Embodied Cognition at the Crossroads of
Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence

May 13-15, 2021, Cluj-Napoca, ROMANIA

Panel 3

Skills: The Interplay of Knowledge-How and Knowledge-That



Friday 14/5, 12:00-13:30


Mihai Rusu


Alina Noveanu

Affiliation: Dept. of Philosophy, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
TitleListening perception and practical knowledge as "sympathy of experience with life" (a phenomenological approach from Heidegger to Gadamer)
Abstract: Listening perception and practical knowledge as "sympathy of experience with life" (a phenomenological approach from Heidegger to Gadamer) M. Heidegger refers to phenomenology as non-theoretical but practical knowledge. As “the sympathy of experience with life” it can never become routine, but rather an attitude that is to be acquired slowly. This also refers to a special concept of practice as it does not primarily mean dealing with objects, which is exhausted in their production and general use, but rather aims at something that is “sympathetically” acquired in habit and shows caring for the changes in interacting situations. Heidegger understands this in connection with the Aristotelian hexis , as a kind of ‘achieving’ of a knowledge, which aims at the permanent possession of virtue, but can only fulfill it in the respective action in time, through the preferential choice, prohairesis. As the center of being actively living in the world, human practice becomes therefore the ability to make a choice as synonymous to existence: “πρᾶξις as how of being-in-the-world shows up here as the context of being, which we can also call existence in another sense.” Of course, Heidegger (with Aristotle) does not want to deny the value of expertise, the (technical) knowledge of what needs to be done. Still, the whole phenomenon of practice involves the extension of technical knowledge on the ability to act on the situation, so that the agent does not become confused with what he has to do (cf. ibid. 182). For Heidegger, this understanding involves a special kind of being alert: Vernehmenkönnen, the “listening” perception, which also involves being able to “see through” and “grasp” the situation. This soon becomes the essence of human thinking, which he defines as “acting” (Letter on Humanism). The discussions with the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss in this regard become more intensive and finally go on to the famous “Zollikoner Seminars”, which for a decade and up to seven years before Heidegger's death address questions of psychosomatic medicine in a way that suggests that the long-rejected topic could have been of no small importance as a subliminal occupation for Heidegger's philosophical path of thought. Following Heidegger, the ability to listen is also a central point in Hans Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics as “practical knowledge”. Here Gadamer follows his teacher’s reference to Aristotelian ethics and defines hermeneutics as “practice” i.e. as tension between theory and technics. And it is precisely the ambiguity in the practical interaction between author and interpreter as it is shown by the one between manufacturer and user that allows us not to reduce practical knowing-how to a mere technical skill or expertise (Sachwissen) that enables actors to handle things in the same way (experiment) but to be open for interaction as the (hermeneutical) situations change. To understand is for Gadamer the result of the hermeneutical experience, a knowledge how gained by “practicing”, which always involves being sympathetic to the claim of the other, in other words, the ability to “listen”.


Ciprian Bogdan

Affiliation: Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Title: The ‘Nonidentity’ of ‘Knowing That’ and ‘Knowing How’. A Critique of Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism from an Adornian Perspective
Abstract: The recent debate around ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing how’ has been shaped by two major philosophical stances: an intellectualist one represented most clearly by Stanley and Williamson (2001, 2017) who believe that knowing how can be reduced to propositional knowledge; and an anti-intellectualist stance advocated, for instance, by Gallagher and Aguda who use phenomenological insights to point out that bodily actions are autonomous and more fundamental being based on complex unconscious processes of adapting to the possibilities ‘afforded’ by the environment. Seemingly, at the intersection of theory and praxis, the concept of skill has turned into a major point of contention between these two philosophical positions. Stanley and Williamson (2017) define skill as a disposition to form knowledge, thus, capturing the capacity of propositional knowledge to flexibly adapt to particular contexts. Meanwhile, Gallagher and Aguda consider human skill as being mostly dependent on constant practice. Given this context, we think that Theodor Adorno’s philosophical framework might indicate a way out from the deadlock between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. Meant to challenge any form of reductionism, Adorno’s concept of ‘nonidentity’ makes possible to view the difference between know that and know how as being, in the same time, the very condition of their interplay. This also allows us to see that despite their differences, intellectualists and anti-intellectualists share a common feature: they remain confined to the distinction between actuality and possibility. While Stanley and Williamson place emphasis on the actuality of propositional knowledge by relating the skill to a potentiality (a disposition) of knowing, Gallagher and Aguda try, on the contrary, to recuperate the bodily predictive capacity to deal with the possibilities inscribed in the environment. Yet this picture is incomplete by not including what Adorno calls the ‘factual addendum’, an ‘impulse’ that is neither a purely mental nor a bodily entity, but an inflection point expressing a minimal level of human spontaneity. And precisely this absence is the source for the narrow understanding of skill in both intellectualism and anti-intellectualism which cannot properly account for the inherent relationship between skill and (involuntary) errors, on the one hand, and newness as an expression of progress, on the other. Thus, we believe that the only way to articulate this relationship is to accept a minimal spontaneity which opens up a distance where both errors and creative things might occur.


Adrian Ludusan, Mihai Rusu

Affiliation: Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania; University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Cluj-Napoca/Babeș-Bolyai University
TitleKnow-how, indexicals and (practical) modes of presentation: a critical assessment of intellectualism
Abstract: Our efforts will concentrate on two strategies developed by Stanley (2011), Stanley and Williamson (2001) in order to argue for the intellectualist thesis that knowledge-how is knowledge of some appropriate propositions. The first strategy analyzed draws on the semantic unity of knowledge-wh locutions and argues that the use of indexical terms in knowledge-how ascriptions is epistemologically innocuous. Our analysis, though, indicates that the indexicals used in knowledge-how ascriptions are peculiarly irreducible, which, we will argue, poses a major difficulty for the kind of strategy developed by Stanley & Williamson, and, consequently, for the intellectualist stance. The second argumentative strategy that we will focus on was developed by Stanley (2011), and Stanley and Williamson (2001) in order to counter what it is known as ‘the sufficiency objection’. The sufficiency objection can be stated simply in the following way: knowledge of some proposition about a certain activity appears not to be enough for someone to actually know how to perform that activity. Intellectualists have attempted to solve this obvious problem by positing that in the case of knowledge-how, relevant propositional knowledge is present under a practical mode of presentation (PMP). Noë (2005) and Glick (2013), among others, insisted on the obscurity of PMP and its inadequacy for filling the gap between propositional knowledge and action. Despite Stanley (2011)’s elaboration of the notion, through a neo-Fregean analysis of modes of presentation and a subsequent analogy between practical and indexical modes, we contend that PMPs remain the Achilles’ heel of Stanley and Williamson’s case. In order to argue for this, we will attempt an up-to-date reconstruction of intellectualist theses and arguments regarding PMP and show why they still fall short of achieving their overarching goal and of replying to the most poignant critiques.


Adrian Ludusan, Ion Copoeru

Affiliation: Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Title: Ways of doing: on the interplay between knowledge and action
Abstract: The crux of any pertinent account of knowledge how is to adequately capture the delicate interplay between knowledge and action. The aim of our presentation/talk is to argue that the contemporary intellectualist account of knowledge how faces some insurmountable difficulties concerning this proper articulation of the relation between knowledge and action. Stanley and Williamson (2001) and Stanley (2011) developed an intellectualist account of knowledge how based on a linguistic analysis of knowledge how ascriptions. The framework in which they have conducted their analysis is defined by the classical syntactic and semantic theories of questions. Our arguments will exploit some of the details of their semantic analysis. We will argue that the numerous adjustments they have made to Groenendijk & Stokhof’s (1984) analysis of embedded questions in order to establish an intellectualist stance of knowledge how led to an unaddressed conflation of knowledge and action. We will tackle the conflating adjustments that stand out: the appeal to de re knowledge of ways of φ-ing, to practical ways of thinking, practical modes of presentation, and modal parameters associated with explicit modals. Moreover, we will argue that the use of demonstratives in conveying propositional knowledge hides an irreducible reference to action, which, again, is unaddressed. We will conclude this part by engaging the issue of the proper account of questions, highlighting the relevance of interrogations in communicative interactions for any know-how account. In the second part of the presentation/talk we will shed some light on the relation between action and knowledge from a phenomenological perspective, as developed, for example, in Gallagher & Aguda (2020). We will stress the role of the context (in)forming knowledge-how by addressing the phenomenological dimensions involved in skilled performance, for example, the close connection between the anticipatory processes involved in actions and the agent’s affordance space. We will conclude that it is difficult to see how the intellectualist can accommodate their already precarious position with the insights provided by the phenomenological approach.




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