Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No Gettier Cases for Know How

In Chapter 8 of Know How (2011), Jason Stanley discusses whether or not there can be Gettier cases for knowledge how, and whether or not this means knowledge how is not propositional knowledge.  He accepts the following proposition:

(P1) Gettier cases for know-how, if they exist, require that the subject intelligently and successfully F, where F ranges over actions.

(P1) is supposed to be self-evident, but this surely depends on how we understand "intelligently."  What counts as an intelligent action, in the sense that makes P1 self-evidently true?  Is it enough for the action to have been consciously decided upon?

We might be tempted to read P1 as only requiring that F be successfully performed with the conscious decision to F, which would entail the following proposition:

(P1*) Gettier cases for know-how, if they exist, require that the subject consciously decide to and successfully F, where F ranges over actions.

However, (P1*) does not seem self-evidently true.  One can consciously decide to F and still successfully F by accident, without having a sufficient set of beliefs about what it takes to F.  If there is not a sufficient set of beliefs guiding the action, then it would not seem to be a candidate for a Gettier case.

The only reason I can imagine why Stanley would think (P1) was plausible is because intelligent action involves being guided by rules, and Stanley takes this to imply a relation between a person and a proposition.  If one's successful performance is guided by rules for F-ing and if this entails a propositional relation (as Stanley believes), then we might have a candidate for a Gettier case.  The question would then be, does the propositional relation count as an expression of a justified true belief and, if so, is that justified true belief also a genuine case of knowledge?

Stanley accepts (P1) because he believes intelligent action is guided by propositional knowledge, and this means that it is more than just being successful and the result of a conscious decision.  In fact, Stanley seems to believe that if one's successful performance of F is guided by propositional knowledge, then that knowledge is knowledge how to F.  In other words, Stanley should accept the following proposition, retaining the sense of "intelligently" which makes P1 self-evident:

(P2) If one can intelligently and successfully F, then one knows how to F.

Yet, Stanley rejects (P2).  He does so in an attempt to undermine Ted Poston's (2009) argument that know how cannot have Gettier cases.  Stanley agrees with Poston that, if we accept P1 and P2, then there cannot be Gettier cases for know how.  Stanley wants to leave room open for such Gettier cases, and thus he rejects P2.  He explains why he thinks P2 is false by referring to a scenario described by Bengson, Moffett and Wright (2009; henceforth "BMW"):

Irina, who is a novice figure skater, decides to try a complex jump called the
Salchow. When one performs a Salchow, one takes off from the back inside edge
of one skate and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite skate after one or
more rotations in the air. Irina, however, is seriously mistaken about how to
perform a Salchow. She believes incorrectly that the way to perform a Salchow is
to take off from the front outside edge of one skate, jump in the air, spin, and land
on the front inside edge of the other skate. However, Irina has a severe
neurological abnormality that makes her act in ways that differ dramatically from
how she actually thinks she is acting. So, despite the fact that she is seriously
mistaken about how to perform a Salchow, whenever she actually attempts to do a
Salchow (in accordance with her misconceptions) the abnormality causes Irina to
unknowingly perform the correct sequence of moves, and so she ends up
successfully performing a Salchow.
 BMW posed this scenario to 138 people, and only 12 percent said that Irina knows how to do the Salchow.  BMW also asked about whether or not Irina has the ability to do the Salchow:  86 percent said she has the ability, but not the know how.  In response to these results, Stanley makes the following claim (Know How, 2011, p. 240):

In one sense of “intelligent”, Irina’s act of doing the Salchow is intelligent. It was
the result of a conscious decision. So in one sense of “intelligent”, Irina can intelligently
and successfully do the Salchow. However, if ordinary reactions about cases are granted
evidential weight, one must concede that Irina does not know how to do the Salchow.
Stanley thus concludes that P2 is false.  But notice that Stanley drew this conclusion by interpreting "intelligent" as "the result of a conscious decision." This would mean he is taking (P1) to actually mean (P1*).  But that can't be right.  (P1*) is not plausible and does not fit with Stanley's view of knowing how.

Let's consider Irina.  Why do BMW's subjects say she does not know how to do the Salchow?  I'll leave aside the possibility that the results are flawed.  Let's say they do reflect the common way of making know how ascriptions.  Why, if Irina can intentionally do the Salchow, do people say that she does not know how to do it?

Let's consider a different notion of intelligent action.  Ryle (The Concept of Mind, 1949, Chapter 2) presents the following notion of intelligent action: An action is intelligent, not by virtue of a conscious decision to perform, but by virtue of the way in which the performance is executed. If it is done with care, attentively, so that one learns as one goes and is able to anticipate and deal with novel situations and problems, then one's performance is intelligent. One must be guided by rules, but not passively and unthinkingly executing them. One must F mindfully. One cannot simply decide to F and hope for the best. That might be an intelligent decision (depending on the situation), but it does not confer intelligence to the subsequent performance.

Stanley's view of intelligent action is similar to Ryle's. The only difference is that Stanley takes the mindful guidance by rules in a successful performance to entail a knowledge relation between a person and a proposition.

Given the Rylean sense of intelligent performance (whether or not we take it to entail propositional knowledge), we must ask: Can Irina intelligently and successfully do the Salchow? She can do it successfully, there's no doubt about that. However, her ability to attend mindfully to her performance is obstructed by "a severe neurological abnormality" which gives her the wrong idea about what she is doing while she is performing. She cannot perform with the sort of care and learning that, according to Ryle, is the hallmark of intelligent action. This explains why so many subjects deny that she has the know how. In sum, BMW's results are consistent with P1 and P2, if we take "intelligently" in the Rylean sense, regardless of whether or not it entails propositional knowledge.

Stanley has not given a compelling argument against P2. On the contrary, his view of intelligent action seems to compel him to accept P2. Yet, by accepting P1 and P2, Stanley should conclude that there cannot be Gettier cases for know how.

Interestingly, Stanley might not be put off by accepting this conclusion. He does not think there has to be Gettier cases for knowledge how. In Know How (Chapter 8, pp. 240-244), he argues that many knowledge-wh relations are propositional in nature and resist Gettier cases. So he can try to explain Poston's result by observing that knowing how is just a case of knowing-wh, and that we should therefore not expect Gettier cases for it.

I don't think it's that easy. For one thing, Stanley has no explanation for why some cases of knowledge-wh are not open to Gettier cases. I have an explanation: Such cases of knowing-wh entail non-propositional know how. To take on one of Stanley's examples (p. 242), a tennis player knowing when to move a certain way does not thereby know a proposition, but rather how to follow a certain rule for playing tennis. That is know how, and that is why such cases of knowing when cannot be Gettiered.

Stanley merely claims that such knowledge-wh attributions are of propositional knowledge, and that this is uncontroversial. Maybe it is uncontroversial, but I question it. As a result, I can explain why such cases cannot be Gettiered.

(I'll also mention as an aside that the above argument is not committed to any particular position about Gettier cases, except that they are curious situations that can arise when we attribute propositional knowledge. I am not committed to Gettier cases posing a threat to the conceptualization of propositional knowledge as justified true belief. I think it is obvious, however, that Gettier cases only arise when dealing with ascriptions of propositional knowledge.)