One can travel at great speeds whilst skiing. If they severely injure themselves, do they still know how to ski? (Source)

Here’s a philosophical conundrum for you: if a skier injures themselves and becomes paraplegic, do they still know how to ski?

The question requires epistemology (the philosophy of defining knowledge) for the answer.

Take another example: how does someone know how to speak Spanish? How do we define the special kind of knowledge, ‘knowledge-how’, required to speak it? One argument is that knowledge-how is of the same species as ‘knowledge-that’: that knowing how to do something can be defined as knowing the right set of propositional facts (e.g. ‘Hola’ means ‘Hello’, etc.).

Here’s a potential solution for both scenarios.

Gilbert Ryle posited that knowledge-how could be distinguished from knowledge-that on the basis that knowledge-how pertains to abilities. I know how to shut down a laptop because I have an ability and a capacity to do so. It is not sufficient to just know what the separate commands are, for I must engage with my long-term memory in procedural fashion, too.

Katherine Hawley expanded on Ryle’s view by developing the idea of ‘counterfactual success’, an analogue of ‘justified true belief’. To demonstrate true knowledge-how the following criteria must be met: if I were to attempt to do something, under certain circumstances, I would succeed, where success must come with the warrant that I intended for this to occur in these conditions. My success, therefore, cannot be claimed to be a fortuitous mistake (e.g. ruling out knowing how to shut down a computer as trying to open an application and accidentally shutting the laptop down).

Problems emerge, though. One is this: what if someone becomes unable to do something they once could do? What—the skier suddenly doesn’t know how to ski? That’s correct, says Hawley, despite being counter-intuitive.

So is the monkey that successfully writes out Shakespeare’s Hamlet over an infinite amount of time really a talented writer? Hawley says it isn’t. Despite its success the monkey never intended to do this: it was just repetitively hitting a typewriter.

Do you think this account works?