"Hubert Dreyfus: Skillful Coping and the Nature of Everyday Expertise"

In Christopher Erhard & Tobias Keiling (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency. Routledge. pp. 219–234 (2020)
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Hubert Dreyfus’s work in the phenomenology of agency is distinctive for the privileged and central position he gives to our ability to navigate the everyday world. Drawing on the existential-phenomenological tradition—particularly the work of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty—Dreyfus characterizes skillful embodied engagement with the world (skillful coping) as the paradigmatic instance of human intelligence and agency. He uses the notion of skillful coping to push against the emphasis on deliberation he finds in the traditional view of human agency. One of Dreyfus’s central claims is that the complex understanding involved in skillful coping need not be highly reflective. Dreyfus connects the ability to respond to the particular significances of a concrete situation with typically existential concerns, such as authenticity. The way Dreyfus connects skillful coping with authenticity exemplifies his syncretic approach in which he synthesizes and, arguably, extends the work of thinkers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. The concluding section examines one worry about Dreyfus’s characterization of expertise within the skillful coping paradigm. Specifically, does Dreyfus’s rejection of the tradition’s emphasis on deliberation lead him to excessively minimize the role of deliberation as one develops and expands expertise? My suggestion is that there is space for such deliberate learning and skill development for experts within the framework Dreyfus proposes. To flesh out the place of deliberate learning, I draw on both Dreyfus and Merleau-Ponty to suggest how intentionally (and deliberately) trying to live in a certain way is not at odds with but is ultimately crucial for the expertise of absorbed, fluid, and skillful coping in a practical world.

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Justin F. White
Brigham Young University


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