The puzzle of learning by doing and the gradability of knowledge‐how

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 105 (3):619-637 (2023)
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Much of our know-how is acquired through practice: we learn how to cook by cooking, how to write by writing, and how to dance by dancing. As Aristotle argues, however, this kind of learning is puzzling, since engaging in it seems to require possession of the very knowledge one seeks to obtain. After showing how a version of the puzzle arises from a set of attractive principles, I argue that the best solution is to hold that knowledge-how comes in degrees, and through practice a person gradually learns how to do something. However, the two standard accounts of know-how in the literature, intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, cannot properly account for the distinctive way in which know-how is gradually acquired by practice, a process in which conceptual representations and practical abilities are intimately interwoven. Drawing on Gareth Evans's work, I outline an account that may do so, and use this account to distinguish between two forms of learning to explain why skill generally cannot be learnt through testimony, and requires practice.

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Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
Georgia State University


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