Ellen Fridland (King's College London)

Dear readers, this week I have the pleasure to share with you the answers of Dr Ellen Fridland of King’s College London. She is working mainly on empirically informed philosophy of mind, philosophical psychology, and know how. Dr Fridland published in depth on skills and their roles in acting, on agents’ control over their behavior, on learning and motor control, and other issues relevant to the way we act and behave. Enjoy!

1. How did you first become interested in Philosophy of Action?

Well, I’ve never really considered myself to be a philosopher of action. I work on skill and, until recently, that hasn’t really been a mainstream topic in philosophy of action. I once had a conversation with Josh Shepherd where I said as much to him and he replied a little incredulously that, of course I was a philosopher of action. “What else could you be?” he asked. And you are asking me for this mini-interview, so, perhaps he was right. Skills, of course, in their most paradigmatic forms, are intentional actions and I’ve done some work trying to spell out how to understand the intelligence involved in skilled action.

2. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on two big projects: A book on the nature of skill, Skill in Action, that will be published with OUP and a volume co-edited with Carlotta Pavese, The Handbook of Skill and Expertise, that will be published with Routledge.

3. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?

I don’t know what an action is but I’m developing an account of skill where skills are defined as functions from intentions to controlled actions, which are implemented by control structures that have been developed through practice. On my account, skills are characterized by three kinds of control: strategic, attentional, and motor. And I think the most important question then is to say how it is that processes that exhibit these different kinds of control become integrated with one another. I think practice is key to understanding how, for instance, motor routines get linked up to personal-level intentions. And I think practice is also crucial for understanding how controlled actions retain the ability to be adjusted, manipulated and intervened upon by agents, throughout performance.

4. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?

I think the most exciting developments in the philosophy of action are those that link up with empirically informed philosophy of mind. That goes for work on intentions as well as work on skill.

I’m especially thrilled to see that people are working on skilled action control and trying to figure out how agent-level processes and motor representations connect. I’ve been really into work by Myrto Mylopoulos, Elisabeth Pacherie, Josh Shepherd, Wayne Christensen, John Sutton, Barbara Montero, Steve Butterfill and Corrado Sinigaglia.

I’ve also started to get interested in work on perceptual imagination and thinking about how imagination and action, especially in terms of planning and counterfactual reasoning about actions, are related. I’ve been really keen on Neil van Leeuwen’s and Peter Langland-Hassan’s work in this respect.

5. What direction would you like to see the field go in?

I really like where the field is going. More of that!

2018 July 21

Many thanks to Dr Fridland for her answers!

Visit us again soon for our next set of answers.