The Knowledge in Language

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 6 (3):505-521 (2006)
Abstract
Is knowledge of language a kind of knowledge-that or knowledge-how? Michael Devitt’s Ignorance of Language argues that knowledge of language is a kind of knowledge-how. Devitt’s account of knowledge of language is embedded in a more general account of the nature of language as grounded in thought. The paper argues that Devitt’s view is inconsistent when thought is understood in an externalist or anti-individualist way. A key phenomenon in externalist thought experiments is the possibility of incomplete or mistaken understanding, and its correction. This phenomenon is exhibited in our knowledge of language. Expanding on some brief remarks by Chomsky, it is argued that speakers display incomplete understanding in making mistakes in linguistic judgrnents. These mistakes can be irnproved through reflection on cases. In this process of mistake, reflection, and correction, speakers’ knowledge of language remains stable despite the change in linguistic judgments. This stable knowledge of language cannot be understood as kind of knowledge-how, without making the rational efficacy of reflection a constitutive feature of knowledge-how. But to do this is to obliterate the distinction between knowledge-how and knowledge-that. The conclusion is that if externalism about thought is accepted, then the knowledge in language is a kind of knowledge-that
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