How to be Skilful: Opportunistic Robustness and Normative Sensitivity


Synthese 192(5):1445-1466

Final copy

doi: 10.1007/s11229-014-0634-8 (Requires Subscription)


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.