Posts Tagged ‘(T&W-3)


Know-how and language

Let’s look in more depth at the relationship between knowledge and language.  Although we have accepted (maybe only tentatively) that beliefs can be expressed as linguistic statements (see (TOCA-8-A)), we have found this compelling largely because the following appear to hold

(T&W-1) When one has a belief, one is related in a certain way (the relation of believing) to a proposition.
(T&W-3) Propositions have structure that parallels the logical structure of the sentences.

Presumably, what we mean when we say that beliefs can be expressed as linguistic statements is that for a belief B, and a proposition related to that belief PB, B can be expressed by the linguistic statement SB only when SB reflects the logical structure of PB (and when the words of SB reflect the proper concepts which constitute PB).

This all makes sense when we are talking about knowledge-that.  But we have already pointed out that know-how does not seem to have the same connection with language as knowledge-that.  In particular, there don’t appear to be sentences that correspond with our “belief-hows.”

Why might this be? If the above reasoning about knowledge-that is correct, then I think the best explanation would be this: knowledge-how is not related to propositions in the same way as knowledge-that.



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.