[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?