“Knowing That” versus “Knowing How”

An interesting excerpt from Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work on thinking by doing.

The current educational regime is based on a certain view about what kind of knowledge is important: “knowing that,” as opposed to “knowing how.” This corresponds roughly to universal knowledge versus the kind that comes from individual experience. If you know that something is the case, then this proposition can be stated from anywhere. In fact such knowledge aspires to a view from nowhere. That is, it aspires to a view that gets at the true nature of things because it isn’t conditioned by the circumstances of the viewer. It can be transmitted throught speech or writing without loss of meaning, and expounded by a generic self that need not have any prerequisite experiences. Occupations based on universal, propositional knowledge are more prestigious, but they are also the kind that face competition from the whole world as book learning becomes more widely disseminated in the global economy. Practical know-how, on the other hand, is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived.

We take a very partial view of knowledge when we regard it as the sort of thing that can be gotten while suspended aloft in a basket. This is to separate knowing from doing, treating students like disembodied brains in jars, the better to become philosophers in baskets—these ridiculous images are merely exaggerations of the conception of knowledge that enjoys the greatest prestige.

To regard universal knowledge as the whole of knowledge is to take no account of embodiment and purposiveness, those features of thinkers who are always in particular situations.