Kjell S. Johannessen: Tacit Knowledge Revistied

In this article I attack the scandalous one-sidedness of traditional philosophical epistemology. I make clear its total dependence on one and only one paradigm of knowledge – propositional knowledge. Such knowledge presupposes that we are always capable of fully articulate our knowledge verbally or notationally and support it by empirical or formal reasons. On this basis it becomes quite impossible to say anything sensible about, for instance, professional knowledge, not to speak of aesthetical or moral knowledge. Some of us have been aware of this for quite a while as Michael Polanyi already in 1958 pointed it out in his book Personal Knowledge. His most famous statement is: «We know more than we can tell». And he argues that we possess a great amount of tacit knowledge. Therefore we need appropriate categories for handling the various kinds of knowledge which cannot be articulated as propositional knowledge. And that is Polanyi’s weak spot. Inspired by Wittgenstein’s remark in Philosophical Investigations § 78 concerning knowing and saying (a) how high Mont Blanc is, (b) how the word «game» is used and (c) how a clarinet sounds, I have developed an alternative approach where (a) becomes propositional knowledge, (b) becomes various forms of practical knowledge and (c) becomes various kinds of knowledge by familiarity. (c) is a sort of first person knowledge which we are quite unable to express verbally to someone who is unfamiliar with the instruments of the Western musical tradition. On this basis I sketchily analyse the paradigm of knowledge in traditional philosophical epistemology and point out a series of its shortcomings.

In the second part of my article I take a close look at a rather new contribution to the discussion of tacit knowledge, written by one of the leading figures within the research field called «the sociology of scientific knowledge» – Harry Collins. His book is called Tacit and Explicit Knowledge and was published in 2010. And his primary aim of the book is to «reconstruct the idea of tacit knowledge from first principles so that the concept’s disparate domains have a common conceptual language» (p. 2). I perform a close reading of his development of the common conceptual language and conclude that he does not succeed. He creates a monstrous terminology which just alienates us from the subject instead of making us see the connections between the «disparate domains» of tacit knowledge.

Keywords: Tacit knowledge, philosophical epistemology, Harry Collins