The concept of propositional knowledge -- knowledge that one has through holding a justified belief in a proposition that states a fact -- is a foundational one in epistemology (for example, it is what the SEP entry on epistemology leads with.) There also seems to be wide agreement that there are other forms of knowledge, acquired by direct sensory experience. Sometimes, however, I see the latter conflated with the former: knowledge acquired by direct sensory perception is considered propositional, even when no-one, not even the person having this knowledge, is able to state the proposition that this person allegedly believes.
To be clear, the literature has many examples where a person might not recognize that a given proposition is semantically the same as, or follows from, something they do believe in, and it also seems possible, in the manner of blindsight, that a pathology might leave a person unable to articulate, or even recognize, a proposition that they nevertheless believe, but I do not think that is the case in the examples I am thinking of.
For example, I recently came across (thanks, Conifold!) a defense of the Knowledge Argument that included this passage :
Perhaps Churchland is working with a narrow conception of propositional knowledge in which such knowledge is necessarily quasi-linguistic (or necessarily symbolic). However, proponents (and most opponents) of the knowledge argument use the term "propositional knowledge" in a broader sense, e.g., for the narrowing down of possibilities, whether or not this involves language or symbols.
The emphasis is mine, and I simply have no sense for what this broader sense is, and no idea what the narrowing down of possibilities could mean here.
I realize that once one has gained "what it is like" knowledge through experience, one can, for the first time, understand, formulate, and hold a justified belief in, certain propositions relating to that experience (such as "the color of the sky looks like this one you say is blue"), but it does not seem possible that the "what it is like" knowledge itself is a belief in such a proposition, as a justified belief in any of these propositions depends on already knowing what "it" is like.
I am aware of the doctrine of intellectualism, but it is presented there as a minority view; more to the point, the arguments for it seem mostly to be counter-arguments to anti-inteIlectualism that do not hold up if one is careful about the distinctions between, for example, knowing-how and know-how (knowing a recipe for a soufflé is propositional know-how, but being able to execute it requires more, including the knowing-how of sensorimotor skills.) The remainder strike me as taking the definition of propositional knowledge and presupposing that it must be so for all knowledge -- "if not that, then what?", as it says near the start of the article.
Perhaps my question can be best summarized thus: when someone says they have propositional knowledge of something, is it unreasonable to expect them to be able to state the proposition that they have a justified belief in?
- Alter, Torin. (2014). Churchland on Arguments Against Physicalism (section 5.3) 10.1007/978-94-007-6001-1_5.