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Commentaries on "Pragmatism vs. Empiricism"

When a commentator is quoting WTR,the quote appears in italics.

Jim Garson           Sergio Chaigneau

Jed Harris           Robert Rockwell

Ullin T. Place           Rick Norwood           Gary Schouborg

Sue Pockett           Frank X. Ryan

Markate Daly

Jim Garson Writes:

     The question" are there foundations for Knowledge reminds me of the question: are there qualia. And of course the right answer is yes and no. Even for a pragmatist some aspects of foundationalism are warranted, for there is a distinction to be made from those things we know "directly" through experience, and those things we come to know after lengthy (and usually conscious) cogitation over what we already know. What one wants to object to is the dogmas of empiricism that assign to the so-called "given" certain fanciful properties: privacy, direct access, incorrigibility, being pre-theoretical etc. These remind me of qualities of qualia that Dennett objects to. It is not that qualia aren't THERE. It is just that our presuppositions about their qualities are all wrong. (OK if the wrongly assigned properties are supposed to be constituitive of qualia then they aren't there and something else is the thing we need described and explained.) The same moral can be applied to the "given". Once this is clear, there is room for an epistemological theory that takes full account of the Quine Sellar critique, but still insists that truth is not a matter entirely of internal coherence, or perhaps to put it another way it is a theory that priveledges certain "experientially" derived beliefs, without making them incorrigible, private, non-theoretical etc.

     This leaves us with the question of how a theory, which is traditionally assumed to be a structure made out of "knowing that" sentences, can relate to a set of (neurological?) structures which have evolved into a constellation of "knowing-how" abilities. Most discussions I have seen on these two kinds of knowing have simply stressed their differences. If we are to make "knowing-how" the foundation for "knowing-that", we need a theory that explains how they are related. ,

     First we need to get clear about what the distinction amounts to and why it matters. I am reminded of the fruitless procedural-declarative controversy in AI. The moral was that finding the dividing line is not easy, and whether you find it or not is not a prerequisite for doing good AI. One interesting feature of connectionist models is that the distinction becomes less tenable. To obtain the distinction you need to separate the data from the doings of the program. But it is exactly this distinction that tends to be blurred in connectionist models. So perhaps the answer is that the difference between knowing how and that is a matter of degree, and not something you could specify in neural terms. If so the theory of the relation is something like the theory of the relation between waves and particles at the sub-atomic level. Waves and particles are aspects of an underlying reality that is of neither kind.

      Sergio Chaigneau writes:

     I`ll divide my commentaries into: 1. Pragmatics and epistemology; 2. "Knowing that" and "knowing how".

     1. I think you can have an epistemology based on pragmatic ideas. In fact, from the point of psychology, it is difficult to support the notion of pure sensations. Interactionists, such as Gibson (1966), showed that perception (mostly visual) needs motor input in order to be constructed. The classical experiment involves a subject that tries to adjust a luminous rod to a vertical position. This is done in a dark environment (no other visual clues to judge verticality) and with a remote control. When subjects are given a small electric discharge on the neck area, they tend to fail the vertical adjustment by some degrees. These results can be interpreted as if subjects integrated information about activity on the retina and head position, in order to act. A small electric discharge is interpreted as muscle contraction, which usually means having your neck bent. Now, if your head is slightly bent sideways (like this ` / `), anything aligned with your head`s main axis cannot be on the vertical plane. Therefore, it has to be corrected. Since subjects in this experiment were fooled into "thinking" that their heads were slightly bent, they erroneously corrected the rod`s position.

     These results are consistent with the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus` role (LGN) in the visual system. The LGN is not just a relay station for visual input, but it also integrates information form motor and other areas. About 80% of incoming information to the LGN is not from the retina, but from cortical areas; mainly motor areas (Varela, Thompson and Rosch, 1991).

     Now, taking seriously pragmatics does not mean denying reality, taking a relativistic point of view about knowledge, nor renouncing to an epistemology (ontology is more problematic though). Gibson thought the Nervous System extracts invariant characteristics from a continuously changing environment. These invariants are the objects of our perception (maybe, we can even consider ideas as invariants). The French philosopher Ulmo (1969, specially chapter 9) has extended the notion of invariant (apparently independently from Gibson) to cover not only individual knowledge, but also scientific knowledge. According to Largeult any area of knowledge can be understood as a set of operations or actions you perform. Since he frames his discussion within logical rules, he argues there are logical systems (a coherent set of operations) which allow the user to restore a previous state (a reversible operation would be the most simple example, as in Piaget). In any scientific field, what you learn is to perform a set of operations that lead to certain observations. These observations are the invariants (i.e., theoretical or concrete objects). Once these objects are established, the field can be defined by its system of operations or by its objects.

     I think that from this point of view, knowledge is not denied in principle. It can be a bit shaky if invariants seem to depend completely on the set of operations you perform (e.g., experimental artifacts). But if different invariants, which are the result of different sets of operations, can be interpreted as the same object (converging evidence), then the object gains credibility as a real object.

     2. Regarding the difference between "knowing that" and "knowing how", I think it may be (at least in part) an observer dependent difference. What I mean is that when you ask someone else to justify their knowledge, you are expecting a definition in the form of a decision rule (something like production rules in expert systems). When it happens that you get something in a different format, then you conclude she only "knows how".

     The typical example of knowing how, would be to try to tell someone else how to ride a bicycle. You soon discover you know how, but can`t tell exactly what is it that you do. It is equivalent to asking about the physics involved in riding a bike; you don`t need to know it in order to ride. But, imagine now the person you are trying to teach is pedaling to slow; you might tell her she needs to pedal faster in order to ride. In that case, I would say you do "know that".

     Is there much difference between knowing that you need to pedal fast if you want to stay on the bike (specially if you are a beginner) and knowing the physics involved? I`d say not.

     I really think "knowing that" is always based on operations (e.g., sensory-motor coordinations). A good example is depth perception. When you perceive depth, especially in close range (1 or 2 yards maybe), you just know that something is within your arm`s range (you can also make precise judgements about relative distances of objects within that range). What you don`t know is how you obtain that knowledge; it seems direct, pure sensation, but we know it rests on complex sensory-motor coordinations created through our developmental history. This is a case where you actually can`t tell how, you just "know that".


1. Gibson, J.J. (1966) "The senses considered as perceptual systems". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

2. Ulmo, J. (1969) "La pensee scientifique moderne". Paris: Flammarion.

3. Varela, F.J., Thompson, E. & Rosch, E. (1991) "The embodied mind: Cognitive science and the human experience". Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

      Jed Harris writes:

     I don't think the pragmatic concept of experience is fleshed out enough to be satisfying -- though it seems ok as far as it goes.

     In writing this I realized that we don't have a word for "potentially tacit or unconscious intentional actions coupled with expectations". The word "plan" has a connotation of being explicit, fully worked out before the action begins, etc. The word "behavior" doesn't carry the connotation of intention (at least not strongly enough) or the connotation of expectation. I'll use the term "activity" with the understanding that activities are specific episodes of intentional behavior which include expectations that must be satisfied for them to successful.

     My own answer builds on three basic points.

     1) Our being in the world relies on / demonstrates our ability to generate an immensely complex web of recurrent activities. In many cases we'd be dead without them (think of breathing). The structure, texture, etc. of our life depends on successfully generating these activities.

     2) Conscious awareness, explicit representations, etc. depend on and largely serve these activities. Some aspects of some activities are experienced (ie. conscious) but most of them aren't. We can shift some usually unexperienced activities into consciousness, but then we cease to experience others. In many cases we *can't* make most aspects of activities conscious, even when we originally learned them consciously. Conscious experience just isn't very capacious or comprehensive.

     3) We have to know a huge amount about the world to successfully generate these activities, but most of what we know is inarticulate, or tacit, and in many cases it is completely unconscious. Still, it is knowledge in a very strong sense. We continually validate this knowledge by generating and monitoring expectations. We can generate appropriate novel activities when we encounter new circumstances. We can generate appropriate activities that depend on novel combinations of knowledge we've demonstrated in generating previous activities. Thus even though tacit and almost certainly not "propositional" these pieces of knowledge can act as combining forms.

     I see explicit knowledge as floating on this huge sea of tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge (scientific or otherwise) is a crystallization of certain socially supported representations out of this sea.

     If scientists couldn't carry out activities such as appropriate language use, organization and maintenance of viable social groups, recruitment of new scientists, reproduction of scientific culture, design of new instruments, etc. etc. etc. they couldn't *do science*. Yet no one can articulate explicit recipes for these activities in even a roughly adequate way.

     The interesting epistomological questions for me are ones like "How is scientific knowledge different from other explanatory stories about the world?" I'm not looking for *foundation* answers, I'm looking for *process* answers that help me and others evaluate claims, manage investigations, etc. In this context I found Phillip Kitcher's book _The Advancement of Science_ appealing. He doesn't address the deeper issues very much, but he provides an interesting analysis of why science works as a social process, and I enjoyed his perspective.

     So in the end epistomology (as I use it) is "how to" knowledge: how to decide whether to rely on socially provided information, how to increase my confidence or find answers (by asking others or asking "nature"), etc. Like all "how to" knowledge, epistomology is mostly tacit, but since it is complex and social, it naturally benefits from crystallizing out some explicit knowledge as well. I find some of the most interesting such knowledge in the epistomological practices of science (in distinction to the grander epistomological theories promulgated by scientists and others). Here again Kitcher has interesting observations .

     Robert Rockwell writes:

     Are you at all interested in the *social* dimension of cognition?

      There is evidence to suggest that the relationship between human neural wetware and individual thinking/acting is less like the relationship between a motor and the horsepower it generates than it is like the relationship between a radio and the music it generates, or better: between a computer and the decisions it makes. All three analogies are distant at best, but the latter two point to a philosophically critical notion: namely, that both the semantic content and the temporal flow of what we think of as "inner life" are mostly generated and maintained outside the skin.

      Not only is langauge historically constructed, so are the very perceptions it formulates (this goes equally for such languages as math, music, calligraphy and choreography). There is a narrow sense in which each event of perception/action is of course an event inside the skin, in the same sense that the actual vibrating of a loudspeaker cone or the flipping of an OR gate in silicon happens inside the machine, but these -- like Dawkins' much misconstrued "selfish genes" -- are secondary events, (almost) wholly pre-determined by their place in a causal flow shaped by events outside the local organism/machine. And the events which most emphatically constrain the flow of human consciousness are interactions with our fellow humans (with whatever degrees of indirectien, i.e. through things produced by our fellows). When you learn to play a musical instrument, you are not just training your muscles and neurons, you are engaging with a social tradition that gives sense to aural impressions (to say nothing of traditions which teach the virtues of disciplined practice and the pleasures of shared performance). The same is true of learning to throw a javelin or recite a poem or bake a cake.

      In other words: it can be argued that (most) human experience and (most) human abilities are utterly, ineradicably social. Whatever the relationship of the one to the other may be, it too will be (mostly) socially mediated. [My own sense is that "most" here means "95%+".]

      My questions to you are: 1) do you agree? 2) if so, what does that imply for your current work? 3) if not, how do *you* account for such idea/ability constellations as evening ragas or stock/car races?

      Ullin T. Place writes:

     I have some reactions to some questions you raise at the end of your paper where you ask: Are you personally willing to give up the idea of sense data as a foundation for knowledge?

      I gave up that idea fifty years ago when I heard John Austin give his `Sense and sensibilia' Lectures in Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1947.

      What would you loose by doing this?


      If you did give up this idea, would something like the pragmatist concept of experience be an effective substitute?

      If I understand it which I probably don't, the pragmatist concept of experience is an attempt to capture the notion of experience in the phrase `learning from experience'. This is no substitute in my view for the notion of sensory or phenomenal experience as that which we describe when we describe what it is like to be aware of this or that, of undergoing this or that or of doing this or that. The two notions are connected; but nevertheless distinct. We need both.

      For those of you who are trained in Neuroscience, which concept of experience seems more biologically plausible?

      I am not sure that I can claim to be trained in Neuroscience; but response of some eminent neuroscientists to what I have been writing recently on these topics encourages me to think that I can speak with some authority on this matter. As soon as I read the late Donald Broadbent's 1971 book DECISION AND STRESS, it seemed to me obvious that his concept of a "state of evidence" on the basis of which the brain categorizes sensory inputs corresponds rather precisely to the notion of raw uninterpreted sensory experience. This notion I take to be implicit both in James' description of the consciousness of the child as a "big blooming buzzing confusion" and in Wilhelm Wundt's distinction between Immediate and Mediate Experience, where Mediate Experience is experience interpreted as a sensory encounter with external reality and Immediate Experience is the same experience interpreted as what it really is, a process taking place within the observer's own consciousness. In ordinary language it is implicit in the distinction we draw between `physical' pleasure and pain which does not depend on how the stimulus is interpreted and `mental' pleasure and pain which DOES so depend.

      Rick Norwood writes:

      (quoting WTR) In Chapter 20 of "Democracy and Education" (pp.306-323) Dewey talks about two different concepts of experience, one dating back to Ancient Greece, and the other to the British Empiricists.

      This distinction is a lot like the difference between mathematics and science. Mathematics is a product of pure reason, which is why many a callow youth with no experience in the world to speak of made great discoveries in mathematics. Science distills the knowledge won by experience, and so on the average successful scientists are much older than mathematicians, though there are, of course, exceptions.

      This distinction is, however, a good deal too facile. There were practical Greeks--Eratosthenes, Archemedes--and impractical Englishmen--Hardy, Hamilton. In my own research, I find myself using trial and error to discover new ideas far more often than I use abstract reasoning, and though it is by mathematical proof that I establish my theorems, I always check my results with examples. Even Plato, who has Socrates claim to get infallable inspiration directly from some muse, or Ramanugin, who claimed that his mathematical theorems were sent to him by the god Siva, must have been drawing on a lot of real world experience, unless we accept divine revelation, which I do not .

      My question is: Is it really possible to eliminate this sensationalistic kind of experience and still have a viable epistermology?

      From what I wrote above, it should be clear that my answer is no. If divine revelation were reliable, you would expect the divinely inspired to agree with one another more often than they do. I do not think we can communicate at all without sensations. Going even further out on a limb, studies of feral children suggest (only suggest, we can never know) that without language the inner life of man is not that different from the inner life of beasts.

      Can Dewey's and James' concept of experience really do everything necessary that was done by the empiricist concept of experience?

      My studies of mathematics and years of teaching mathematics suggest that logic is hard wired into the neurons of the human brain. About half the people I teach think logically without being taught. The other half do not learn to think logically no matter how much instruction they receive. Studies by some of the followers of Piaget seem to support this. It is an area that demands research, but an area that it too politically touchy to be researched in the US. Most of the interesting work I know of was done in France.

      In other words, we must have a brain hardwired for language and logic and we must have experiences at certain stages in our lives to become thinking beings. Both the neural structure and the experience are necessary, and the two interact. There has been some very interesting work in the past few years that suggest that exposure to music at about age 3 is necessary in developing a mind which, at about age 12, begins to reason logically.

      From: Gary Schouborg:

      In Chapter 20 of "Democracy and Education" (pp.306-323) Dewey talks about two different concepts of experience, one dating back to Ancient Greece, and the other to the British Empiricists. The Greek concept of experience was something that was necessarily concerned with the practical, as Dewey put it, "ways of doing and being done to". (p.312) This kind of knowledge was contrasted with the intellectual world of pure reason and knowledge, which supposedly had no commerce with anyone's goals and desires.

      ....The British Empiricist view, which Dewey calls sensationalistic empiricism, sees the acquisition of experience as a passive affair; a response to the world as it impinges on the sense organs. According to this view, it is our passivity in relating to experience that gives it its' epistemic worth; it tells us about the world only in so far as we add nothing to it.

      I don't find this contrast between Classicism and Empiricism a happy one. The Greeks distinguished between episteme and praxis as between theory (dealing with universals) and doing (dealing with particulars). There is nothing necessarily implied about "contributive" vs. passive knowledge. That contrast was between Kant and Empiricism, as I'm sure you know.

      My guess is that you're (rightly) heading in the direction of a pragmatism that understands perception in terms of the perceiving organism's development of models in order to act, rather than perception that is a passive viewing of what is "already out there". I don't think the distinction you draw above gets to that cleanly.

      My question is: Is it really possible to eliminate this sensationalistic kind of experience and still have a viable epistermology? Can Dewey's and James' concept of experience really do everything necessary that was done by the empiricist concept of experience?

      Briefly, yes. More below
     . More specifically,could their concept of experience provide something like A FOUNDATION FOR >KNOWLEDGE.

      Briefly, no. In my view, every epistemology that intends to be an a priori solution necessarily ends in circularity. Pragmatism opens the door to an empirical explanation for knowledge. An internal model of external reality is reliable in that it generates true assertions / perceptions sufficiently often as to enable us to survive. In other words, the old philosophical "error" of psychologism is itself wrong. Trying to make epistemology fully normative (a priori) inevitably generates unresolvable conundrums.

      Note that this empirical move does not provide a foundation in the sense of something given against which assertions are assessed. But it does provide an explanation for how error is possible and how assertions function for human purposes.

      If we are to make "knowing-how" the foundation for "knowing-that", we need a theory that explains how they are related.

      Yes. The solution lies in appealing to the brain as generating a sufficient number of true beliefs. The mistake is to look to phenomenology, to try to find something completely within consciousness that enables us to know the difference between a true and a false belief. That inevitably mires us in unresolvable contradictions. For example, how do I know that I remember who you are? There is no phenomenological answer to that. We need to go to cognitive and neuro- science.

      Are you personally willing to give up the idea of sense data as a foundation for knowledge?

      Yes, if sense data as mistakenly construed as an experiential given. Sense data are theoretical entities posited to explain error. I don't experience them. I experience chairs, rocks, trees, etc. Sense data are theoretical / hypothetical entities created to explain things like how it is I thought I saw a tree but did not. Whether sense data so construed are still useful is something about which I have nothing useful to say.

      (Other Comments from GS, sent later)

      Everything depends on what you have in mind by 'foundation'. If we stay completely within epistemology / phenomenology, looking for a foundation in the sense of an absolute starting point, an incontrovertible given, has inevitably led to paradox or question-begging. The pragmatists have led us beyond epistemology / phenomenology to an empirical study of how human knowledge actually works. Whether this was their intention or not, I do not intend. But it is where there original inquiry has led. Thus, there seems to me a convergence of opinion that goes something like this: human beings use various epistemological techniques / strategies to support their beliefs. by themselves, such methods cannot justify themselves. Looking at them empirically, however, we can say they work sufficiently well that we have survived.

      Clearly our perceptions are what determine the truth of our beliefs. But that determination is based on a self-correcting process of checking some perceptions with others, not on spying out some incontrovertible given. What keeps this self-correcting process from being viciously circular is a principle I've been touting the last few years, which I believe is deeply pragmatic: Innocent Until Proven Guilty. *Pace* Plato's paradigm, which has dominated Western philosophy, that we don't know anything until we have reasoned support for it, this principle holds that whatever we believe should be held as knowledge unless we have reason to doubt it. The theoretical possibility that we might be wrong is not a good reason. There must be some concrete reason for doubting a particular belief.

      we can empirically determine how well our various cognitive strategies work. I guess this may come down to internal coherence. But if so, what's the problem? The only objection I can see is the disappointment of the individual who had the false expectation that our knowledge is a mirror held up to reality. But what is the justification for such an expectation?

      In short, there is no purely philosophical (a priori) justification or foundation for knowledge; but there is an empirical a priori: our mind, as discovered empirically, works sufficiently well for us to get along. An epistemology that works is one which studies how the mind does this. More principled (a priori) approaches have led only to paradox or question-begging.

      Sue Pockett writes:

      I'm probably missing something and this is probably why I'll never be a philosopher, but this discussion seems to me to be considerably muddled, because it makes a big deal out of a simple conflation of two completely separate meanings of the word "experience".

      (1) Meaning 1 is experience in the sense of, as you put it, being an "experienced technician" (this sense of experience meaning something like having a repository of memories about a subject) and

      (2) Meaning 2 is experience in the Hard Problem sense of "what it is like to taste peppermint".

      The difference between these two meanings can be illustrated in the sentence "During his training to be a winetaster, Teed became experienced (ie well-practised) in experiencing the delightful sensations evoked by a mouthful of wine".

      You ask whether I can cheerfully abandon sense data (HP, what-it-is-like type experience) as a source of the other sort of experience, or what was it, as "a foundation for knowlege". Well yes, I CAN, I suppose. Dicey. For example, a meditation adept could be a [repository-of-memories-experienced] [HP, what-it-is-like experiencer] of "pure consciousness" i.e. consciousness with no content at all. Such a person could perhaps have knowlege that was not based on *sensory* experience per se - but in another way of looking at it, this kind of knowlege is sometimes called "mystical experience" and is perhaps more experiential than any other kind, since if you haven't had the [HP, what-it-is-like experience] of pure consciousness you probably don't even believe that such a state exists. With regard to being [having-a-repository-of-memories-and techniques-experienced] in any other field, because I am a human with normally functioning sense organs I can only conceive of my getting to that state by a process that perforce *involves* sense-data type experiences, simply because sense data are present all the time (at least while I'm not asleep or in a coma or anaesthetised). I suppose I could be an experienced or knowlegable silicon-based technician though (i.e. a machine that has learned to do something as a result of clever programming), and never have had an [HP, what-it-is-like experience] in my whole life. Forgive me, but this doesn't seem to be a question that is particularly ..well... illuminating? It's just a matter of definitions, isn't it?

      By the way, I certainly don't think that sense data tell us about the world only insofar as we don't alter the input, because it's a commonplace to any neurophysiologist that our brains have a large role in constructing sensory perceptions - and they certainly have a *major* role in constructing "thoughts", which may perhaps be counted as the same sorts of experiences as sense data (at least in the taxonomy above) and which certainly tell us about the world and our reactions to it.

      Frank X. Ryan Writes:

      The British Empiricist view, which Dewey calls sensationalistic empiricism, sees the acquisition of experience as a passive affair; a response to the world as it impinges on the sense organs. According to this view, it is our passivity in relating to experience that gives it its' epistemic worth; it tells us about the world only in so far as we add nothing to it. Dewey calls Sensationalistic Empiricism "a thoroughly false psychology of mental development"

     Yes, this is the narrow conception of experience Dewey opposes. It generates what Perry calls the "ego-centric predicament." If we ultimately know only the contents of our own minds, how can we get outside of this to what, if anything, exists in the "external world." Dewey did not try to solve this problem; instead, he wanted to shift the entire paradigm from one where "minds" hook up to "objects" to a "movement of inquiry" where primary or settled experience is interrupted by the onset of a problematic situation and reconstituted into an achieved object or objective by directed intelligence and successful testing. "Subject" and "object" denote phases of this activity, not ontological primitives.

      James also critiqued what he called Sensationalism in his "Principles of Psychology". . . In some passages, it appears that James sees consciousness as a homogeneous mush that is destroyed by any atempt at analysis. But in his descriptions of how the self is structured (especially chapter X of the "Principles") it is clear that James, like Dewey, sees our experience as constituted by our activities in the world.

      Dewey wrote a short but very significant article on just this topic, "The Concept of the Neutral in Recent Epistemology." (MW 10: 49-51) It's importance lies in the crucial distinction between seeing experience as a "method" of discovery and as a "stuff." Dewey distinguishes a beneficial "logical" sense of the "neutral," where--for example--"self" and "other" are not relevant to a characterization of primary experience, from a harmful "metaphysical" sense that posits some "neutral stuff" in nature that is the object of "pure experience." Regular Listers realize I'm now poised to preach the virtues of the "function-process" distinction, but I'll back off for now and merely direct the curious to the archives.

      My question is: Is it really possible to eliminate this sensationalistic kind of experience and still have a viable epistermology? Can Dewey's and James' concept of experience really do everything necessary that was done by the empiricist concept of experience? More specifically, could their concept of experience provide something like A FOUNDATION FOR KNOWLEDGE. I'm virtually certain that Dewey or James didn't believe that >their kind of experience could do *everything* that the empiricists wanted >from an epistemic foundation. They believed that most epistemologies overestimated what knowledge can do, and therefore any pragmatist epistemic fouundations had to be less solid and reliable than an empiricist or rationalist one.

      There's a lot packed into this question. Once we overturn the basic paradigm of how we know the world, obviously *much* of what traditional epistemology tried to achieve is simply moot or ill conceived. Correspondence is no longer between an idea or proposition and "external reality," but between a hypothesis and an achieved outcome. Since "having" is an indispensable correlate to "knowing," obviously traditional philosophy overestimated "what knowing can do." Since the outcomes of inquiry are always revisable, "truth" (or "warrantedness") is always revisable. Since "reals" are successfully established in a wide variety of situations and contexts, there is no longer a quest for THE real or REALITY. But I bristle at the suggestion that pragmatic foundations are not "solid and reliable." I'd have to confess, Teed, that I'm among the small minority who believe Dewey, especially in the late period from the _Logic_ to _Knowing and the Known_, not only envisioned a "system" but took tentative steps to create one. The quest for flexible and fallibilistic foundations does not, contra Rorty, amount to their wholesale repudiation. The "movement of inquiry" as delineated in these works constitutes a world view that, in my view, is superior to its rivals and amazingly comprehensive.
      This leaves us with the question of how a theory, which is traditionally assumed to be a structure made out of "knowing that" sentences, can relate to a set of (neurological?) structures which have evolved into a constellation of "knowing-how" abilities. Most discussions I have seen on these two kinds of knowing have simply stressed their differences.

      Read "A Naturalistic Theory of Sense Perception." (LW 2: 44-54) As uniformly achieved outcomes of inquiry, Dewey has no problem with the purely scientific problem of how "neurological structures" hook up with either sentences or dispositions. Following James, I think he could make a convincing case that "knowing that" sentences are products of "knowings-how" where the means of acquisition has become lost or receded into the background. Such "perchings," in James' terminology, are products of "flights" of reconstituted problematic situations. What he rejects, however, is the "epistemological" problem of how minds, brains, or "neurological structures" hook into what is inherently beyond themselves.

      If we are to make "knowing-how" the foundation for "knowing-that", we need a theory that explains how they are related.

      We have such a theory, and it's only a small exaggeration to say this was the objective of Dewey's life work. I could suggest dozens of sources, though since it's subtitle is "A Study of the Relation Between Knowledge and Action," _The Quest for Certainty_ is not a bad starting point.

      It is now widely believed, thanks to Quine and Sellars, that the concept of immediately given perceptual knowledge is a dogma of empiricism that no longer has any right to be taken seriously. Once we have >rejected this dogma, however, we no longer have anything like a foundation to support our conceptual systems, and apparently no way of telling a good theory from a bad one except by determining internal coherence.

      Wrong. The acceptablilty of a theory, like everything else, depends upon the reliability of the phenomena it predicts or explains. A conceptual system is a network of beliefs that are constructed over a long period of time by our successful and unsuccessful involvements with the world. They are not sustained "externally," nor "internally" by some manifest coherence. In becoming problematic or questionable, a theory faces the "tribunal" (James) of existing beliefs; it "proves" itself worthy by establishing or reestablishing it's reliability to predict or explain actual consequences.

      Rorty claims that Pragmatism was an attack on the very idea of epistemic >foundations, but I think that this misinterpretation is the main reason that Rorty is a skeptical nihilist and Dewey and James were optimists with great admiration for science.

      They were meliorists, not optimists, though your point is well taken.

      Rorty admits that the main difference between the historical Dewey and his hypothetical Dewey is that " My alternative Dewey would have said that we can construe 'thinking' as the use of sentences" ( pp.46-68 in Ross 1994). When sentences have no comprehensible relationship to experience, skepticism will obviously follow. If we wish to have a modern pragmatism that gives a clear picture of science's virtues, restoring the importance of experience looks like a good first step.

      If Rorty had bothered to actually study Dewey, he would have found that his "hypothetical" Dewey actually expresses what Dewey himself called the "denotative" method: abstract ideas must at some point be capable of touching or "pointing to" concrete experiences. In the _Logic,_ Dewey does posit a form of generic propositions that are free from the requirement of existential reference, however.

      Markate Daly writes:

      On what horses we are riding and how dead they are

      Conclusive arguments aginst the the idea of a sensory given have been published regularly over the past hundred years. This is a defeated theory and I think it would be a waste of your time to defeat it yet again. It is also true that without a replacement for an old standard theory, it never goes away. The project that needs doing is to provide a replacement. (We have a similar situation in ethics. Almost everyone now will admit that law-based ethics is too indeterminate to be a guide to ethical conduct, does not describe how people actually make good decisions, and can be used to justify gross atrocities. Yet this is still the standard ethics being taught and written about.)

      But I think you are right that there is an undead horse that many in epistemology and cognitive science are still riding. Here is what I think it is: most theorists accept the dualistic supposition that the body is unintelligent, that its matter is mechanistic and its psychological motivations are idiosyncratic or arbitrary. This was the view of the body in post-Renaisance dualism. The mind/soul was the God-like part that provided intelligence and knowledge. But, when this part was abandoned in the naturalized epistemology project, the body was not redefined to include the phenomena that had previously been assigned to the immaterial part of the person. This brings us to the present quandry: If we assume that the body is mechanistic, the passive reception of sense data will give our knowledge some security. But as many of your correspondants pointed out, few in the profession believe anymore that this describes how we acquire knowledge. On the other hand if we assume that the body is active in selecting and forming the data as it takes them in, these unreliable psychological processes - passions and will - yield epistemological chaos.

      The solution to this problem is simple to state but very difficult to do. Redefine the human animal as intelligent, purposive matter, bringing a fund of past experiences to its motivated engagements with the world, where his/her ideas about the world are disciplined by the the successes and failures of those engagements. There is no certainty in this process, of course, but an accurate and reliable mental picture of the world is formed through this process. The challenge is to show how this is possible. William James' solution was to claim that the moment of lived experience IS knowledge,"Apperception is reality" Essays in Radical Empiricism, (pg.?)

      Knowing how vs. knowing that

      "Knowing how" and "knowing that" have several similarities that I believe set them apart from the Pragmatist idea of experience. Both can be viewed as dispositions to do something in response to a challenge: in the one case to afirm or deny a proposition and in the other to deploy a routine effectively. Both, then, are internal states that can lie dormant for decades without every rising to consciousness or being activated. They are atemporal and passively held, either as a true belief or an effective routine. Both kinds of knowledge are memories and can decay over time.

      They are also strongly linked because the application of the routines of "knowing how" are used in everyday life and in science to certify the truth of "knowing that" propositions. For example, when I learned how to dirve on icy roads, I was told to "turn the wheel in the direction of the slide". I knew "that" this would stop a skid, but not until I could instinctively turn into a slide did I know how to drive on ice. The success of the routine taught me the truth of the proposition.

      The Pragmatist idea of experience focuses on the moment I start to slide on the ice and do either the right or the wrong thing. It is temporal - present tense only. It is active. It is not just a mental state; Pragmatist experience is a whole animal clash with a part of the world. Peirce, in his theory of secondness, thought that without this "shock" there was no experience. And what is extracted from this experience is no longer experienced. In addition to knowing how to apply routines, we could dub this "habitual intelligence", there is also a creative interaction with the materials and people of the world when a person's actions are spontaneously formed through the interaction, "creative intelligence".