Monday 30 November 2009

Collins' studies of expertise and experience, revisited

I’m very grateful to have been sent a draft paper (a manifesto of SEESHOP3, indeed) by Harry Collins which modifies his (and Rob Evans’) previous views on the relation between contributory and interactional expertise. Having raced through it, I think the new story has three main modifications of what went before (but you will have to wait for the proper publication to see whether this is accurate; I will add a link).

First, interactional expertise is now seen as fundamental. On the previous account it was true that contributory expertise implied interactional expertise but not vice versa but the suggestion was - I think - that the former explained the latter. Because one had practical contributory expertise, one should be able to put it into words (although for those who were inarticulate this remained a merely latent ability). Now the story is that contributory expertise is explained through the possession of linguistically structured interactional expertise.

I am not sure just how pure this priority thesis is, whether, eg, everyone who has a practical skill acquires it through acquiring a necessarily linguistically or conceptually structured ability. There is a contrasting suggestion in the draft paper that bits of language are themselves shaped by bits of practical expertise. If so then the language of a scientific area depends on practices (so practice is prior, for coal face experts) but then shapes the interactional expertise that in most cases is not paired up with corresponding contributory expertise (so language is prior, for everyone else). Still, there’s quite a bit of reference to the idea that ‘language is central to practice’ which rather implies the other, ie first priority. Indeed, that this is the key innovation is firmly stated:
What is new now is that language plays as big a part in learning a practical expertise as it does in learning a non-practical expertise and that language can carry understanding of practical expertise even in the absence of practice.

Second, having interactional expertise without having contributory expertise is the nature not only of sociologists and science managers but also of most practitioners, most of whom master only a very small fraction of the practical skills of any area of science. Interactional without corresponding contributory expertise is the norm.

Third, the difference between interactional and contributory expertise is ‘a difference in social roles rather than in the grounds of knowledge’. This is because there is almost no difference in epistemic terms between the two and so the difference has instead to be carried elsewhere.

The change seems quite plausible and goes some way to explain my confusion about just what the status was of the original distinction. Further, it can be accommodated within a broadly McDowellian picture of conceptualised practical judgement (or phronesis). Obviously I like the idea of putting language at the centre of things (on a suitably extended notion of language that borrows the McDowellian idea of conceptual capture in demonstrives such as that shade!.) But it does seem to have undermined what seemed interesting to me in the original account: that there was a fundamental kind of non-practical but still tacit knowledge. I’m not sure that I’d buy a book based on the new picture. (But to repeat my original thought: the content will very much depend on the use the ideas are put to by others.)

PS: Later I had an interesting email conversation with Harry Collins about this post.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Mary Warnock liked Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience

Apparently the book that Matthew Broome and Lisa Bortolotti edited was one of two books of the year for Mary Warnock in the Observer. (I have a chapter in it.) She writes:

The book that has interested me most this year has the rebarbative title Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives, edited by Matthew R Broome and Lisa Bortolotti (Oxford University Press). It is a collection of very varied essays on subjects such as the nature of mental illness, whether psychiatry is a science, and why so-called personality disorder can't be treated, all matters of great interest in themselves, but also of relevance to criminal law and sentencing policy. Despite its title, it is a gripping read. Not so gripping, however, as Robert Harris's Lustrum (Hutchinson). Ever since Imperium I've been longing for the next instalment and it doesn't disappoint. It's a marvellous novel.

Friday 20 November 2009

Endogenous constraint on thinking not Thought

Having not enabled comments on this site, there is no neat way to report corrections. But Paul Witcombe has emailed me to point out the error of my post on Mind and World as transcendental anthropology. He says, surely correctly,

I’ve been mulling over the issues you raised but my ‘mullings’ keep being dominated by trying to give content to the notion of an ‘endogenous factor/constraint’ in relation to thought, a conceptual scheme etc in the context of McDowell’s position.
1. I think the notion requires the possibility of a relevant contrast in that context: that of an ‘exogenous constraint’. 2. Indeed, you prepare the ground for the notion by noting that McDowell does not reject the idea of ‘an exogenous constraint on thought but only that it cannot take the form of the Given (Myth). Contents can be given in in an anodyne sense in empirical experience, provided they do not outstrip the subject’s conceptual capacities.
3. [But] I don't think what is said in the first sentence in 2 above is quite correct. I think that McDowell does reject the idea of an exogenous constraint on thought. What I think he does not reject is the idea of exogenous constraints on particular ‘thinkings’. I believe the ‘unboundedness of the conceptual’ as understood by McDowell makes the idea of an exogenous constraint on thought (as such) unintelligible.
4. As far as I can see, the idea of an ‘endogenous constraint’ (‘endogenous factor’) in relation to thought requires the intelligibilty of the idea of an ‘exogenous constraint’ etc and this latter idea, as indicated, McD, I think, rejects.
5. Thus, I think that in an environment where the Scheme-Content Dualism (or Scheme-World Dualism) is abandoned, the conceptual is unbounded and the form/structure of thought is the form/structure of the world, the idea of an endogenous constraint/factor loses any substantive content/point. (Could its point, however, be merely to re-assert that the conceptual is unbounded: nothing is external to the conceptual, reason etc?).

So I must make sure I talk about an endogenous constraint on thinking or particular thoughts (or Fregean Thoughts) rather than on Thought, in an abstract singular, as a whole. Still, I am not sure that this changes the dialectic very much. Such a constraint might still seem impossible given the Mind and World critique of scheme-content dualism and thus still needs some delicacy.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

RCPsych Philosophy SIG newsletter

I've just been sent the Royal College of Psychiatrists Philosophy Special Interest Group newsletter. It seems that beer is being offered for a review of my shilling shocker. I would have specified it was beer only for a favourable review!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Conference ennui

Although going to conferences in one’s own subject should be good for one’s morale, I seem too often to slip into a kind of ennui.

It is not as bad as experience of conferences in other areas although I suspect the worst case is an area only marginally distinct. I get bored in large straight psychiatry conferences which are mainly opportunities for quick overviews of the latest drug research and there’s no culture of questioning the speaker. But I was positively disturbed by a conference on reasons at St Andrews a few years ago.

Thinking that ‘reasons’ cropped up in familiar phrases such as ‘space of reasons’ and that I at least understood the outlines of debates about particularism concerning moral reasons, I assumed I’d understand the conference. Not at all. It turned out that there was a debate just to one side of the philosophy I know about which seemed to concern the correct representation of reasons, or the holding of reasons by an agent, and clearly involved some fine technical work and innovation. But I could not work out what problem such representations were supposed to ease. Even surrounding myself with PhD students working in the area and paying in beer for their post-session explanations I remained queasily at sea through out.

But even in areas where I do feel at least a little at home, initial enthusiasm tends to dissipate. I think the reason is predictable. There are always people who have read more, are more gifted, have thought longer about the issues, and some who are sufficiently motivated that they will talk of nothing else at all for the three or four days of the conference without let up. In the face of that, my own enthusiasms rarely seems enough.

But I think I’ve discovered the solution at the INPP conference. By equipping myself with a companion who was, by background discipline, a genuine outsider at the conference (although clearly interested in, and on top of, the issues discussed) the contrast helped slow down my own gradually growing sense of alienation. I must organise a more regular arrangement with academics in quite different areas, to attend respective conferences, akin to the pairings between politicians of opposing parties in the British parliament.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy

I went to the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy in London on Saturday. At Tate Britain (for what turned out to be a disappointing Turner Prize exhibition), Halloween activities had been organised for children who were constructing bats (the flappy sort), masks, hats etc but there was no such obvious reason why the Royal Academy was so busy except for the fact Kapoor has become something of a pop star. Having bought tickets in advance I was spared the queue which was about 50 yards long.

Inside there was no escaping the masses. Oddly, for a couple of pieces, this seemed somehow right. Whilst photographs of Svayambh (“auto-generated”) installed in other, empty, exhibition halls suggest it might be a process calling for quiet contemplation, on a busy London Saturday, it became a piece of, albeit dramatically slow, theatre. One elderly gent, chivvying his companion to hurry (quite unnecessarily given that it must move only an inch a minute) to the next room, turned to me almost apologetically to explain that it was unexpectedly exciting.

In another room, a cannon fires a slug of paint through a doorway onto a (fake Royal Academy) wall every 20 minutes. For the whole of the waiting time, the room was packed, spilling out into the next gallery with the quiet middle class expectation of a Glastonbury crowd. I cannot really see the point of this piece without such a crowd. The pleasure is in that shared expectation.

But other exhibits could not cope with this sort of background. An enormous yellow indentation in a wall really needed solitary space, with other viewers merely a distraction.

On such occasions I see the attraction of our own tiny gallery in this northern town, far from the Big Smoke: the Abbot Hall. Last month I went from an almost empty gallery looking at the small but beautifully formed David Nash exhibition. The opposite of theatre.