Hubert Dreyfus

Skillful coping and the nature of everyday expertise

Authored by: Justin F. White

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Agency

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138098978
eBook ISBN: 9781315104249
Adobe ISBN:


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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 Martin Heidegger and Maurice 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, in which an intention to perform some action is formed as the result of deliberation involving desires and beliefs about how to best satisfy those desires. As he sees it, the traditional view relies on an overly intellectualized conception of humans, leading to an overly intellectual conception of action. Instead of starting with a highly intellectual and deliberative conception of the human mind and then working to understand how that mind leads to action, Dreyfus takes skillful coping—what we do when we carry on conversations, drive cars, write papers, dribble basketballs, and chop onions—as paradigmatic of human agency and seeks to understand the type of mind involved. If skillful coping—also described as absorbed, immediate, everyday, and embodied—is “simultaneously the highest and most basic form of engagement with the world” (Wrathall 2014: 4), there are various implications for the nature of human action and intelligence. 1

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