Anscombe and Davidson on Practical Knowledge. A Reply to Hunter

Olav Gjelsvik


David Hunter has recently argued (in this journal) that Donald Davidson and Elizabeth Anscombe were in basic agreement about practical knowledge. In this reply, it is my contention that Hunter’s fascinating claim may not be satisfactorily warranted. To throw light on why, a more careful consideration of the role of the notion of practical knowledge in Anscombe’s approach to intentional action is undertaken. The result indicates a possible need to distinguish between what is called ‘practical knowledge’ and ‘(non-observational) knowledge of what one is doing’, and shows that Hunter’s claim concerning the closeness of Anscombe to Davidson only has plausibility for knowledge of what one is doing. Contrary to an interesting suggestion by Hunter, the paper argues that it is hard to see how Davidson’s position can benefit substantially from making use of the notion of knowledge of what one is doing.

Full Text:



Anscombe, G. E. M., 1957. Intention. Oxford: Blackwell.

———, 1996. ‘Practical Inference.’ Reprinted in Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory, edited by R. Hursthouse, G. Lawrence and W. Quinn, pp. 1–24. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davidson, Donald, 1980. Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haddock, Adrian, 2011. ‘The Knowledge That a Man Has of His Intentional Actions.’ In Essays on Anscombe’s Intention, edited by Anton Ford, Jennifer Hornsby and Frederick Stoutland, pp. 147–69. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hunter, David, 2015. ‘Davidson on Practical Knowledge.’ Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 3.9: 1–19.

Hursthouse, Rosalind, 1991. ‘Arational Actions.’ The Journal of Philosophy 88: 57–68.

Peacocke, Christopher, 2014. The Mirror of the World: Subjects, Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schwenkler, John, 2015. ‘Understanding Practical Knowledge.’ Philosophers’ Imprint 15: 1–32.


Olav Gjelsvik
University of Oslo