May 10, 2004

Way... No Way

[This is a continuation of the previous post.]

[Definitive thoughts on the theory sketched within here. Short version: It stinks.]

There is perhaps a sense in which "knowing the way" can mean being acquainted with a place*, as in

(12) I know how to get to Lauratia if you can avoid the bandits, but I don't know the way to Lauratia at all; I've never been there and I would be a lousy guide.

(13) This local knows the way to Lauratia very well and can guide you through the nasty parts, though he's never heard of Lauratia.

Can these two senses be conjoined?

(14) ?This local knows the ways to Lauratia and to Freedonia; he's spent his whole life in the valley that leads to Lauratia, though he doesn't know that Lauratia is on the other end, and he knows how to get to Freedonia, though he doesn't know the terrain.

Well, that sounds funny, but it might be because of the ridiculous contrivance I needed to force the right reading. Perhaps knowing the location would work better.

(15) Alice knows the location of the new stadium--she's lived there her whole life--but she doesn't know that they're going to build a new stadium there.
(16) Alice knows the location of Switzerland, but she's never been to Europe.
(17) ?Alice knows the locations of the new stadium and Switzerland.

(17) sounds funny to me. Perhaps we have a bit of evidence here that "location" is ambiguous between the concrete place and the abstract answer to the question. Then we could have it that (16) involves the objectual rather than the propositional sense of "know," but that knowing such abstract objects just is having the right propositional knowledge.

OTOH, I can't think of a single use of the alleged abstract sense of "location" outside knowledge ascriptions, so maybe it would be better to try and come up with a syntax on which sentences like (16) are propositional knowledge-ascriptions. That's one of the options Brian suggests here. But in the unlikely event that my ramblings help someone come up with a solution, my blogspace will not have been wasted.

(As you may have gathered, my thoughts on this question have been even sketchier than usual. I think I'm now going to officially stop trying to dig myself out of this hole. But click the "more" link for an example from the Urban Guerrilla's manual!)

(I think Anders Weinstein is getting at this sense of "knowing the way" in his comments here. Brian thinks these uses are very rare. I think I may have found one here--that link could get me in trouble! I found it through Google, I swear:

The urban guerrilla must know the way in detail, and, in this manner, must go through the schedule ahead of time as a training, to avoid entering alleyways that have no exit, or running into traffic jams, or being stopped by the Transit Department's traffic signals.

It seems to me that maybe "know the way in detail" here has to mean more than "know in detail what route will take you away," though it has to mean that too. You have to be familiar with the terrain to the extent that you know how to avoid traffic jams and red lights. Only direct acquaintance--going through the schedule ahead of time--will suffice for this. Maybe. Perhaps I'm just blinded by my theory here.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 10, 2004 03:01 PM

I'm not sure this is the kind of thing I said was rare. "In detail" is just an odd modifier for acquiantance knowledge. (Some examples to try and drive up your Google ranking.)

(1) ??I know Britney Spears in detail.
(2) I know Britney Spears very well.
(3) I know Britney Spears's work in detail.
(4) I know many details about Britney Spears's work.

Off the top of my head, I'd say that 'in detail' is much more comfortable as a modifier of a propositional knowledge claim than an acquiantance knowledge claim, even if it's a propositional knowledge claim that could only be acquired through acquiantance.

Posted by: Brian Weatherson at May 10, 2004 06:09 PM

I'm not sure this is that kind of thing either--I was never sure that it was the kind of thing that I thought you were saying was rare, and now I'm not quite sure what thing you're saying is rare, and I'm even less sure that it is this thing that you now may or may not be saying is rare. Got that?

Rejecting (1) seems right, but I'm not sure whether it depends on some oddities of the knowing-a-person relation. cf.

(5) I know Wittgenstein in detail

which seems OK to me, where knowing Wittgenstein just is knowing Wittgenstein's work.

I'm not sure about the synonymy between (3) and (4) though; and I'm even less sure that

(5) I know Britney Spears's work

can be taken propositionally. What propositional knowledge claim would (5)express? There's

(6) I know what Britney Spears's work is,

but that doesn't seem to work because

(7) I don't know Britney Spears's work, but I know what it is

seems OK. ("I know she did "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and "Oops I Did It Again" but I haven't ever heard any of it. Nomologically but not logically impossible!)

It would probably be better for me to look into "know the location" a bit more--it strikes me that it does have an acquaintance rather than propositional sense. (Can you know Salt Lake City if you've never been here, no matter how you read up?)

Part of what's pushing me here is that "way" can mean a place--Marcel knows Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way, but are those propositional claims? (He doesn't realize that they go the same place, IIRC.)

Also, you've reminded me that I need to do a new post on knowing people, because I've become convinced by a counterexample Sheiva Kleinschmidt gave to a previous post.

(Kent Bach told me that when he used a random-sentence generator he had to scrub the results slightly because too many of the sentences generated were about Britney.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at May 11, 2004 01:27 PM