A Cognitive Perspective on Knowledge How: Why Intellectualism Is Neuro-Psychologically Implausible
Cleverness at fighting is exhibited in the giving and parrying of blows, not in the acceptance or rejection of propositions about blows … [n]or does the surgeon’s skill function in his tongue uttering medical truths but only in his hands making the correct movements. (p. 48).
[K]nowing how to do something is the same as knowing a fact. It follows that learning how to do something is learning a fact. For example, when you learned how to swim, what happened is that you learned some facts about swimming. Knowledge of these facts is what gave you knowledge of how to swim. Something similar occurred with every other activity that you now know how to do, such as riding a bicycle or cooking a meal. You know how to perform activities solely in virtue of your knowledge of facts about those activities. (p. vii).
2. Stanley’s Intellectualism
Humans are thinkers and humans are agents. There is a natural temptation to view these as distinct capacities, governed by distinct cognitive states. When we engage in reflection, we are guided by our knowledge of propositions. By contrast, when we engage in intelligent action, we are guided by our knowledge of how to perform various actions. If these are distinct cognitive capacities, then knowing how to perform an action is not a species of propositional knowledge. (p. 1, italics in original).
Why would one expect it to be a virtue of an account of knowing how that it is plausibly taken to be what is expressed by ascriptions of knowing how in natural language? Shouldn’t we be open to the possibility that science could show us that states of knowing how are very different in kind from what ordinary speakers use sentences like “Ana knows how to swim” to express? If so, then although it might be a virtue of an account of the meaning of ascriptions of knowing how that it is plausibly correct for natural language, it is not a virtue of an account of the nature of states of knowing how. And it is the latter that concerns the philosopher, and not the former. In various forms and versions, this is the foundational objection to the methodology I have employed. (pp. 143–144).
3. Basic Activities and Slips
4. Grounding Knowledge
Motor behavior, moreover, can take place without the experience of intentional states or reasoning, not only in the case of true reflexes but also, importantly, in the case of expert performance, such as that of an athlete “in the zone” or a chess master. (p. 34)
Declarative memory includes what can be declared or brought to mind as a proposition or an image. … Non-declarative memory refers to a heterogeneous collection of abilities: motor skills, perceptual skills, and cognitive skills (these abilities and perhaps others are examples of procedural memory); as well as simple classical conditioning, adaptation/eve/effects, pdming, and other instances where experience alters performance independently of providing a basis for the conscious recollection of past events. (p. 171)
Despite disagreement or uncertainty on many other issues, psychologists speak with one voice on this one. Even production-system theories, which seem to posit representations of processing rules and hence seem to have the most “intellectualized” picture of procedural knowledge, distinguish this knowledge sharply from declarative knowledge. Psychology presents a picture of procedural knowledge as constituted somehow or other by embodied, probably unrepresented rules that are inaccessible to consciousness. It is thus quite different from declarative knowledge which consists of representations that are available to consciousness. … In sum, a nonpropositional view of knowledge how is not just philosophical prejudice or even just folk theory: it seems to be entrenched in psychology and cognitive ethology. (pp. 213–215)
There is now considerable evidence to suggest that the performance of reward-related actions in both rats and humans reflects the interaction of two quite different learning processes, one controlling the acquisition of goal-directed actions, and the other the acquisition of habits. This evidence suggests that, in the goal-directed case, action selection is governed by an association between the response ‘representation’ and the ‘representation’ of the outcome engendered by those actions, whereas in the case of habit learning, action selection is controlled through learned stimulus–response (S–R) associations without any associative link to the outcome of those actions. As such, actions under goal-directed control are performed with regard to their consequences, whereas those under habitual control are more reflexive in nature, by virtue of their control by antecedent stimuli rather than their consequences. (p. 49)
5. Grounding Slips
The ‘slips of action’ that punctuate daily life illustrate that our behaviour is not always goal-directed in nature. Folk wisdom suggests that such slips of action occur when well-practised responses intrude to compromise our goal-directed behaviour. For example, it is a common-place experience to find oneself arriving at the door of the old office although one’s original intention was to get to the new one. Adams  was the first to show that in rats extensive training of the instrumental response of lever pressing rendered it impervious to devaluation of the food outcome, a finding that has now been replicated in a number of rodent studies. (p. 471).
In general, the skill-based performance rolls along without the person’s conscious attention, and he will be unable to describe how he controls and on what information he bases the performance. The higher level rule-based coordination is generally based on explicit know how, and rules used can be reported by the person. (p. 259)
A major assumption of the ATS [activation-trigger-schema] theory for slips is that skilled actions—actions whose components are themselves all highly skilled—need only be specified at the highest levels of their memory representations. Once the highest-level schema is activated, the lower-level parent components of that action sequence complete the action, to a large extent autonomously, without further need for intervention except at critical choice points. (p. 4)
6. The Neuro-Psychological Implausibility of Intellectualism
Does the fact that manifesting skill requires knowledge preclude non-human animals from possessing skills? We are agnostic as to whether animals can be skilled. It is possible that as a task is weighted increasingly toward rules, alternative actions, and on-the-fly problem solving, then simple operant conditioning may not suffice to accomplish the task. In this sense non-human animals may be limited in a way similar to the amnestic patients in the Roy and Park experiment. Although non-human animals may exhibit the same behavior as humans, this does not entail that the explanation for the behavior is the same. It could be that the explanation skilled action in humans involves intellectual capacities lacking in non-human animals. … Alternatively, it could be that animals can both possess concepts and bear the knowledge relation to propositions (if so, one would need to explain why animals cannot acquire certain skills that humans can; perhaps because there complex skills require complex concepts, which cannot be grasped by animals). (p. 9)
Rodent studies have implicated prelimbic cortex and its striatal efferents on dorsomedial striatum as a key circuit responsible for goal-directed learning. In a series of fMRI studies, vmPFC has been found to be involved in encoding reward predictions based on goal-directed action–outcome associations in humans, suggesting that this region of cortex in the primate prefrontal cortex is a likely functional homolog of prelimbic cortex in the rat. Furthermore, the area of anterior caudate nucleus found in humans to be modulated by contingency would seem to be a candidate homolog for the region of dorsomedial striatum implicated in goal-directed control in the rat. Finally, the evidence reviewed here supports the suggestion that a region of dorsolateral striatum in rodents and of the putamen in humans is involved in the habitual control of behavior, which when taken together with the findings on goal-directed learning reviewed previously, provides converging evidence that the neural substrates of these two systems for behavioral control are relatively conserved across mammalian species. (p. 54).
7. Concluding Remarks
Conflicts of Interest
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The distinction is standard in the literature and we will use it throughout the article. However, there are, of course, other conceptualizations of knowledge including, for example, knowledge by acquaintance, as well as knowing which, who, what, what it is like etc.
While most naturalists acknowledge the natural world as being “all-encompassing,” and science as providing our best method of understanding it, there are a number of different interpretations of where this leaves philosophy . An ontological naturalism that rejects anything supernatural is commonly accepted although there is still debate whether, for example, the mental can be reduced to the physical . However, the proper form of methodological naturalism is a much debated issue, involving positions which argue for replacing epistemology with cognitive psychology , substantially reformulating philosophical problems into scientific terminology , or for cooperatively taking scientific input into account whenever such information is available . Moreover, evolutionary naturalism has highlighted how cognitive agents are shaped by natural selection—information which might replace, succeed or complement epistemology [13,14].
Stanley  (p. 213) quotes Fodor  (p. 634): “There is a real and important distinction between knowing how to do a thing and knowing how to explain to do that thing. But that distinction is one that the intellectualist is perfectly able to honor … The ability to give explanation is itself a skill—a special kind of knowing how which presupposes general verbal facility at the very least. But what has this to do with the relation between knowing how and knowing that? And what is there here to distress an intellectualist?”.
Addressing Anarchic Hand syndrome, Marcel  (p. 77) writes: “the affected hand performs unintended but complex, well-executed, goal-directed actions. Often when the patient is trying to do something with the unaffected hand, the other hand appears to do the opposite or compete with it.”
Stanley and Williamson (, p. 441) write that their account follows “from basic facts about the syntax and semantics of ascriptions of knowledge how”. It springs from a theory of embedded questions: according to which knowing how is treated as on a par with knowing whether, knowing when and so on. We do not offer an extensive analysis of Stanley’s linguistic arguments here. Our view, in short, sides with Glick’s  view, saying that using mere linguistic premises, about knowledge how ascriptions, to support substantive conclusions about the nature of knowledge how just cannot do the job it is supposed to do.
Studies have primarily been done on animals, but those that focus on humans indicate that generalizability is plausible.
This said, for example, serotonin is also thought to play an important role.
According to Norman , slips in the form of intentional formational errors involve cases where a specific action schema is intended but vagueness and contextual factors intervene. Slips, in the form of faulty activations, involves actions that result from unintended schemas that might be similar to or associated with the intended schema, or are due to the loss of activation. Slips, in the form of faulty triggerings, can result both from failures to trigger schemas or by triggering at inappropriate circumstances.
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Stephens, A.; Felix, C.V. A Cognitive Perspective on Knowledge How: Why Intellectualism Is Neuro-Psychologically Implausible. Philosophies 2020, 5, 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5030021
Stephens A, Felix CV. A Cognitive Perspective on Knowledge How: Why Intellectualism Is Neuro-Psychologically Implausible. Philosophies. 2020; 5(3):21. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5030021Chicago/Turabian Style
Stephens, Andreas, and Cathrine V. Felix. 2020. "A Cognitive Perspective on Knowledge How: Why Intellectualism Is Neuro-Psychologically Implausible" Philosophies 5, no. 3: 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies5030021