Knowing how to

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P062-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2005
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

It is sometimes said that when philosophers have thought about knowledge they have attended exclusively to knowing that p (or ‘propositional knowledge’, since p stands here for a proposition), scarcely at all to knowing how to A (or ‘practical knowledge’, since A stands here for a type of action, as in ‘knows how to play the violin’). Gilbert Ryle drew attention to this distinction, but his account of it remained imprecise, his thought about it overshadowed by his interest in other, related but different, questions. Whether the antithesis is as sharp as some, including Ryle, have apparently believed, might well be thought a crucial question for epistemology to answer. And if we think that ‘knows how to’ designates a relation between a subject and an action, whereas ‘knows that’ designates a relation between a subject and a proposition, this may well encourage the hope that there is a largely uninvestigated epistemic relation out there waiting to be explored – for since action-types and propositions are such very different objects, probably their epistemic relations with subjects are very different too. But this line of thought will look less promising if, as some maintain, knowing how to is a subspecies of knowing that, involving propositional knowledge about methods of doing things. Still, those who are hoping for a new space for epistemology need not give up; even if knowing how to is a form of knowing that, it might still have its own distinctive features. This possibility does not at the time of writing (2004) seem to have attracted much research.

    Citing this article:
    Craig, Edward. Knowing how to, 2005, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P062-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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