May 13, 2004

Knowing The: The Post-Final Chapter

Really-I-mean-it final thoughts on direct-object knowledge constructions:

1. The theory sketched here is a complete hopeless non-starter. For it to be true, there would have to be not only two kinds of way, but two kinds of name, two kinds of capital, etc. etc. Ridiculous. Forget I said anything.

2. Here in comments I make noises about the special nature of knowing a person, as evidence by the fact that "I know Britney Spears" seems to entail "Britney Spears knows me." But thinking it over I'm convinced by Shieva Kleinschmidt's example here, in which you know someone as an infant but she doesn't know you. So it seems to me that possible that "X knows Y" requires acquaintance (with a person or a city or what have you) but the alleged symmetry of personal knowledge claims probably results from the fact that the kind of acquaintance you can have with a living person is almost always mutual, but not always.

3. The second post I made, that this business undercuts one of the arguments that knowledge-how was knowledge-that, was the best, and I shoulda quit there.

4. If I were still stupid enough to try to come up with a general theory of direct-object knowledge claims I might suggest that they all have a (frequently suppressed) position for guise--that's what is made explicit in "knowing as"-clauses. And I note that "X knows Y as Z" doesn't imply "X knows Y":

(1) I know Britney Spears as the singer of "Baby one more time," Pepsi pitchstress, and 2002 Fametracker Famous Person of the Year, but not as a person [/but I don't know her].
(2) Many bloggers know Noam Chomsky as a political theorist, not as a linguist.

And I don't think these knowing-as claims require any sort of direct acquaintance at all.

This sentence sounds fine to me:

(3) I know Giorgione as a figure in a hoary philosophical example

even though just about the only fact I know about Giorgone was that he was so-called because of his size; I can't even remember what his other name was. So (3) just means "I know that Giorgione was a figure in a hoary philosophical example," maybe including "...and what that example was." (Though I guess I don't know that example itself, if I can't remember the other half of it.)

On this theory, I suppose that when the "as"-clause is not explicit its value would be filled in by whatever guise was salient. When talking about living people, the salient value is usually "as a personal acquaintance," but it wouldn't always have to be. For instance, it seems to me that I can say

(4) I'm reading up on theories of language. I already know David Kaplan and Saul Kripke but not Howard Wettstein

even though I don't know any of them personally; what I mean is that I've read Kaplan and Kripke, but Wettstein's book is still waiting for me at the Interlibrary Loan desk.

Could this sense override the sense of personal acquaintance? Suppose you're talking to someone I've met repeatedly and you say, "In the next class I'm teaching we're going to read the great epistemologists: DeRose, Hawthorne, Neta, Weiner." Would it be legitimate to respond:

(5) I know the first three but not Weiner.

Sounds doubtful--it might be better to say "I know the first three but not Weiner's work." Or maybe it makes a difference whether you know that I'm an epistemologist.

One advantage this theory might have is that it can account for why it would be true for me to say each of the following out of the blue:

(6) I know the capital of Australia
(7) I don't know Canberra

and simply weird to say

(8) *I know the capital of Australia but not Canberra

given that (unlike some people) I know that that the capital of Australia is Canberra but I've never been there. In (6) the guise parameter can be filled in "as the capital of Australia," which simply requires knowing of the city that is the capital of Australia that it is. In (7) Canberra's capitality is not salient at all, and the salient guise is "as a city"--meaning not that it is a city, but that you are acquainted with it as a city. Compare:

(9) A: The following are capitals of countries: Rome, London, Paris, Canberra.

B: I didn't know Canberra

in which Canberra's capitality is made salient (except this may be non-literal). The reason (8) fails is that there's only one occurrence of "know" and it can't take two guise parameters.

There's probably a lot of stuff about "in detail" and the like that may cause trouble for this theory.

If I really wanted to overreach, I would claim that in know-that claims the that-clause is a noun phrase denoting a fact, and that facts are objects that cannot be known except as facts. But that would really be overreaching.

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 13, 2004 05:27 PM