What is the difference between "knowledge" and "know how"?

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  • 1
    See dictionary: "know-how is a term for practical knowledge on how to accomplish something, as opposed to "know-what" (facts), "know-why" (science), or "know-who" (communication). Know-how is often tacit knowledge, which means that it is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it." – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 23 '18 at 14:05
  • +1 Good question. This could be expanded into an interesting answer by those who know more about the topic. I am looking forward to such answers. – Frank Hubeny Mar 23 '18 at 14:16
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    Possible duplicate of What is the relation between 'knowledge-that' and 'knowledge-how'? – Conifold Mar 23 '18 at 23:22

A similar distinction marks the beginning of European philosophy of science: Aristotle starts his lectures on „metaphysics“ (Book 1) by distinguishing different kinds of knowledge. In ascending order:

  • Experience (Greek: Empeiria): Remembering single cases as similar. Knowledge of individuals.

  • Art (Techne): Generalizing from different particular experiences to a general statement. Knowledge of universals. Knowing the reason why things happen.

Note: Greek „techne“ has a much wider scope than English „art“. The former also refers to the knowledge of craftsmen.

Accordingly I compare know-how to experience, and knowledge to art.

IMO, it is worth reading the whole first chapter (980a-982a) of "Aristotle: Metaphysics, Book 1".

  • +1 I will check the reference. I wonder if it makes sense to say "the washing machine knows how to wash clothes"? – Frank Hubeny Mar 23 '18 at 16:14
  • Not the washing machine knows, but the engineer who designed the washing machine :-) – Jo Wehler Mar 23 '18 at 16:18
  • That's what I was hoping to hear. – Frank Hubeny Mar 23 '18 at 16:22
  • J. Hintikka discusses briefly Aristotle's view in Plato on knowing how, knowing that, and knowing what which is a sequel to his Knowledge and its objects in Plato (ch.1-2 of Knowledge & the Known) – sand1 Mar 23 '18 at 18:56


The distinction between knowledge-that and knowledge-how derives from Gilbert Ryle. It is best known in the formulation he gave it in The Concept of Mind ch. 2 (1949).


Knowing-how is analysed on the model of knowing how to do a task (e.g. how to tie a knot). Knowing-that is a matter of knowing that something is the case (that Queen Victoria died in 1901).

Ryle's view was that knowledge-that is a propositional state; knowledge-how is a non-propositional state. Knowing how to tie a knot is not a matter of knowing that a proposition is true. What is at least the case is that I can know-how to tie a knot without being able to explain how to do it. If (IF) knowledge-that is necessarily articulable, knowledge-how is not.


This doesn't exactly tie in with ordinary language. I might say, for instance, 'Susan knows how a computer works'. This doesn't mean (usually at least) that she knows how to do a task; it means that she understands that a computer operates as it does because it has this hardware and that software. Also if I say 'I know how you feel' I mean that I know that (e.g.) you are feeling betrayed.


But that still leaves Ryle's conceptual distinction intact. It is true that at least some cases of knowing that can entail knowing how. 'James knows that Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963' entails 'James knows how to answer the question, "When was Kennedy assassinated ?"'.


If we grant this, however, then we seem to have two kinds of knowing-how :

1 James knows how to answer the question, "When was Kennedy assassinated ?"'

2 Sally knows how to dance the tango

There is an important difference between 1 and 2. Knowing how to dance implies having learnt a skill or capacity through practice. Knowing how to answer 'When was Kennedy assassinated ?' does not imply having learned how to answer the question through practice.


A good case can be made that know-how can easily be propositional. For instance if I say 'Bill knows how to steal sugar from the supermarket' then this means no more nor less than the propositional statement 'For some way, Bill knows that he can steal sugar from the supermarket in that way'.


G. Ryle, The Concept of Mind, London, 1949, ch. 2.

G. Ryle, 'Knowing How and Knowing That', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society New Series, Vol. 46 (1945 - 1946), pp. 1-16. (More detailed than the preceding.)

J. Stanley, Jason and T. Williamson, (2001): "Knowing How", The Journal of Philosophy, 98.8: 411-444.

J. Stanley, 'Knowing (How)', Noûs, Vol. 45, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 207-238

  • +1 Excellent. I knew there was more to this than I imagined. – Frank Hubeny Mar 23 '18 at 16:08

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