夏。曰:「鄉也吾見於夫子而問知,子曰,『舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直』,何謂也?」子夏曰:「富哉言乎!舜有天下,選於眾,舉皋陶,不仁者遠矣。湯有天下,選於眾,舉伊尹,不仁者遠矣。
    Fan Chi asked about benevolence. The Master said, “It is to love all men.” He asked about knowledge. The Master said, “It is to know all men.” Fan Chi did not immediately understand these answers. The Master said, “Employ the upright and put aside all the crooked; in this way the crooked can be made to be upright.” Fan Chi retired, and, seeing Zi Xia, he said to him, “A Little while ago, I had an interview with our Master, and asked him about knowledge. He said, ‘Employ the upright, and put aside all the crooked; in this way, the crooked will be made to be upright.’ What did he mean?” Zi Xia said, “Truly rich is his saying! Shun, being in possession of the kingdom, selected from among all the people, and employed Gao Yao, on which all who were devoid of virtue disappeared. Tang, being in possession of the kingdom, selected from among all the people, and employed Yi Yin, and all who were devoid of virtue disappeared.”

    In 3.23, it seems clear that in his opening words, by “know music” Confucius does not mean “know how to make music” as we would normally use those English words: referring to a combination of artistry and technical skill. He might be talking about whether it is possible to know or describe the standards for music. His elaboration suggests to me that that is what he means. (This much does not cut against the paper’s argument.) Now, it is true that one of the main kinds of know-how that practicalism associates with knowing-that-p is knowing how to make accurate reports about the topic. But this association is not at all distinctive of practicalism. So the passage displays no affinity for practicalism.

    In 12.22, if (pace Legge) we take Confucius’ elaboration to be an elaboration only of his second answer, does the elaboration suggest that he takes “knowing people” to be, in large part, employing the upright and putting aside the crooked?! That reading strikes me as a non-starter, though I understand that some would disagree. Anyway here’s another way to read the passage (on the assumption that Fan Chi was at the time empowered to promote and demote):

    Fan Chi asked to be told about wisdom. The master said that the main thing (the important part) is to know people. Fan Chi didn’t understand what the master was on about. The master answered by explaining a way in which, for Fan Chi, merely knowing people’s qualities could be a surprisingly powerful tool for improving people. All you need in order to improve everyone is to be able to recognize which ones are upright and which crooked.

    There is nothing in the passage so understood that leans for or against practicalism.

    A few lines before the quote, the paper does offer a list of passages to show the range of zhi:

    16.8;
    1.16, 12.22, 13.2, 14.30, 14.35;
    20.3;
    11.12;
    3.15, 3.22.

    I have just discussed 12.22. Of the rest, the last two come far, far closer to fitting the quoted description than do any of the others. In these last two passages, someone’s actually doing specific action Y is offered as reason to think that she does not know X. This cannot suggest that knowing X involves the ability to do Y. Anyway the specific tasks Y mentioned in these passages are simple tasks, such that one’s knowing how to do them is clearly not at issue (asking questions about everything in the temple, setting up a stand for cups when you’re not a prince).

    And in each of the two cases, the X in question is ritual — see above, section 8, (ii).

    (Another passage of the same sort is 7.31.)

    10 – THE LONG SECTION ABOUT ZHI LI知禮

    The meat of the argument about the Analects, I think, is in Section 5 (pp. 386-390) about zhi li 知禮.

    I argued above that one would expect this phrase to refer to a complex that consists in large part of knowing-how, even if one does not think propositional knowledge is or is constituted by knowing-how. Indeed, for the same reasons, one would expect the phrase to refer in large part to knowing-how even if one were an “intellectualist” who thinks knowing-how is constituted by pieces of propositional knowledge. The phrase seems particularly ill-suited as a test case for the paper’s ideas.

    The section discusses four passages.

    (A) 20.3

    The paper holds that zhi li 知禮 in 20.3 does not mean “have propositional knowledge about ritual.” I agree.

    Now, practicalism is a theory specifically about propositional knowledge. So you might think that in order for a passage to support practicalism, it must at least be about propositional knowledge, so that it can suggest some view about that. But of course it doesn’t have to be wholly about that. If knowing-ritual is at least partly propositional knowledge, it is at least potentially relevant to practicalism.

    (The paper argues for its claim that zhi li 知禮 here does not mean propositional knowledge, on the grounds that other phrases of the form zhi X in the same passage do not; and it argues for this point in turn on the basis of the example zhi ren (know people). The paper has cited some passages in connection with that claim about zhi ren, but not made an argument. I have discussed one of those passages above: 12.22.)

    (B) 3.22
    (C) 7.31
    (D) 3.15

    I discuss these passages at the end of my section 9 just above.

    11 – QUESTIONS IN THE TEMPLE

    The last of them, 3.15, is about Confucius asking questions in the temple. The paper says,

    The person who has observed Confucius asking questions at the Hall
    presumes that Confucius does so because he lacks
    knowledge. On this
    basis, he asks if Confucius actually knows li. Confucius’ response
    turns the tables on the inquirer. To ask questions is not a sign of
    not knowing (that); it is in fact a manifestation of knowing to
    perform li – this suggests that it is an act of respect or courtesy by a
    visitor to the Hall to show interest in its details. In this passage,
    Confucius evaluates his knowledge in practical terms and not in
    mental-state terms.

    And in a footnote:

    Bill Haines (in personal communication) has suggested two other
    possible interpretations of this passage. We adapt his comments here: In
    the first interpretation, zhili (知禮) means ‘knowledge that’ and, in that
    light, Confucius’ response is a cheap trick. (This reading seems implausible
    as it would be strange that Confucius is remembered in this way by his followers).
    The second reading is that perhaps the problem with Confucius’
    questions was not that he was asking for information but asking questions
    in the temple was inappropriate. In that case, Confucius’ reply was a
    counter-assertion. The charge against him was that he did not know how
    to behave in a temple, and not because he did not know some specific rule
    such as is at issue in 3.22 and 7.31.

    (I’m pleased and grateful to be mentioned. I made my suggestion under #5 here:
    https://warpweftandway.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/what-does-it-mean-to-know-li-zhili-%e7%9f%a5%e7%a6%ae-in-the-lunyu%e2%80%94knowing-how/
    Maybe WW&W’s rule about citations is supposed to apply to deeply nested comments; I’m not sure. A big part of why I let myself indulge in so much commenting is that I think I’m contributing to a public academic resource; and I hope citations will lead people to look around here.)

    Confucius said: “Asking questions is [what is required by] ritual [so I am not displaying lack of knowledge of what is required by ritual].” I never spelled out how that might be a cheap trick; here I will. Note the second reading in the footnote. On the second reading, nobody thinks it is a mark against Confucius that he doesn’t already know the details of the local ritual. He is being challenged only on his behavior. And his answer addresses the actual challenge directly. On the first reading, however, it is his ignorance of the local details that people are pointing to in the challenge, and his reply sidesteps the challenge. It is an adequate reply only if one could thnk that he already knew the answer to the questions, but was asking them merely as a matter of ritual propriety. Which is absurd. That’s why the trick is cheap, and that’s why the reading is unsatisfactory.

    I don’t see a difference between the reading offered in the paper and the first of my two readings. And I don’t see how the reading could seem to lean in the direction of practicalism. But I may just be misunderstanding.

    12 – ANALECTS AGAINST PRACTICALISM?

    Here is how the paper sums up its view of how the Analects gives some support to practicalism:

    These texts convey some philosophy of knowledge’s nature.
    And whatever they convey in this respect exemplifies a practicalist
    sensibility. (Nothing competing, nothing intellectualist, about
    knowledge is conveyed, even as aspects of what we would deem
    to be practicalism are.)
    (392)

    When the paper here speaks of “knowledge’s nature,” one might think it means the nature of propositional knowledge. For that is what practicalism is a view of. And among the various things for which we use versions of ‘know’ in English, the noun ‘knowledge’ is pretty much restricted to propositional knowledge, not e.g. (other) knowing-how – as the beginning of the paper seems to recognize.

    And yet the quote speaks of intellectualism as a rival view. Intellectualism is a view about knowing-how: that it is all reducible to pieces of propositional knowledge. So I think that by ‘knowledge’ the text means the whole range of things for which ‘know’ or zhi might be used, taking both ranges to include knowing-that and knowing-how, and simply overlooking the possibility that they include further things that some view might regard as not reducible to those two.

    The concrete claim in the quote is that the Analects does not suggest intellectualism: the view that knowing-how is reducible to knowing-that. I wonder whether one could have made a far stronger claim with less argument or no argument at all: no text in any culture before the 20th century suggests that knowing-how is reducible to knowing-that? Or is that too bold?

    The more general claim in the quote is that the Analects does not convey any view of “knowledge” (of propositional knowledge, or of zhi) that conflicts with practicalism.

    That is to say, at least that (a) the text never suggests that propositional knowledge or propositional zhi is not reducible to (clusters of bits of) knowing-how. Is there an example of a text before the 20th century, of which (a) is not true?

    And it is probably to say further that (b) the text never suggests that all knowing or zhi is not reducible to (clusters of bits of) knowing-how. (b) is the pivotal claim of the paper’s argument about the Analects.

    However, if we use the kind of argument the paper uses, we find that the denial of (b) is much better supported than (b). It’s not a close call. For as we have seen, three of the four passages that the paper specially emphasizes – 3.15, 3.22, and 7.31 – involve someone offering someone’s doing a specific task Y as evidence that the person does not know X, where X is a broad topic (ritual in each case, as it happens). The direct suggestion is that knowing X involves certain tendencies or dispositions to act – which is something beyond mere abilities such as know-how. On the whole, I think, the Analects evidence the paper offers fits this kind of rival to practicalism more neatly than it fits practicalism.

    But I think that kind of argument doesn’t carry weight. After all, no matter what kind of reductionism might or might not be true, it’s really perfectly obvious that our doing or omitting action A, and our having or lacking the skill to do B, can often be adequate quick evidence about whether we have a certain body of propositional knowledge (and vice versa).

    Indeed, there are certain special kinds of context where one would expect this commonplace fact to be super-true. These are contexts where (a) the remarks are very terse, (b) the remarks are made in a context of practical urgency, (c) the topics under discussion are highly practical. These are features of the Analects, a small sample of sentences with little context, with obscure origins in what might be a linguistically diverse stretch of time and space. Why not look more broadly at early Chinese texts? But I’m not sure what one would be looking for in them.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 19, 2012 | Reply

    • Very inspired by your attention to the paper, Bill–thanks!

      1 – PRACTICALISM: Account (B) is not an assertion in the paper.

      3 – IDENTITY VERSUS CONSTITUTION: Our claim is about constitution.

      Comment relating to sections 2, 4, 7 and 8:
      Bill, you state that “practicalism is a theory about propositional knowledge” and “The main rival to practicalism is a view that propositional knowledge is about our relation to representations of propositions (mental sentences, spoken or written sentences, whatever).” That’s only partly correct. The key theme of Intellectualism is that it reduces knowing-how to knowing-that. Hence this primary feature of the intellectualist thesis looms large in the paper. The paper does not assert that there is no such thing as knowing-that, nor that there are not different kinds (or ways) of knowing. It seeks to challenge the Intellectualist thesis that (a) knowledge that is basic and (b) that knowing-how is reducible to knowing-that.

      In this light, we mean by ‘manifestations’ something such as “Your knowing how to answer accurately questions … your knowing how to make inferential links accurately between such an answer and other claims or thoughts, etc”; also, Analects temple example). These clusters of action/manifestation give us good reason to attribute knowledge to the person in question. Section 6 of the paper suggests that a cluster of manifestations are sufficient for us to attribute knowledge.

      5 – ZHI AS “KNOWS HOW” IN THE ANALECTS: Part of what the paper tries to show is that zhi is seldom (in a couple of cases it is (问知)) a stand-alone concept. It should always be interpreted as a phrase, 知-x. And when we look at it that way, we begin to realise that many of the “x’s” are not propositional (content-based). I like esp the way you’ve unpacked 3.23.

      Thanks for providing the link in WW&W for readers of this forum. I wasn’t sure I should include that link, and at the end decided not to, because I’m was concerned that the link might move with the passing of time. Sure, I expect and hope that the entire website it will remain as it’s a wonderful resource, at least for us scholars in the field. I’m just concerned that, should someone look this up in the future, they may not find the specific link, should it have moved.

      Comment by karynlai | July 24, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi again!

      I really appreciate your replies. This is all quite fascinating for me.

      1 – PRACTICALISM

      Sorry, I did not mean to suggest that B is explicitly separately asserted in the paper. But I was worried that in places the paper seems possibly to presuppose it. That’s a complicated topic, and maybe a red herring, so I’ll set it aside for today at least.

      3 – IDENTITY VERSUS CONSTITUTION

      When you say here,“Our claim is about constitution,” it looks like you mean “… and not identity.”

      Actually I wasn’t asking whether the paper claims identity. It does, on each of the first six pages. For example: Practicalism “allows this by conceiving of the knowledge-how which is being expressed or manifested as itself being the knowledge-that” (378, emphasis in the original). My question wasn’t whether the paper says this; rather my question was whether this really expresses the authors’ view, which I thought might instead be the weaker view, the mere constitution view.

      OTHER

      Bill, you state that … “The main rival to practicalism is a view that propositional knowledge is about our relation to representations of propositions (mental sentences, spoken or written sentences, whatever).” That’s only partly correct. The key theme of Intellectualism is …

      Actually I didn’t state that. I wrote, “One might argue as follows. ‘The main rival to practicalism is …’” — and then in my own voice I rebutted that imaginary opponent.

      Second, by “the main rival to practicalism” my imaginary opponent didn’t mean intellectualism. She meant the main way one would envision the negation of practicalism; the main way one would envision propositional knowledge if one thought of it as sui generis, not reducible to knowings-how.

      I should have realized that my imaginary character would have seemed to be talking about intellectualism, since the paper, or at least the latter part, clearly regards intellectualism as the main rival to practicalism. But it doesn’t make sense to me to think of intellectualism as the main rival to practicalism.

      For one thing, while practicalism is a view about how to conceive propositional knowledge, intellectualism isn’t a rival view on that topic, because it simply doesn’t address that topic. It is silent about how we should conceive propositional knowledge.

      As I argued above in “6-INTELLECTUALISM”, intellectualism and practicalism aren’t rivals in the sense of being incompatible; neither implies that the other is false. I mean, intellectualism (as the theory that all knowing-how is reducible to clusters of knowings-that) is consistent with practicalism (as the theory that all knowing-that is reducible to clusters of knowings-how).

      For another thing, they both look to me like extreme views, or at least bold views. Common sense does not leap to accept either one of them. The default position would be that neither is true.

      The paper does not assert that there is no such thing as knowing-that

      I think you mean, according to the Analects. Yes, the paper is very explicit about not asserting that, and I took the point as understood. I’m sorry if I was misleading.

      In this light, we mean by ‘manifestations’ something such as “Your knowing how to answer accurately questions … your knowing how to make inferential links accurately between such an answer and other claims or thoughts, etc”; …. These clusters of action/manifestation give us good reason to attribute knowledge to the person in question.

      Here you speak of actions as manifestations of knowledge (or knowing). I don’t have difficulty with that. My confusion was about your very different claim, that instances of knowing (知) are “manifestations.” Manifestations of what? Knowledge, i.e. propositional knowledge?

      Here again is the passage that had puzzled me, from the paper:
      The primary epistemic term in the Analects is zhi (知), corresponding to ‘knowledge’ although it is used more frequently as a gerund – and most appropriately translated as ‘knowing’ – where it refers to the manifestation of knowledge. (382)

      If I understand the early, abstract part of the paper, it uses ‘manifestation’ to make the following point only:

      “Everyone agrees that actions can be manifestations of knowing-how. Knowing-how is a kind of skill or potential, and particular actions are expressions or uses of the skill (in a visible way). The disagreement is that some people are intellectualists. That is, they think think that knowing-how, if it is really knowing-how and not mere skill, must itself be a manifestation of some further knowledge, propositional knowledge. And I say no, it needn’t.”

      Regarding my paraphrase here, please note that it never says that any instance of knowing-how is a manifestation of knowledge, or a manifestation of anything. It denies that we should as a rule think of instances of knowing-how (e.g., knowing how to tie shoelaces) as manifestations of (other) knowledge.

      Separately: regarding the kind of cluster of knowing-how you are talking about here, the fact that those clusters would be good evidence of propositional knowledge seems to me to be a piece of common sense that practicalists and intellectualists will of course agree on. Are you thinking of that fact as something special to practicalism?

      5 – ZHI AS “KNOWS HOW” IN THE ANALECTS: Part of what the paper tries to show is that zhi is seldom (in a couple of cases it is (问知)) a stand-alone concept.

      I think I must be misunderstanding what you’re saying here. Right now it seems to me that the paper asserts the point but doesn’t try to show that it is true, and it seems to me that the point is false. Zhi stands alone, perhaps meaning wisdom or understanding the important things in life, in 14 or 15 passages, including the two you mention: 4.1, 4.2, 5.18, 6.22, 623, 12.22, 14.12, 14.28, 15.8, 15.33, 17.1, 17.3, 17.24, 19.25, and arguably 9.8. (In addition, four or six passages generalize about all知-x: 2.17, 5.9, 7.28, 16.9, and perhaps 6.20 and 13.3.)

      (Finally, on citation: Thank you for not taking any chances about access or accuracy! Please see the upper right-hand part of the present page for WW&W’s rule for citations. The approach proposed there avoids the problem you mention.)

      Comment by Bill Haines | July 26, 2012 | Reply

  7. Here’s a much cleaner version of my challenge to the paper’s argument about the Analects. For simplicity I’ll use ‘know’ even when I’m referring to zhi in the Analects, usually.

    The paper’s core argument about the Analects seems to be this:

    a. To find the Analects’ general picture of knowing, the main phrases to look at are of the form ‘know [topic] X’.
    b. When a Confucian speaker in the Analects is judging whether someone knows topic X, she judges in terms of what the person does, not her propositional knowledge.
    c1. The core image of knowing in the Analects is about what people do, not about their propositional knowledge. (a,b)
    c2. The core image of knowing in the Analects is “knowing how” or something like that, not propositional knowledge. (c1)
    d. The Analects is more friendly to the idea that propositional knowledge is reducible to clusters of knowing-how, than to the reverse reductionism. (c1 -or- c2)
    e. The Analects is friendly to practicalism. (d)
    f. The Analects lends some support to practicalism. (e)

    Against premise (a):

    One other phrase-form with ‘know’ appears in significant numbers: ‘know [thing or state of affairs] O’. We seem to find approximate equivalents to the English ‘know that p’ in the Analects’ phrases of the form know O and (more specifically) know a’s F , meaning (respectively) “know that O exists or obtains” and “know that a is F.” In 14 passages (listed earlier) we plainly find this meaning. In 17 other passages we plainly find ‘know [topic] X’ roughly equivalent to the English ‘know about X’ or ‘know [topic] X’ or, as Brian Bruya has pointed out, ‘understand X’. 23 passages can be read in either way, or in both at once.

    Now, one might conclude that the Analects entertains two main kinds of knowledge: (i) existential propositional knowledge, used as a model for other propositional knowledge, and (ii) general familiarity with a thing or topic.

    Toward investigating whether the Analects is friendly to practicalism, the Analects’ picture of (i) seems more directly relevant than its picture of (ii). For practicalism is a theory about propositional knowledge, not about other kinds of knowing.

    Since particular things are more primal than broad topics, it is natural to guess that the Analects envisions (ii) on the model of (i) somehow. For example, (ii) might be regarded as an aggregate of pieces of (i). And/or one might guess that for each the underlying picture is perceptual encounter with, awareness of, the thing – cf. “I see you” in Avatar, and “for three months he did not know the taste of meat.” (Both guesses are of course prima facie consistent with both practicalism and intellectualism. Perhaps the first has an intellectualist flavor and the second is neutral.)

    Hence (a) is probably false.

    Against the inference to (c1)

    Regarding phrases of the form ‘know [broad topic] X’ in the Analects, the reasonable first hypothesis is that they mean roughly the same as what we mean by such phrases in English. I’ll adopt that hypothesis here, as I see no hint of any difficulty for it, and as the argument of the paper depends on the assumption that 知 runs roughly parallel to ‘know’. Now consider this list:

    Know French history
    Know clouds, love, life
    Know courtroom procedures
    Know math, basketball, mountain climbing

    Independently of whether or not one holds any reductionist views (such as intellectualism about knowing-how, practicalism about knowing-that, or the view that knowing-X is merely an aggregate of the other two), I think one has to grant all of the following:

    Prima facie, each of the knowings on the list involves some knowing-that and some knowing-how, in different proportions depending on the kind of thing: where X is an activity, there’s more knowing-how. For the items on this list, some of the knowing-how depends mainly on some knowing-that; some doesn’t. And for each of the knowings on the list, even knowing French history, there are circumstances in which someone’s action could show, or suggest strongly, that she does or doesn’t know X. And I don’t mean just the main kinds of actions practicalism talks about: answering quiz questions, drawing inferences, and perhaps reciting facts from memory. Rather I mean, for example, that a diplomat’s proposal might lead one reasonably to exclaim that she doesn’t know French history, or that she does.

    We are talking now about what can be inferred especially from (b) about the Analects’ general picture of knowledge. Here is (b) again:

    b. When a Confucian speaker in the Analects is judging whether someone knows topic X, she judges in terms of what the person does, not the person’s propositional knowledge.

    I think we can’t infer much of anything from this about images of knowing, because:

    i. Actions are the most directly accessible evidence even of propositional knowledge.
    ii. Conversations in the Analects are very terse; inferences are quick and dirty.
    iii. The Analects is mainly concerned with action.

    Further, the main evidence for (b) in the paper is about the phrase ‘know ritual’, i.e. a case where X is an activity, so that quite independently of our philosophy of knowledge we would regard knowing-X as consisting in large part of skills and/or dispositions.

    Further, the way Confucians in the text judge whether someone knows X on the grounds of her actions is not that they conclude that she knows X because she did or can do specific action or actions Y that might in context serve as a representative sample of the dispositions or abilities arguably encompassed in knowing X. Rather, the argument is usually that the person did Y and therefore does not know X. (For details see Part 9 of Comment #6 above.)

    Against the inference to (c2)

    (c1) would offer reasonable support to (c2) if there were no other action-oriented picture available. But one might envision knowing (other than knowing-how) in terms of intelligent dispositions rather than intelligent skills.

    Against the truth of (c2)

    This point is worth considering separately because there is an easy compelling case against (c2), i.e. against the claim that the core picture of knowing in the Analects is knowing-how.

    Outside the phrase ‘know ritual’, I think there are just two places in the Analects where ‘know … T’ might mean “know how to T”:

    5.22: 不知所以裁之
    19.24: 多見其不知量也

    In 5.22, 所以 has the effect of presenting knowing-how on the model of awareness or propositional knowledge, like the English ‘how to’. We might translate as “don’t know the way to trim it.” If Chinese needs this marker as English needs ‘how to’, that is a reason to think that ‘know how’ is not the central picture for ‘know’. It’s a different reason from the sheer paucity of examples. (Note, by the way, that the phrase here could also be translated “don’t know by what to trim it,” i.e. don’t know what to trim [from] it.”)

    Regarding 19.24, Legge translates it as propositional knowledge: “He only shows that he does not know his own capacity.” I guess he’s wrong. One could of course read it on the model of ‘know [topic] X’, as “doesn’t understand measuring.” Since measuring is an activity, ‘know measuring’ is not a phrase by which we can easily test whether ‘know__’ means “understand__” or “know how to __”.

    There are more phrases of the form ‘know A’, where A is an action or activity such that “know how to A” could make sense, though it is not in fact what is meant. I listed some in an earlier Comment. So we might ask ourselves: “If the Analects’ main or core picture of knowing were knowing-how, then how strong would the contextual cues have to be to communicate that something else is meant in a particular case? And do we find them that strong in the text?” I won’t pursue that inquiry here.

    Regarding the inference to (d)

    I’ll discuss only the inference from the stronger of the two possible premises:

    c2. The core image of knowing in the Analects is “knowing how” or something like that, not propositional knowledge.
    d. The Analects is more friendly to the idea that propositional knowledge is reducible to clusters of knowing-how, than to the reverse reductionism. (c2)

    At this point we might distinguish two readings of (c2). We might take it as talking about the core image of zhi 知, suggesting that propositional knowledge is at the periphery or absent. Or we might take it as talking about the core image of knowing (the referent of the English ‘knowing’), which certainly includes knowing-that as a central kind.

    If what’s meant is the former, then it might tend to suggest that zhi 知 is different from ‘know’, different in involving propositional knowledge less or not at all. And if zhi 知 involved propositional knowledge not at all, (c2) could offer no support to (d). Thus the claim that propositional knowledge is at the periphery of zhi 知 can be regarded either as friendly or as unfriendly to practicalism. One would have to go into fine points.

    (Anyway, in attacking (a) above, I argued that the claim is false.)

    Against the inference to (e)

    “More friendly” doesn’t imply “friendly.”

    I’m not sure what is the attraction of either of the reductionisms. But if the Analects is unfriendly to intellectualism, that need not be because the Analects is friendly to practicalism. One could be unfriendly to intellectualism on account of being unfriendly to reductionist projects. Is there anything in the Analects to suggest a general unfriendliness to reductionist projects?

    Against the inference to (f)

    If the Analects is held to lend some support to practicalism, what kind of support might that be? Here are three possibilities:

    First, someone might hold that the Analects has a word such that what practicalism says about ‘know’ is true of that word there.

    Second, someone might hold that the Analects evidences some attitude approaching s the belief that practicalism is true, and thus lends the authority of its general wisdom to the reasons to believe practicalism.

    Third, someone might hold that the Analects is revealing in some way about how to conceive propositional knowledge in terms of knowing-how: for example, that it shows us something about what kinds of p-relevant skills are relatively central to the cluster that is knowing-that-p.

    Offhand it seems to me that the paper is aiming at finding the first kind of support. That seems to be what the overall argument is aiming at; and I don’t know what the argument for the others would be. But this kind of support for practicalism is of no interest (to the consideration of practicalism). For one thing, English is infinitely more accessible to study than the language(s) of the Analects. For another thing, the Analects seems to lend precisely the same kind and degree of support to the theory that all knowing is water.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 22, 2012 | Reply

  8. If practicalism as presented in the paper is true, does it help us understand the Analects?

    Maybe that prospect is the main reason why people interested in Chinese philosophy would be interested in the paper. The paper doesn’t seem to raise the above question, but we can.

    Practicalism is the idea that propositional knowledge, or knowing that p, is a cluster of certain bits of know-how (intelligent skills) pertaining to proposition “p”.

    Three things this idea does not do are:

    i) Explain how (or suggest that) knowing in general, or some kind of knowing, might be constituted mainly by what we do.

    ii) Explain how there can be a substantial chunk of knowing-how that does not saliently involve propositional knowledge.

    iii) Suggest a general picture of propositional knowledge that avoids or sidesteps the idea of propositions or the idea of truth; or suggest that there can be such a picture.

    Here’s why it doesn’t:

    (i)

    Though action is part of training, knowing-how is not constituted by what we do. There are vastly many things that you know how to do and that you have never done nor will ever do.

    (Knowing how, one might say, is constituted at least by what one is able to do. But that doesn’t seem quite right to me, because I think knowing-how is more than mere skill, and skill is more than mere ability (and less too?).

    (ii)

    Practicalism doesn’t say anything at all about knowing-how: about what it is like or about how it might work. It doesn’t strictly imply that there can be any knowing-how that isn’t supported by some propositional knowledge. And it doesn’t even suggest that there can be any big or interesting chunk of knowing-how that isn’t supported by lots of propositional knowledge. It makes no claim and no suggestion about the conditions under which knowing-how might depend on propositional knowledge.

    (iii)

    Practicalism says “propositional knowledge is X.” But the paper’s characterization of X gives a central (and apparently not dispensable) role to the notion of propositions and the notion of accuracy.

    Recall the most detailed account in the paper:

    According to practicalism, knowing that you are sitting on a chair is:

    “Your knowing how to answer accurately …
    questions about where you are sitting,
    and/or
    your knowing how to make inferential links accurately
    between such an answer and other claims or thoughts,
    and/or
    your knowing how to describe accurately to yourself
    what you are doing,
    and/or
    your knowing how to accommodate your body accurately
    to a circumstance of sitting on a chair,
    and/or
    so forth.” (377)

    Now, this account does not strictly imply that the fourth knowing-how is not always sufficient for knowing-how. (Indeed the last two lines means that the account logically allows that knowing how to tie your shoes may always be sufficient for knowing that you are sitting in a chair.) But the general suggestion is that the intelligent skills here itemized are especially key. The accounts of the first three seem saliently to involve the notion of true statements. A description or picture is accurate, I think, only qua being of this or that; a predicate is true or accurate only in respect of some subject. Its being accurate is its being part of a true proposition. Perhaps in the account of the fourth activity or aim, the notion of accuracy is the notion used in archery.

    (The paper elsewhere describes practicalism in general terms as the theory that knowing-that-p is a cluster of knowings-how pertaining to the proposition p: 390)

    *

    Well, I haven’t even mentioned the Analects!

    How might practicalism, if true, help us understand the Analects?

    Maybe this way:

    Someone might be in the grip of the idea that “know”ing, and hence also zhi (知), must be mainly about propositions, e.g. about believing true ones. (She may simply not have noticed that ‘know’ has other kinds of use.) So when she encounters the character zhi, she may think too much about true sentences and not enough about knowing-how, knowing-to, knowing-of, the kind of relation to persons we call “knowing” them, etc. That is, her narrow assumption about the English ‘know’ (though presumably not reflected in her everyday use of the word) may carry over into narrow thinking about zhi in the Analects. And persuading this person of the truth of practicalism would knock her out of her error (even if practicalism is false), though it could leave her with the slightly less narrow error of thinking that the only kinds of “know”ing are knowing-that and (other) knowing-how.

    I think one might better address the person’s error in much easier and much less controversial ways, by pointing out that there are the various kinds of “know”ing in English, none of them prima facie reducible to the others, so that no reductionism should be assumed in reading the Analects.

    Comment by Bill Haines | July 29, 2012 | Reply


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