Science of ‘how’ and science of ‘what for’

by Ana Bazac

It is more probable that the purpose of knowing how was anterior to knowing what. But would this conjecture be plausible when we all are used to consider that to know means to understand what is in front of us, therefore, the what of things?

Well, first we should ask what knowing as such is. We wonder in front of little children who do not yet speak but, as their mothers say, “know everything”. We will try to explain this but first let’s deploy the meanings of “to know”.

Animals which normally implacably react to their environment seem to know very well the stimuli, the difference between edible entities or substances and non-edible “uninteresting” ones, the difference between friendly and inimical states and attitudes, between mates of the same species, and between mates of different ones. The answer that “it’s the instinct” does explain noting since we follow another topic, the knowing as such and not the biological ways which they did occur through, and since the instinct as such was the genetic and nervous transposition of efficient reactions.

Just this little word – reactions – helps us to decipher the object of our perplexity: because they show the first manner and, at the same time, proof of the consciousness of things. This first manner is the access consciousness, the awareness of things in order to efficiently react to them. As it was said, consciousness – thus neurons and their relations – was a biological tool forged in the development of animated beings in order to adapt them to the environment and efficiently react to it. The first kind of consciousness was – and is – the access consciousness. This kind is so important that it is anterior to the centralised nervous system[1]. The concrete conditions of the animal determine it to associate a condition with other and form an associative memory without which it could not cope. Associations are primary bricks of awareness: of the identity of the animal and of the difference between it and the environment. As well as of the difference between elements of this environment.

Now we could dare to refer to the little children. (And obviously, we exclude here the influence of words transmitted by mothers etc.). They have a good awareness of things, an access consciousness. They are not only aware of their being – and the difference between their being and the environment – but also of difference between things in this environment. On this basis of associations – in mente – they react. The access consciousness is the consciousness of reactions on the basis of discrimination between things[2].

Can we say that the little children know? We can, the more so the associative access consciousness allow them to react according to the differences between things, not for nothing equating we the state to be aware with knowing. This is as knowing how: but to know how is not reducible to the access consciousness. However, the little children know only at the level of knowing how to react.

The second manner of consciousness is the phenomenal one, actually the phenomenological: that when the little children focus on a distinct thing and try to understand what is it. The phenomenological consciousness is that of searching and being aware of the meanings of things. But can these meanings be understood on the “simple” basis of awareness of things, of their presence? How can the humans – from here it’s rather the moment to say our goodbyes to prehuman animals – arrive to meanings, to know what is the phenomenon in front of them?

The phenomenological consciousness is possible through communication. Communication is made through imitation: apart from association – when, for instance, to crying means for the infant that mother etc. will come soon and everything will be fine –, this is the basis of learning (once more, we exclude here the instincts), thus of formation of long memory.  But neither imitation leads to more than finer associations. Because: the what is discovered to the child through the instrumentality of words.

By learning the language transmitted by mother etc., the child learns a new type of associations: that between things (so, including relations and qualities) and meaningful sounds.  The words are not random sounds which eventually have meanings to the child when he transmits sounds to the world in order to indicate he is hungry etc. The words deploy in front of him new aspects towards which he was not attentive when he only noticed the existence of things. The words teach the child the peculiarity of things: that they are phenomena which he can claim even though these phenomena are not present, or which are surface qualities like colours, or which express movements etc.

The correspondence between words and phenomena are a prime moment of the phenomenological consciousness: without it one cannot arrive to meanings of things. And it is nowise a moment that “was”, so would no longer be important after one learned to speak. This arrogancy of pseudo-intellectuals manifests just through not having the propriety of words: through using any word fortuitously, not really knowing its meaning and considering that the listeners/the readers are as shallow as they are.

But just on the basis of words – whose correspondence with things was well retained – can one understand the situations, the concrete arrangement of things and the permanent new experiences when even the old words are better understood, while always learning new ones and new arrangements of words. The phenomenal consciousness develops in the course of experiences. It represents the articulation of relations and aspects of the world with the help of words, that is, the articulation of meanings of the world.

To be conscious about articulation and meanings is to have a meta look on the entire process of awareness[3]. The access consciousness and the phenomenal consciousness intertwin[4], but in order to control them and their intertwining it is necessary a verification: the meta look[5] concerns not only the accuracy of access and responses which involve more and more better knowledge of the what of things, including of feelings, but also the internal coherence of the criteria and judgements/meta look the consciousness is able to have about its own decisions. Logic – as inner logical structuring – is meta look. It forms with the access and phenomenal consciousness an intertwined whole. In this, the consciousness is the most transparent: it cannot hide to itself its own exploits: not the others are the most intransigent judges of its behaviour, but itself.


This chapter was the introduction of our basic question, what does to know mean. It is more than to react efficiently, and even more than to understand the meanings of things – even though by understanding these meanings it seems they are the what – and somehow even more than the meta look. It is all together, and it is a social and evolutive process, and not a solipsistic copy or interpretation of the world.

If so, we can pass to another step in the unravelling of our topic, the knowing what and the knowing what for.

The knowing is not a spontaneous “natural” process: it is natural, of course[6], but it is deployed with the help of language and it is learned. To know is to learn to know. In this respect, to know how, although it can be a metaphor for the access consciousness (and vice versa), involves to put consciously the question “how”. And to know what implies to put consciously the question “what”, only metaphorically being it a synonym of the phenomenological consciousness. Therefore, to know how and what means to have put consciously those questions, i.e., to consider these questions themselves as problems, objects of reflection.

The problem of questions as problems was highlighted by Aristotle. As it is known, he was not preoccupied with the know how: somehow this aspect was considered a result of know what, and on the other hand, it was exterior to the interest of wisdom lovers. Not only because of the historical separation between the practical and intellectual labour, but also because the what was so unknown, incomprehensible beyond the surface aspects allowing the reactions of humans towards them, that it was the absolute priority of the systematic intellectual labour. (This is the reason ontology was first).

But Aristotle was the genius who related the knowing what to the causes the humans are searching for because otherwise they would not understand the succession, order and the concrete things as such.

The causes are the reasons things are as they are for. But, in front of the infinity of concrete things, without considering all of them, so all the reasons of their existence as such, it is not possible to understand even their existence. In order to understand this the causes can be reduced, and there is no exception that can falsify this reduction. The causes are: material, formal, efficient, telic. By answering and only by answering to the questions about the concrete material, formal, efficient and telic causes, one understands the what of every concrete thing. Outside this explanation, there is only a hover in the realm of abstractions: yes, there is/we can conceive a basic apeiron (Anaximander) – or, in Aristotle’s term, hyle – as well as there are basic forces as attraction and repulson, or basic opposites as hot and cold etc., but this cannot explain how did the concrete things with their individuality appear or rather what is the relationship between those logical suppositions and the concrete things.

Accordingly, it seems futile to stay in the domain of abstractions without relate them to the concrete things. Because only they exist: not Ideas, and neither abstract concepts. The world is constituted of substances – concrete unities of matter and form, the form is what gives the concrete appearance of things[7]; and obviously, these unities cannot be understood as – and are not – random “combinations”, but occur as results of other unities, each of which being cause and effect at the same time and to different things / on different layers of existence; every concrete thing is an efficient cause; and – pay attention – every concrete thing appear as a result of its inner telos, responding to the teloi of its causes, and is born  and develops by its own energy that corelates the energy and teloi of its and other causes and arrives to the reason-to-be of the concrete thing: this telos gives to the thing the  unique persistence during its dynamical constitution in the dynamical constitution of its causes and of the whole domain it is part of.

If so, even though the form is a first order phenomenal cause of the unicity of a concrete thing, both matter and form and the efficient causes of this unity explain only the “mechanical”, structural constitution of a concrete thing. The big question is why a certain concrete thing exists at all in the concert of the world. The answer is its reason-to-be in this concert – and thus, in its own entity – and the telos cause is the second order, deep phenomenal cause of the unicity of a concrete thing.

The telos is the what for and thus knowing what involves knowing what for. Telos, this fourth cause and the deployment of knowing what for should have not caused and should not cause special troubles when searching the what of things. Nevertheless, they have caused and still cause: although in order to know what a certain thing is one must answer to the four causes, actually, people have separated the fourth cause from the preceding three ones.

Consequently, the telos appeared as something strange, external to the thing, and thus not necessary to it, nor to its understanding. This is the reason it appeared mostly in idealistic worldviews and philosophies. Here, the telos was similarly external to things but nevertheless determining them.


Why did people separate the telos from the things? Because they did not know their what: the intertwining of “matter and form” was so difficult that it occupied the entire scientific endeavour. The more so it seemed that the positive scientific search of the what was enough to efficiently act on it. And because, when firstly focusing on the knowing how, the structural-functional aspects of things were enough and, obviously, sine qua non.

Nowadays we know that to know how intimately involves to know what. And it’s very difficult: both to know how and to know what. It is so difficult, that there are people who endeavour to know what and there are people who endeavour to know how. This real or apparent separation once more led to the removing of the question of what for.

But is this removal real if to know how is based on the very conscious aim of knowing the means by which one arrives to the what? It is real, because the purpose of knowing the means – without which, indeed, the knowledge of the real constitution of things, from astronomy to cells and molecular, atomic and subatomic elements and functioning, would be impossible and to know would remain in the area of hypotheses – was clearly subordinated to the concrete knowledge of a concrete what, but obviously exterior to the research of this concrete what; and because the advance of knowing what seemed to ignore the how both as material and methodological means and as reactions and activities towards the new cognoscible reality achieved following the interdependent development of knowing what and knowing how.


The above must not be considered too esoterically expressed. Both in science and the common knowledge and behaviour of people know by separating the knowing what from the knowing how and the two from the search of what for. Otherwise, there would not be progress in knowledge. But this epistemological situation is not the only cause of the separation. The other one is education, determined not only by the epistemological situation but also by social ones. The less people know what for, the easier they are controlled. They are given tasks which they have to fulfil.

  • The result is that scientists are reasonable when they aim to understand the state of particular systems they study, and obviously the interdependence of the means and the epistemological end of their study, but they become exterior to the what for of their research. More concretely: they think – because they were taught in this way – that everything they do must be applied, that this anyway will be, and that everything they do is either for the best of humankind or is neutral towards this best, the real conditions of humanity. “Their business is not to question that; it is to do what they know”. More: they think – because they were taught in this way – that to divert their attention to what for problems would not only limit their time of research but would even be tantamount to limiting the what and how

Scientists were taught in this way: and a main moment in this education is to forbid them to know the real state of things which, if known, would determine them to be preoccupied with what for. They are kept away from the real state of things[8], and they even think that a respectable scientist must be apolitical.

Science means to doubt and verify the hypotheses. And scientists do this: only in this way can we explain the truthfulness of theories, without which one cannot go further them. But at the same time, the same “apolitical” scientists substitute the doubt, verification and hypotheses with the “certainty” of the only official truth about the what for.

  • The result is that common people are reasonable regarding the what of things and the know how, but are/can be irrational regarding the what for of the application of scientific cognisance. Common people use technological devices without inhibition, and, even though they are taught to not trust science – because science is depicted as the culprit for the irrational and anti-human use of its cognisance – they think in a spontaneous scientific, dialectical manner on the everyday tasks; but, just because science is depicted as the culprit for the irrational and anti-human use of its cognisance, they arrive to exclude the rational, critical thinking when they face the what for This is because they were not taught this critical thinking as such and how cardinal it is for them. On the contrary, they were taught to consider that the taking over the official reason-to-be of things is the real proof of a rational, prudent and efficient behaviour. “Ignorance is reason, and reason is opportunism”: this is a very Orwellian situation, indeed.

The absolute freedom of science to research the odder problems – and to freely collectively verify its cognisance – are sine qua non: not only for its own logic and progress, but also for humankind. But this requirement has noting to do with the extra scientific condition of science to apply it irrespective of the consequences of this application. On the contrary, the freedom of science demands its free financial and material support, the free exercise of the critical thinking inside and outside it and thus, the development of mass basis of its workers. The weaker is the mass education, the lesser the mass basis of scientists is, so the fewer scientists are. The present elitist education and arrangement of society is a poison for science.

To know does not mean only to know what and how. It means also to know what for. The lagging behind of this knowledge is proved by the present incredible opposition between the extraordinary soar and development of science and, on the other hand, the real state of the world society: as if this state would be a primitive one, when it was not knowledge; when it was not science.

Well, again, if the development of science means knowing what and how, it’s the tragic lagging behind of the knowing what for that is missing. So, let’s push it forward.

# Notes

[1] Gaelle Botton-Amiot, Pedro Martinez, and Simon G. Sprecher, “Associative learning in the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, PNAS, Vol 120, No 13, 2023, e2220685120; Jan Bielecki et al., “Associative learning in the box jellyfish Tripedalia Cystophora”, Current Biology, September 2023.

[2] This is the basic pattern of AI.

[3] Anastasia Efklides, Plousia Misailidi (Eds.), Trends and Prospects in Metacognition Research, New York, Springer, 2010.

[4] Charles Siewert, “Respecting Appearances”, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012.

[5] Asher Koriat, “The Feeling of Knowing: Some Metatheoretical Implications for Consciousness and Control”, Consciousness and Cognition, 9, 2000, pp. 149–171; Uriah Kriegel, “The Concept of Consciousness in the Cognitive Sciences: Phenomenal Consciousness, Access Consciousness, and Scientific Practice”, in P. Thagard (Ed.), Handbook of Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Amsterdam, North Holland, 2006, pp. 195-217.

[6] Even though “most men live as if each of them had a private intelligence of his own”, Heraclitus, The Complete Fragments, 2, Translation and Commentary and the Greek Text, William Harris, 1994,

[7] Ana Bazac, “Fidelity towards forms: an ontological approach” I, Agathos: An International Review of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 5, issue 2, 2014, pp. 52-62; “Fidelity towards forms: an ontological approach”, II, Agathos: An International Review of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2015, pp. 24-40.

[8] United States Atomic Energy Commission, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer,

Transcript of Hearing before Personnel Security Board, Washington, D. C.

April 12, 1954, through May 6, 1954 , United States Government Printing Office,

Washington: 1954, p. 34,

“We didn’t know beans about the military situation in Japan. We didn’t know whether they could be caused to surrender by other means or whether the invasion was really inevitable. But in back of our minds was the notion that the invasion was inevitable because we had been told that. I have not been able to review this document, but what it said I think is characteristic of how technical people should answer questions.

We said that we didn’t think that being scientists especially qualified us as to how to answer this question of how the bombs should be used or not”.

Science of ‘how’ and science of ‘what for’

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