Tacit knowledge

Thornton, Tim orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0137-1554 (2022) Tacit knowledge. In: Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Implicit Cognition. Routledge.

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This chapter sets out an account of tacit knowledge as conceptually structured, situation specific practical knowledge. It sets this out against two claims from Michael Polanyi which conjoin the idea that we know more than we can tell with the suggestion that knowledge is practical. Any account of tacit knowledge which attempts to respond to Polanyi’s first claim faces a twofold test of adequacy. It must be tacit and it must be knowledge. To count as knowledge some content must be known but that puts pressure on its tacit status. What stops such a content being put into words? I reject Polanyi’s attempt to answer this based on a distinction between focal and subsidiary awareness. And I reject Harry Collins’ process-based approach that looks more to ontology than epistemology or reference more than sense. By equating tacit knowledge with conceptually structured, situation specific practical knowledge or know-how, I show the respect in which it remains tacit. Although it can be expressed in demonstrations, and is related to concepts, it cannot be expressed in words alone.

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