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How to be skilful: opportunistic robustness and normative sensitivity

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In a recent article, Ellen Fridland (2014) characterises a central capacity of skill users, an aspect she calls ‘control’. Control, according to Fridland, is evidenced in the way in which skill users are able to marshal a variety of mental and bodily resources in order to keep skill deployment operating fluidly and appropriately. According to Fridland, two prevalent contemporary accounts of skill — Stanley & Krakauer’s (2013) and Hubert Dreyfus’s (2002) — fail to account for the features of control, and do so necessarily. While I agree with Fridland that features of control represent desiderata for a satisfactory characterization of the capacity of skills to respond to perturbations, I argue that her account is limited in two ways; first it is applicable only to a particular class of skills I call motor skills, leaving other classes of skills unaccounted for; second, she employs a problematic distinction that rules out the automatic and pre-reflective use of discursive, propositional cues in skill deployment. I put forward a substantive elaboration of Fridland’s account based on two more general characteristic features of skills I call opportunistic robustness and normative sensitivity. I suggest that these features avoid the difficulties isolated, while preserving the substance of Fridland’s account of control.



Skill, Normativity, Rationality, Intellectualism, Phenomenology, Control

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
European Research Council (284123)
I am extremely grateful to Christopher Clarke, Helen Curry, Ellen Fridland, Tim Lewens, and two anonymous referees for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. I also thank Peter Jancewicz for the many conversations that have inspired my reflection on skills, and for being an incredible piano teacher, despite what I may have suggested here. Thank you, Peter. Finally, the research leading to this paper has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 284123.