In his essay “Five Steps from Novice to Expert”, Hubert Dreyfus makes the distinction between knowledge and practice. In short, his opening claim is that to know something is not the same as to know how to do something. This claim has two meanings. Firstly, it means that knowing how to ride a bicycle, to use his example, does not mean actually being able to ride a bicycle. But, secondly, this also means that simply knowing the rules of how to perform some task means that we know how to do this task. There is, to paraphrase, Dreyfus, a profound difference between knowing how and knowing that.

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This difference shapes Dreyfus model about how we should become skilled in a given practice. This model can be summarized in light of the key difference between knowing how and knowing that, or in other words, between the lowest step in the model “novice” and the highest “expert.” At the very bottom of this model is the first stage, the novice. The novice simply follows pre-established rules. Therefore, to use an example, in archery the student follows the instructions of his teacher, but this does not mean he will be successful at the outset. In contrast, however, is the expert, who, paradoxically, becomes an expert because he does not follow the established rules, but understands the task so well that he becomes a master who shapes the practice himself.

Question 1:

Is Dreyfus’ argument perhaps a straw man argument? For example, with skills related to practice, would someone claim that if I know how an archery bow should be fired, this means that I am physically capable of performing this task?

Question 2:

How does Dreyfus’ model explain the phenomenon of “natural talents”, who seem to be geniuses at their respective practice?

Question 3:

Is there a paradox in Dreyfus’ approach, since he places following rules at the lowest end of his model, but at the same time, his entire model of how one masters a practice itself could be considered to be based on rules?

  • Dreyfus, Hubert. “Five Steps from Novice to Expert.” Web. Retrieved 10 July 2016 at