Understanding: not know-how

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There is considerable agreement among epistemologists that certain abilities are constitutive of understanding-why. These abilities include: constructing explanations, drawing conclusions, and answering questions. This agreement has led epistemologists to conclude that understanding is a kind of know-how. However, in this paper, I argue that the abilities constitutive of understanding are the same kind of cognitive abilities that we find in ordinary cases of knowledge-that and not the kind of practical abilities associated with know-how. I argue for this by disambiguating between different senses of abilities that are too often lumped together. As a consequence, non-reductionists about understanding—those that claim that understanding-why is not reducible to knowledge-that—need to find another way to motivate the view. In the end, the fact that abilities are constitutive of understanding-why does not give us reason to conclude that understanding is a kind of know-how.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-240
Number of pages20
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive ability
  • Know-how
  • Knowledge-that
  • Understanding why


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