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"Epistemic and Practical Dependence and the Value of Skills OR Should We Worry About Silicon Chip Technology Deskilling Us?" - Elizabeth Fricker (University of Oxford)

Elizabeth Fricker
Elizabeth Fricker
Philosophy
Oxford University
Peabody Hall, Room 115

In the modern world there is extensive division of intellectual and practical labor. Skills are distributed differentially in the population, due to variations in native talent and in specialized training and education. For many of one's practical and epistemic objectives, one relies on the skills of others that oneself lacks: in setting up one's new computer, in diagnosing and treating one's illness, in finding out more about the history of the country one is currently traveling in, or about the likelihood and risks of global warming, etc etc.

This division of epistemic and practical labor is of huge benefit in modern society. One's life would be almost unimaginably impoverished without it. But what are its downsides? One obvious one is the risks that come with the dependence on others one thereby incurs. But risks apart, does one miss out on something by failing to acquire and exercise a skill, instead relying on others to exercise it on one's behalf? In this paper I examine this question: is there something non-instrumentally valuable about acquiring and exercising a skill?

My conclusions are: first, that this is not true for all skills; some skills are merely necessary drudgery to achieve a needed end--such as doing laundry or ironing. Second, that for some skills, one misses out on something of value, by failing to acquire and exercise them--the pleasure of reading Russian poetry, for instance, by failing to learn Russian. Third, I suggest that each one of us has reason to ensure that she is not skill-less; and lastly I conjecture that there is a core set of skills, implicated in one's ability to be in control of one's own life, such that each one of us has non-instrumental reason to acquire and exercise these.

Elizabeth Fricker (PhD Oxon) is an Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford, having formerly been a Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy there for many years. She is also an Emeritus member of Oxford University Philosophy Faculty. Her primary research interest is in the epistemology of testimony, on which she has published over thirty articles. She has also published in general epistemology and philosophy of mind, and has a research interest in the philosophy of Wittgenstein.

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