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I'm not inclined to agree with you that sentences like (1) and (2) entail the falsehood of unqualified knowledge-how. (They may well implicate such falsehood, in familiar Gricean ways.)

What do you think about other similar cases? Does someone's being kinda smart entail that he is not smart?

Aidan McGlynn

My first reaction is the same as Jonathan's - I don't get the entailment to the falsity of the know-how attribution. I instinctively interpret 'sorta' and 'kinda' as 'somewhat', and I don't hear 'X is somewhat smart' as entailing 'X is not smart': likewise for the (kinda clumsy) analogous constructions involving know-how.

Marc Moffett

Thanks guys. Perhaps you are right, but let me try to push my case a little further.

I considered the implicature point, but it didn't seem to me to pass the cancelability test. Thus:

1. * Bo kinda knows how to fix the car; in fact, he knows how.

I suspect that the modifiers are functioning differently in the two contexts. After all, "x is kinda smart" seems to me to entail "x is smart".

2. * Bo is kinda smart; but, in fact, he isn't smart.

By contrast, even if we put the entailment to one side for a moment, it seems clear to me that "x kinda knows how to fix the car" is at least consistent with "x does not know how to fix the car."

Why the difference? Well, it seems to me that this is because smarts, while coming in degrees, don't admit of completeness or incompleteness evaluations. An incompleteness modifier, consequently would be inappropriate in its application to "smart". This is born out by the less controversial qua incompleteness modifier "partly":

3. * Bo is partly smart.

So I submit, tentatively, that "kinda" and "sorta" are ambiguous (or polysemous) between an incompleteness reading and a comparative reading. Where the incompleteness reading is in play, there is no implicit or explicit comparison to others or operative standards.

Following this line of thought out, what do you guys think of the following?

4. Bo kinda/sorta knows the rules.

Do you agree that (4) entails that Bo does not know the rules? Or what about:

5. Bo kinda/sorta knows the way (to Terabithia).

[Actually, let me digress for a moment on (5) because it seems to me that it bears on some of the know how discussion. Each of the following claims seem to me true: If Bo only kinda knows the way to Terabithia, then he doesn't know how to get to Terabithia (he only kinda knows). However, it is possible that Bo's partial knowledge of the way might be sufficient for reliably getting him to Terabithia because the gaps in his knowledge can be "filled in" in situ as it were. (I sometimes have this experience hiking out of the mountains.) If so, then Bo's partial knowledge state underwrites a reliable ability to get to Terabithia even though Bo doesn't know how to get to Terabithia. Conclusion: having a reliable ability to F doesn't imply knowing how to F. This is something John and I have already argued for on the basis of a misunderstanding of a way; this is a similar case but based on partial understanding of a way. End digression.]

To my ear, (4) and (5) are clear cases for the incompleteness reading and once we have it in mind as the intended reading in my original cases, I stand by the entailment claim.

Marc Moffett

So, on a bit more reflection, I think that I want to concede that the entailment doesn't hold, or at least bracket the claim. I take it that "kinda" and "sorta" are adverbs of quantification. So, for instance, x kinda knows the rules iff x knows most of the rules (undoubtedly simplifying). And that, in turn, is consistent with x's knowing all the rules (and so knowing the rules).

But the entailment is not essential to my point. I think all that matters is that there are cases where it is true to say that x sorta knows how to F, but doesn't know how to F. This is seemingly consistent with a neo-Rylean theory of know-how since surely there are cases where one can sorta F but can't actually F. Still, I think in these cases we wouldn't want to say that x can sorta F unless x could do something which approximated F-ing. (Can you sorta do a handstand, if you can't even push up and balance on your hands for a moment?) On the other hand, it seems to me that there are cases where x sorta knows how to F, but can't do anything which approximates F-ing. For instance, I might sort of know how to get back to the car, but if I acted on this I might just lead us very far astray. The result might not in any way approximate getting back to the car!

So what I need for the argument is not that "sorta knowing how to F" entails "not knowing how to F" but rather that "sorta knowing how to F" does NOT entail "knowing how to F".

John Cocktosen

Two points:

(1) I wouldn't give up the entailment Marc, though I think that Jonathan and Aidan have a point. I think that they may be concerned with the scope of the incompleteness operator in the proposition, "x sorta knows how to fix the car." (From your first response to their comments I'm beginning to question whether you think of the "incompleteness operator" as a logical operator. So the next bit of my comment may be too far afield to be helpful; if so, my apologies.)

The scope of the incompleteness operator could be more narrowly interpreted as "x knows how sorta to fix the car" or more broadly interpreted as "it is sorta the case that x knows how to fix the car." On the first interpretation the operator ranges over the adverbial clause. It sounds unusual, but I think its sound doesn't make it incorrect. If the broader interpretation is endorsed, then it seems like the inference obtains. The operator ranges over the whole proposition itself. Is there a third interpretation I'm missing?

(2) Here's a case that may be helpful for your incompleteness reading. As I understand it you're looking to block the entailment from "kinda knowing how to x" to "knowing how to x." Massachusetts still has full-service gas stations, and some folks, particularly those people who were born and raised in MA, prefer to go to these filling stations. They sorta know how to fill their gas tank (there's a medium of exchange, they have to remove the gas cap, the pump has to be inserted into the gas receptacle, the pump has to be turned on, etc.), but they don't know how to fill their gas tank.

This seems especially hard to grasp if you've pumped your own gas; it is simple to do. Nevertheless, these people really don't know how to fill their gas tank, even though they may sorta know what's involved in filling the gas tank.

Marc Moffett

John C. (a.k.a. Fletch),

Thanks for the comment. I do think that there is a subtle difference in meaning between the two occurences, but I am not convinced that a scope ambiguity captures it. (If it does, great!) Stated generically, I think the question of the entailment can be reduced to the following, does "kinda" mean something like "somewhat" or does it means something like "somewhat, but not more".

But this suggests a way of explicitly side-stepping the issue, which I see as tangential to the main point of the argument. Just add a clause which explicitly rules out the possibility of completeness. Thus:

(1*) x kind of knows how to fix the car, but not really.

And once again, it seems to me that the truth conditions for (1*) will be different from those involving the corresponding ability:

(2*) x is kinda of able to fix the car, but not really.

For it seems to me that the truth of (2*) requires that x be able to come close to fixing the car if she tries while the truth of (1*) does not.

Henry Vaughn

This issue is apparently about degrees of being or doing something----and the definition of being or doing something. Is there entailment or not? Well, yes, no, take your pick. What side you come down on depends upon your definition and where you draw the line---as is usual with any philosophical terms.
California indians chewed willow bark to
cure headache. They had no idea that the
active ingredient in the willow was aspirin. So, did they know how to cure headache or did they not? To what degree?
If the woman does
get the car going again--but it still makes
squeaking noises or some such--did she know how to fix the car? Theoretical knowledge does not necessarily ensure practical success---but if the task at hand is completed successfully may we conclude that
theoretical knowledge is adequate? Yes. NO.
"Sort of knowledge" sounds like an ontological mode.

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I do think that there is a subtle difference in meaning between the two occurences, but I am not convinced that a scope ambiguity captures it...Thanks for the comment..

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