COOL CLASSES: “Experience, Know-How, and Skilled Coping”

This philosophy course examines how we learn and gain experiential knowledge by investigating such questions as “Is experience the same as expertise, and is it required for the acquisition of expertise?”

Class name: “Experience, Know-How, and Skilled Coping”

Taught by:  Associate Professor of Philosophy Joel Yurdin 

Here’s what Yurdin had to say about his class:

This course is about skillful action, and we examine three aspects of it. One of these aspects concerns know-how. Acting skillfully—whether in the workshop, the operating room, or the concert hall—involves having knowledge and using it. But the knowledge is know-how: it is knowing how to do various sorts of things. So how does know-how relate to the kind of knowledge we usually concentrate on—knowledge of facts? Know-how is obviously different from the ability to recite facts or instructions, but knowledge of facts seems somehow important, since learning how to do things often involves, in part, learning facts. In addition, those who have know-how can often give explanations of why they do the things they do, and these explanations consist of facts. So what exactly is the relation?

I created the course because I wanted students to think more deeply about a view that has fairly wide acceptance among students and faculty. The view is that the most valuable parts of a Haverford education are the skills you acquire or sharpen, rather than the factual knowledge you gain. I agree that the skills are very valuable, but I want students to give theoretical attention to our picture of factual knowledge and how such knowledge is supposed to differ from skills. One might find that knowledge of facts is to be understood in a way much closer to our way of thinking of skills than is usually supposed. If that’s right, then we’ll need to revise various aspects of our typical thinking about knowledge of facts. One striking one is that, just as musical skill requires practice to be preserved, knowledge of facts need to be used—not just not forgotten, but actually employed—in order to be maintained. Such a conception of knowledge of facts might explain why it takes so much effort not only to learn truths about oneself, but also to continue to know them.


See what other courses the Department of Philosophy is offering this semester.

Thomas Eakins’ “Mending the Net” credit: gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929/Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.