Philosophical and Psychological Accounts of Expertise and Experts

Humana.Mente - Journal of Philosophical Studies 28:105-128 (2015)
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There are many philosophical problems surrounding experts, given the power and status accorded to them in society. We think that what makes someone an expert is having expertise in some skill domain. But what does expertise consist in, and how closely related is expertise to the notion of an expert? Although most of us have acquired several practical skills, few of us have achieved the level of expertise with regard to those skills. So we can be easily misled as to the nature of expertise, since it differs significantly from earlier stages of skill acquisition. Furthermore, this potential for misleading characterizations of skills and expertise leads to philosophers implicitly working with different conceptions of skills. This can interfere with their attempts to solve related problems about experts. In this paper I inquire into the nature of expertise, by drawing on recent psychological research on skill acquisition and expert performance. In addition, I connect this research on expertise to the larger context of psychological research on human cognition, as it will illuminate some of the differing elements of expertise. This allows me to then critique philosophical accounts of expertise, by showing how they make unwarranted assumptions about skills and expertise. Finally, I note the ways in which being credited as an expert can diverge from the possession of expertise itself. This can help us resist some of the power dynamics involved with those deemed to be experts.

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Matt Stichter
Washington State University


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