, Volume 192, Issue 5, pp 1445–1466 | Cite as

How to be skilful: opportunistic robustness and normative sensitivity

  • Andrew BuskellEmail author


In a recent article, Fridland (Synthese 191:2729–2750, 2014a) 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 (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7:1–11, 2013) and Hubert Dreyfus’s (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1:367–383, 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 characterisation 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 critical 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 



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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of Science University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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