Hubert Dreyfus

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Hubert Dreyfus
Hubert Dreyfus.jpg
Dreyfus in 2011
Born(1929-10-15)October 15, 1929
DiedApril 22, 2017(2017-04-22) (aged 87)
Alma materHarvard University
SchoolContinental philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism
Main interests
Philosophy of literature, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of artificial intelligence
Notable ideas
Dreyfus' critique of artificial intelligence, postcognitivism, Heidegger's hermeneutic realism[1] [2]

Hubert Lederer Dreyfus (/ˈdrfəs/; October 15, 1929 – April 22, 2017) was an American philosopher and professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.[3][4]

His main interests included phenomenology, existentialism and the philosophy of both psychology and literature, as well as the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence. Dreyfus was known for his exegesis of Martin Heidegger, which critics labeled "Dreydegger".[5]

Dreyfus was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.[6] Erasmus University awarded Dreyfus an honorary doctorate "for his brilliant and highly influential work in the field of artificial intelligence, and for his equally outstanding contributions to the analysis and interpretation of twentieth century continental philosophy".[7][8]

Dreyfus is featured in Tao Ruspoli's film Being in the World.

Life and career[edit]

Dreyfus was born on 15 October 1929, in Terre Haute, Indiana, to Stanley S. and Irene (Lederer) Dreyfus.[9][3]

He attended Harvard University from 1947.[10] With a senior honors thesis on Causality and Quantum Theory (for which W. V. O. Quine was the main examiner)[10] he was awarded a BA summa cum laude in 1951[9] and joined Phi Beta Kappa.[11] He was awarded an MA in 1952.[9][11] He was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard in 1952-1953 (as he was again in 1954 and 1956).[12] Then, on a Harvard Sheldon traveling fellowship, Dreyfus studied at the University of Freiburg over 1953–1954.[11] During this time he had an interview with Heidegger.[10] Sean D. Kelly records that Dreyfus found the meeting 'disappointing.'[13] Brief mention of it was made by Dreyfus during his 1987 BBC interview with Bryan Magee for The Great Philosophers in remarks that are revealing of both his and Heidegger's estimation of Sartre.[14][15]

Over 1956–1957, on a Fullbright Fellowship, Dreyfus undertook research at the Husserl Archives at the University of Louvain.[11] Towards the end of his stay, his first (jointly authored) paper Curds and Lions in Don Quijote would appear in print.[13][16] After acting as an Instructor in Philosophy at Brandeis University (1957–1959),[9][12] he attended the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, on a French government grant (1959–1960).[11]

From 1960, first as an instructor, then as and assistant and then associate professor, Dreyfus taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).[9] In 1964, with his dissertation Husserl’s Phenomenology of Perception, he obtained his PhD from Harvard.[11][17] (Due to his knowledge of Husserl, Dagfinn Føllesdal sat on the thesis committee but he has asserted that Dreyfus "was not really my student.")[18] That same year, his co-translation (with his first wife) of Sense and Non-Sense by Merleau-Ponty was published.[3]

Also in 1964, and whilst still at MIT, he was employed as a consultant by the RAND Corporation to review the work of Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI).[10] This resulted in the publication, in 1965, of the "famously combative" Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence. which proved to be the first of a series of papers and books attacking the AI field's claims and assumptions..[19][20] The first edition of What Computers Can’t Do would follow in 1972 and this critique of AI (which has been translated into at least ten languages) would establish Dreyfus’s public reputation.[10] However, as the editors of his Festschrift noted: 'the study and interpretation of “continental” philosophers... came first in the order of his philosophical interests and influences.'[10]

In 1968, although he had been granted tenure, Dreyfus left MIT and became an associate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.[9][11] (Winning, that same year, the Harbison Prize for Outstanding Teaching.)[4] In 1972 he was promoted to full professor.[11][9] Though Dreyfus retired from his chair in 1994. he continued as professor of philosophy in the Graduate School (and held, from 1999, a joint appointment in the rhetoric department).[4] And he continued to teach philosophy at UC Berkeley until his last class in December 2016.[4]

Dreyfus died on April 22, 2017.[3][13]

His younger brother, Stuart Dreyfus, earned a PhD in applied mathematics and is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering and operations research at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dreyfus' criticism of AI[edit]

Dreyfus' critique of artificial intelligence (AI) concerns what he considers to be the four primary assumptions of AI research. The first two assumptions are what he calls the "biological" and "psychological" assumptions. The biological assumption is that the brain is analogous to computer hardware and the mind is analogous to computer software. The psychological assumption is that the mind works by performing discrete computations (in the form of algorithmic rules) on discrete representations or symbols.

Dreyfus claims that the plausibility of the psychological assumption rests on two others: the epistemological and ontological assumptions. The epistemological assumption is that all activity (either by animate or inanimate objects) can be formalised (mathematically) in the form of predictive rules or laws. The ontological assumption is that reality consists entirely of a set of mutually independent, atomic (indivisible) facts. It's because of the epistemological assumption that workers in the field argue that intelligence is the same as formal rule-following, and it's because of the ontological one that they argue that human knowledge consists entirely of internal representations of reality.

On the basis of these two assumptions, workers in the field claim that cognition is the manipulation of internal symbols by internal rules, and that, therefore, human behaviour is, to a large extent, context free (see contextualism). Therefore, a truly scientific psychology is possible, which will detail the 'internal' rules of the human mind, in the same way the laws of physics detail the 'external' laws of the physical world.

But it is this key assumption that Dreyfus denies. In other words, he argues that we cannot now (and never will be able to) understand our own behavior in the same way as we understand objects in, for example, physics or chemistry: that is, by considering ourselves as things whose behaviour can be predicted via 'objective', context free scientific laws. According to Dreyfus, a context-free psychology is a contradiction in terms.

Dreyfus's arguments against this position are taken from the phenomenological and hermeneutical tradition (especially the work of Martin Heidegger). Heidegger argued that, contrary to the cognitivist views (on which AI has been based), our being is in fact highly context-bound, which is why the two context-free assumptions are false. Dreyfus doesn't deny that we can choose to see human (or any) activity as being 'law-governed', in the same way that we can choose to see reality as consisting of indivisible atomic facts ... if we wish. But it is a huge leap from that to state that because we want to or can see things in this way that it is therefore an objective fact that they are the case. In fact, Dreyfus argues that they are not (necessarily) the case, and that, therefore, any research program that assumes they are will quickly run into profound theoretical and practical problems. Therefore, the current efforts of workers in the field are doomed to failure.

Dreyfus argues that to get a device or devices with human-like intelligence would require them to have a human-like being-in-the-world and to have bodies more or less like ours, and social acculturation (i.e. a society) more or less like ours. (This view is shared by psychologists in the embodied psychology (Lakoff and Johnson 1999) and distributed cognition traditions. His opinions are similar to those of robotics researchers such as Rodney Brooks as well as researchers in the field of artificial life.)

Daniel Crevier writes: "time has proven the accuracy and perceptiveness of some of Dreyfus's comments. Had he formulated them less aggressively, constructive actions they suggested might have been taken much earlier."[21]

Webcasting philosophy[edit]

When UC Berkeley and Apple began making a selected number of lecture classes freely available to the public as podcasts beginning around 2006, a recording of Dreyfus teaching a course called "Man, God, and Society in Western Literature - From Gods to God and Back" rose to the 58th most popular webcast on iTunes.[22] These webcasts have attracted the attention of many, including non-academics, to Dreyfus and his subject area.

Selected bibliography[edit]



  • 2000. Heidegger, Authenticity, and Modernity: Essays in Honor of Hubert Dreyfus, Volume 1. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-73127-4.[27]
  • 2000. Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science: Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus, Volume 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-73128-2 [27][28]

Articles/Academic Papers

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hubert L. Dreyfus, Mark A. Wrathall (eds.), Heidegger Reexamined: Truth, realism, and the history of being, Routledge, 2002, pp. 245, 274, 280
  2. ^ Wrathall, Mark A., ed. (2017-07-20). Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Realism (1991). 1. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198796220.003.0005.
  3. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (2017-05-02). "Hubert L. Dreyfus, Philosopher of the Limits of Computers, Dies at 87". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  4. ^ a b c d Anwar, Yasmin (2017-04-25). "Hubert Dreyfus, preeminent philosopher and AI critic, dies at 87". Berkeley News. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  5. ^ Woessner, Martin (2011). Heidegger in America. Cambridge University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-521-51837-6.
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter D" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 August 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2011.
  8. ^ Awards (Erasmus University)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Dreyfus, Hubert L(ederer) 1929-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2019
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Introduction". Heidegger, authenticity, and modernity. Dreyfus, Hubert L., Wrathall, Mark A., Malpas, J. E. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2000. ISBN 9780262286459. OCLC 62157918.CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Shook, John R. (2005). "Dreyfus, Hubert Lederer (1929–)". The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum. ISBN 9781849723589. OCLC 276357640.
  12. ^ a b "Professor Hubert Dreyfus Long form CV". sophos.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  13. ^ a b c Kelly, Sean D. (2017-04-24). Weinberg, Justin (ed.). "Hubert Dreyfus (1929-2017)". Daily Nous. Retrieved 2019-04-15.
  14. ^ Magee, Bryan (1988). The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. p. 275. ISBN 9780192822017. OL 2043183M. Sartre started out as a Husserlian, and as a phenomenologist he wrote a good novel called Nausea, which is a first-person description of a person's world breaking down. Then he read Heidegger and was converted to what he thought was Heideggerian existentialism. But as a Husserlian and a Frenchman he felt he had to fix up Heidegger and make him more Cartesian. So he starts with the individual conscious subject, but writes about Death, Anxiety, lnauthenticity, Being and Nothing - all the things that Heidegger talks about. The result, Being and Nothingness, is a brilliant misunderstanding of Being and Time. If the story that we've been telling is right, Heidegger was precisely trying to free us from our Cartesian assumptions. When I went to visit Heidegger he had Being and Nothingness on his desk, in German translation, and I said, 'So you're reading Sartre?, and he responded, 'How can I even begin to read this muck?' (His word was 'Dreck'.) That's pretty strong, but I think accurate, since if you treat Heidegger as if he were talking about subjects you turn him back into Husserl.
  15. ^ Magee, Bryan, Dreyfus, Hubert L. Bryan Magee talks to Hubert Dreyfus about Husserl, Heidegger and modern existentialism. [via YouTube] The Great Philosophers BBC (1987)
  16. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert L.; Broderick, James H. (1957-06-01). "Curds and Lions in Don Quijote a Study of Chapter 17, Book II". Modern Language Quarterly. 18 (2): 100–106. doi:10.1215/00267929-18-2-100. ISSN 0026-7929.
  17. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert L (1963). Husserl's phenomenology of perception: from transcendental to existential phenomenology (Thesis).
  18. ^ Korsnes, C. 2016, A Matter of Perspective: Interview with Dagfinn Føllesdal, Filosofisk supplement, 2/2015
  19. ^ Müller, Vincent C., ed. (2015). "Errors, Insights, and Lessons of Famous Artificial Intelligence Predictions: And What They Mean for the Future" (PDF). Risks of Artificial Intelligence. Chapter by Stuart Armstrong, Kaj Sotala, Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh. Boca Raton, FL. doi:10.1201/b19187. ISBN 1498734839. OCLC 921182846.
  20. ^ a b Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1965). "Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence". www.rand.org. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  21. ^ Crevier, Daniel (1993). AI : the tumultuous history of the search for artificial intelligence. New York, NY: Basic Books. p. 125. ISBN 0465029973. OCLC 26858345.
  22. ^ The iPod lecture circuit, Michelle Quinn Los Angeles Times, 24 November 2007, Archived by Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Haugeland, John (1996-01-01). "Body and world: a review of What Computers Still Can't Do: A critique of artificial reason (Hubert L. Dreyfus): (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992); liii + 354 pages, $13.95" (PDF). Artificial Intelligence. 80 (1): 119–128. doi:10.1016/0004-3702(95)00084-4. ISSN 0004-3702.
  24. ^ [Reviewed by Garry Wills in Superficial & Sublime?, New York Review of Books, April 7, 2011, this being followed by ‘All Things Shining’: An Exchange in NYRB on May 26, 2011]
  25. ^ Roth, Paul A. (2015-11-16). "Review of Retrieving Realism". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.
  26. ^ Okrent, Mark (2018-02-08). "Review of Background Practices: Essays on the Understanding of Being". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.
  27. ^ a b Brinkmann, Svend (2010) On the Road with Heidegger: Review of the Festschrift in honor of Hubert Dreyfus PrePrint of published review in: SATS, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 175–180, ISSN (Online) 1869-7577, ISSN (Print) 1600-1974
  28. ^ Sean Dorrance Kelly. 2000. Grasping at Straws: Motor Intentionality and the Cognitive Science of Skilled Behavior In Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science: Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus - Vol. II, edited by Mark Wrathall and Jeff Malpas, II: Pp. 161-177. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press [Author Copy]

'Criticism of AI' sources[edit]

External links[edit]