James McGuirk: Dreyfus, Merleau-Ponty, and the phenomenology of practical intelligence

Hubert Dreyfus’ various analyses of the nature of practical, intelligent action remain of central importance for anyone interested in this issue. Originally inspired by thinkers of the phenomenological tradition – especially Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty – Dreyfus brought their insights to bear in offering a devastating critique of the cognitivist prejudice in accounts of the nature of mind. However, while acknowledging the important contribution of Dreyfus to the philosophy of practical intelligence, the following article will argue that: (1) while initially following the phenomenologists in offering an ontology that goes beyond the dualism of the mental and the physical as separate, he falls back into this dualism in his characterization of expertise as ‘mindless, subjectless coping’ and his all too narrow use of the notion of reflection; and (2) that his examples of practical intelligence are too limited to provide the more comprehensive account of the phenomenon of practical knowledge that he is aiming for.

Keywords: Dreyfus, Merleau-Ponty, practical knowledge, knowing how, embodiment