The Common Origin of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition and Shu-Ha-Ri

The similarity between the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri and the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is well known. Both focus on a common theme – as one moves from being a novice at an activity to being an expert, the role of rules and algorithms in guiding our actions diminishes. They are instead replaced with an intuitive tacit understanding.

What is less commonly known is their common origin in the Chinese philosophical tradition of Taoism.  Hubert Dreyfus was deeply influenced by the work of Martin Heidegger who in turn was deeply influenced by Lao-Tzu. Shu-Ha-Ri is of course intimately connected with Zen Buddhism which is grounded in Taoist philosophy.

The Buddha on Free Inquiry

“Do not accept anything on mere hearsay (ie, thinking that thus have we heard it for a long time).

Do not accept anything by mere tradition (ie, thinking that it has been handed down thus through many generations).

Do not accept anything on account of rumours (ie, by believing what others say without any investigation).

Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures.

Do not accept anything by mere supposition.

Do not accept anything by mere inference.

Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances.

Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions.

Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable (ie, should be accepted).

Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us (and that therefore it is right to accept his word.)

But when you know for yourselves – these things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to ruin and sorrow – then reject them.

When you know for yourselves – these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness – then live and act accordingly.”