Here’s a draft of an entry on knowing how and knowing that for Sage’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences. Comments and suggestions welcome! (either here or via email to [email protected])
Well I almost decided to let Close Range lapse into oblivion. However, I've recently had a few ideas for which a post on CR seemed like an appropriate way of getting feedback and have decided to re-start it. Posting will, no doubt, remain sporadic.
[What follows is a quick sketch of some thoughts I've had concerning knowledge how and "incompleteness" modifiers, based on a quick look at Utpal Lahiri's book Questions and Answers in Embedded Questions. Nevertheless, I've put them down because I feel bad that Dan Korman has been carrying the load lately; well, and also it would be great to get some feedback on this line of reasoning.]
It is pretty commonplace to modify knowledge how attributions with what I will call "incompleteness" modifiers, because they in some sense indicate an incomplete knowledge state. Some examples:
x kinda knows how to get back to the car.
x sorta knows how to fix the car.
x partly knows how to navigate the scene.
My sense is that sentences like (1) and (2) entail the denial of the unqualified knowledge attribution. So (1), for instance, entails that x does not know how to get back to the car. What seems to be going on with incompleteness modifiers is that they function to "walk back" the bald assertion that the subjection is in a certain state (e.g., of knowing how to get back to the car) and is instead in a state which is similar to that state but which falls short of it in some way.
Now, at first this might seem like a point in favor of a neo-Rylean theory of know-how. After all, abilities (as Ryle noted) come in degrees. By contrast, propositional knowledge doesn't appear to be gradable. But on reflection, the case isn't so clear. Here is the worry. Suppose that we accept that knowledge how to attributions attribute stable abilities. Then the most natural way to think about the effect of the incompleteness modifier is to take the truth conditions of the resulting sentence to be such that x kinda knows how to get back to the car iff x can come close to getting back to the car, but can't quite do it. But that doesn't seem right. If x is missing certain crucial bits of information, she might still kinda know how to get back, but could fail to even come close to actually getting back were she to try. Similarly for fixing the car: kinda knowing how to fix the car doesn't mean that if you were to try, you would in fact come close because the place at which you fail might lead you far astray.
If that is right, then the neo-Rylean will need to do some work to explain what "coming close to, but not reaching" means. So one question is how might they try to spell this out?
I want to contrast this proposal, with John's and my intelletualist proposal. On our view, knowing how to fix a car entails having a correct and complete conception of a way of fixing the the car. So the natural proposal from our perspective (I think) is to say that knowledge how to attributions containing incompleteness modifiers are true iff the subject has a correct and largely, but not fully, complete conception of a way of fixing the car. This gets the relationship with ability right. If certain x's conception of a way of fixing the car is lacking on crucial points, then were x to act on that conception she might misfire badly. Nevertheless, she qualifies as kinda knowing how to fix the car because her conception is largely complete. [Actually, on reflection, I think we'd be willing to say of someone who had a complete and largely, but not wholly, correct conception of a way of fixing a car that she kinda knows how to fix it. Which is all to the good.]
At any rate, I doubt this settles the issue one way or the other, but I definitely think it is an interesting angle to the debate. Thoughts?
I’m in the middle of assembling a two-piece table. The top and the base didn’t compose anything when I started, and I’m now at a point at which they’re a borderline case of composing something. Consequently, it’s indeterminate whether there is anything in addition to the top and the base. Consequently, it’s indeterminate what there is. Q.E.D..
A lot of people think it can’t be indeterminate what there is. (What part of ‘Q.E.D.’ don’t they understand??) Ted Sider argues that, if it were indeterminate what there is, then some numerical sentence -- like ‘∃x∃y(Cx & Cy & x≠y & ∀z(Cz → (x=z v y=z)))’, which says that there are exactly two concrete objects -- would have to contain some vague expression. But numerical sentences don’t have any vague expressions.
Here’s the argument that ‘∃’ isn’t vague (see p.128 in Sider’s book; he focuses on the universal quantifier).
(S1) In order for ‘∃’ to be vague, ‘∃’ has to have multiple precisifications (S2) In order for ‘∃’ to have multiple precisifications, ‘∃’ has to have multiple candidate extensions. (S3) ‘∃’ doesn’t have multiple candidate extensions (C) So, ‘∃’ isn’t vague
Let’s grant S1 and S2 (though I’m happy to hear worries about these). Sider’s argument for S3 runs as follows: In order for there to be multiple candidate extensions for ‘∃’, there’d have to be something, x, that’s in one but not the other. But whichever extension doesn’t contain x isn’t even a candidate for being an extension of ‘∃’, since a constraint on any candidate precisification of ‘∃’ is that it ranges over everything.
Here’s a way of resisting the argument, which occurred to me after re-reading Katherine Hawley’s very nice paper “Vagueness and Existence”. (It’s not entirely clear to me whether this strategy for blocking the argument is just a straightforward application of what she already says in §5, or whether the strategy requires some substantial further assumptions.) Sider’s argument for S3 works just fine if we suppose that the candidate semantic value of ‘∃’ has to be a first-order property. But suppose (as some think, right?) that ‘∃’ expresses a second-order property. In that case, the candidate extensions of ‘∃’ are going to be sets of properties. Indeed, they'll be the same sets of properties that are candidates for being the extension of ‘has at least one instance’. Because the top and the base are a borderline case of composing something, the property being composed of the top and the base will be a borderline case of having an instance. (NB. It does *not* follow that there is an object that's a borderline case of being an instance of this property.)
We can now specify the different candidate extensions of ‘∃’: one includes the property of being composed of the top and the base, and the other doesn’t. And it certainly doesn’t follow from the fact that the latter extension doesn’t include this property that the corresponding precisification doesn’t range over everything. That’s because, on this understanding of the semantic value of ‘∃’, the extension of ‘∃’ doesn't consist of the things ‘∃’ ranges over, but rather the properties that have instances. So the argument fails if we take quantifiers to express second-order properties.
So ‘∃’ does have different precisifications on this picture., which differ with respect to whether they map the property of being composed of the top and the base onto T or F. A further question (which I’m having trouble thinking clearly about) is whether this opens the door to existential vagueness without ontic vagueness. After all, we can blame the vagueness of ‘∃’ on linguistic indecision with respect to the aforementioned candidate precisifications of ‘∃’. But perhaps ontic vagueness sneaks in in some other way.