20
Feb
08

Know-how

Let’s jump back to Habermas:

In linguistic utterances knowledge is expressed explicitly; in goal-directed actions an ability, an implicit knowledge is expressed; this know-how can in principle also be transformed into know-that. (TOCA, 8 )

Here Habermas is doing his best to relate all knowledge to linguistic claims. I think he’s doing this because later he will try to make the rationality of such knowledge depend on the defensibility of those linguistic claims in discourse.

I disagree with Habermas here, however.

The distinction Habermas between knowledge-that and knowledge-how is a distinction drawn by contemporary psychology as well, under the names declarative (or descriptive) knowledge and procedural knowledge. A primary difference between these kinds of knowledge is that people’s procedural knowledge is stored in procedural memory, which is a functionally and biologically distinct kind of memory. This is the kind of memory that lets you remember how to ride a bicycle, or tie your shoes, as opposed to remember what you ate for lunch yesterday or the capital of Vermont.

Much psychological and neurological work has been done on both kinds of memory, and one very robust result to come out of that work is this: while declarative memories can be easily brought to consciousness and articulated, it is very difficult if not impossible to do so for procedural memory. Typically, the question which proves this point to an introductory psychology student is: can you describe, in words, how to ride a bicycle?

The link between know-how (procedural knowledge) and linguistic utterances, then, is relatively weak.

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