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Tom Cumming

PhD in Philosophy

Phenomenology and Value in the McDowell-Dreyfus Debate

My research responds to a debate between Hubert Dreyfus and John McDowell that takes place between 2005 and 2013. The debate concerns the role of concepts in human perceptual experience. Dreyfus draws on phenomenological thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to argue that concepts play no role in our unreflective skilled engagement with the world. McDowell, motivated by crucial epistemological and metaphysical considerations, insists that concepts must play a pervasive role in our perceptual and active engagement with the world. 

I argue that the distinctive character of Dreyfus's phenomenological analyses of unreflective action can nonetheless be accommodated by a conceptualist account of perceptual experience and action. Now, a significant concern of my thesis is the role that phenomenology can continue to play in philosophical accounts of perceptual experience if that role is exhausted by a set of arguments for non-conceptualism. In the closing stages of my thesis, I argue that Dreyfus’s presentation of phenomenology in the debate misses the opportunity to pursue an underlying philosophical point about the role of value in intentional perceptual experience.



Patrick O'Connor, NTU

Neil Turnbull, NTU

Jerome Carroll, UoN




  • Book Review: Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, M. Heidegger - Imago, 5:8


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • Presentation: Research Overview, Nottingham Trent University, February 22nd, 2018
  • Paper: "Responding to the McDowell-Dreyfus Debate: Wittgenstein on Perception", Forum Scientiarum Winter School, University of Tubingen, February 22nd, 2017
  • Paper: "Sellars on Empiricism and Intentionality", University of Nottingham's Critical Theory Workshop, "Empiricisms", June 8th, 2016



  • University of Sussex, MA Literature and Philosophy, Distinction

  • Nottingham Trent University, BA Philosophy with English, 1st Class Honours



  • AHRC Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership Scholarship, 2015 - 2018

  • Chancellor's Masters Scholarship, University of Sussex, 2013

  • NTU Philosophy Prize, 2012


Other Research Interests:

  • Aesthetics / Philosophy of Art




University email address:


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