Mind, Body, and World: Resolving the Dreyfus-McDowell Debate
Olsen, James Cleon
Blattner, William D.
In recent years Hubert Dreyfus and John McDowell have engaged one another in several fora, debating the pervasiveness of our conceptual experience. Dreyfus offers arguments unique to the debate over nonconceptual content, claiming that our situated, skillful and embodied engagement with the world (or what he calls skillful coping) is an intentional, personal-level phenomenon that is inappropriate to and in fact serves as a ground for conceptual activity. McDowell responds alternately by defending the conceptual nature of skillful coping, claiming it to be orthogonal to his own conceptualist concerns, or by dismissing the relevance of the normative phenomena to which Dreyfus calls attention.I argue that while McDowell is correct concerning the pervasively conceptual nature of human experience, he and Dreyfus both misunderstand the nature of the phenomena in question. Dreyfus is right to insist on the relevance of our skillful and unreflective bodily practices, but he misunderstands the relationship between coping and language specifically, and hence between coping and conceptuality more generally. This leaves him with a problematic dualism in the nature of human experience and understanding. On the other hand, McDowell lacks a phenomenologically plausible explanation of how conceptual capacities are operative even in unreflective activity, and likewise misses the intimate connection between coping, unreflective social norms, and conceptuality. The way forward lies in a more careful analysis of both reflective and unreflective experience together with a recognition that possessing conceptual capacities--no less than possessing skillful, action-oriented bodies--changes the nature and content of perception.
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