Paulo Mendes Taddei – The Phenomenological Dreyfus

The Phenomenological Dreyfus – Paulo Mendes Taddei (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro / Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro)


Despite  characterizing  his  own  project  as  phenomenological,  Dreyfus  has  been accused  of  developing  stances,  towards  the  end  of  his  career,  that  are  inconsistent with  classical  phenomenology  (e.g.  Zahavi  2013,  p.  321-2;  Christensen  1998,  1997; Olafson 1994). Regardless of the merits these claims might have, I intend to argue in this presentation that Dreyfus did make, in his earlier works, significant contributions to phenomenology.  These  contributions  are  to  be  found  under  the  rubric  of  “global information-processing”  (henceforth,  GIP),  as  this  idea  is  developed  in  What Computers (Still) Can’t Do (WCSCD) (Dreyfus 1992). One of Dreyfus’s main points in this  book  is  that  GIP  is  a  human  form  of  “information-processing”  which  resists  any attempt at formalization. By  way of phenomenological descriptions,  Dreyfus  calls  our attention to four modes of GIP: the capacities to (i) “zero-in” on relevant portions of a chessboard on the part of chess players; to (ii) “narrow down” meanings on the part of competent language users; to (iii) have “insights into the deep structure of a problem” on the part of those solving problems; and finally to (iv) “group perspicuously”, on the part of perceivers in general. While the first three modes of GIP have in common the fact that they are processes in which specific horizons emerge out of prior ones, the fourth mode is concretely presupposed by the other three and concerns a dimension of perception that is itself prior to object-recognition. What a complete characterization of GIP should reveal, I shall argue, is that GIP is most likely a somewhat novel conception of genetic constitution. My hypothesis is then that WCSCD offers important lessons in what  Husserl  had  called  before  “genetic  phenomenology”,  i.e.,  a  descriptive  “inquiry into the history of the content of consciousness” (Sokolowski 1970, p. 193). Should this hypothesis be confirmed, the upshot is a continuity between Husserl and Dreyfus that is  at  odds  with  Dreyfus’s  interpretation  of  his  own  work.  The  infamous  opposition  to Husserl’s phenomenology on the part of Dreyfus will then be explained as bearing on Dreyfus’s emphasis on the static dimension of Husserl’s phenomenology.

Key-words: genetic phenomenology, horizon, Dreyfus, Husserl.


Christensen,  C.  (1997).  “Heidegger’s  Representationalism.”  In:  The  Review  ofMetaphysics. Vol. 51, No. 1 (Sept. 1997), pp. 77-103

Christensen, C. (1998). “Getting Heidegger off the West Coast”. In: Inquiry, 41:1, 65-87.

Dreyfus, H. (1992). What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. MIT Press.

Olafson, F. (1994). “Heidegger à la Wittgenstein or ‘coping’ with Professor Dreyfus”. In:Inquiry. Vol. 37, pp. 45-64.  Sokolowski,  R.  (1970).  The  Formation  of  Husserl’s  Concept  of  Constitution.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Zahavi,  D.  (2013).  “Mindedness,  Mindlessness  and  Authority.”  In:  Mind,  Reason  andBeing-in-the-world. Schear, J. (ed.), Routledge, pp. 320 – 343