The definition of technê

It is in ÊNVI.4 that we learn how P2 applies to productive knowledge, making it different from both practical and theoretical knowledge:

T1 What admits of being otherwise includes what is produced and what is achieved in action. Production and action are different; about them we rely also on [our] popular distinctions. And so the state involving an account (logos) and concerned with action is different from the state involving an account and concerned with production. Nor is one included in the other; for action is not production, and production is not action. Now building, for instance, is a craft (technê), and is essentially a certain state involving an account concerned with production; there is no craft that is not a state involving an account concerned with production, and no such state that is not a craft. Hence a craft is the same as a state involving a true account concerned with production. Every craft is concerned with coming to be, and the exercise of the craft is also considering (theorem) how something that admits of being and not being comes to be, something whose principle is in the producer and not in the product. For a craft is not concerned with things that are or come to be by necessity; nor with things that are by nature, since these have their principle in themselves. Since production and action are different, craft must be concerned with production, not with action. In a way craft and fortune are concerned with the same things, as Agathon says: ‘Craft was fond of fortune, and fortune of craft’. A craft, then, as we have said, is a state involving true reason concerned with production. Lack of craft is the contrary state involving false reason and concerned with production. Both are concerned with what admits of being otherwise.

ENVI.4 i 140a 1—23, transl.T. Irwin with alterations6

You may ask if techne according to this definition is primarily concerned with the production or the product. The Greek word ergon, like the English ‘work’, can be employed for the outcome of the craft (1106b9) but may also indicate the activity of production. Thus we may distinguish between health, for example, and healing, and ask which is the primary concern of medicine. Possibly we could read the definition of techne as saying that the state is concerned with the product and the account with the production, or the other way around, or both could be concerned with either the product or the production.

It is plainly implausible to think that the techne is concerned exclusively with the product: a state that was able to produce an object and give an account of the product itself but not of how one brings it about would surely not qualify as a craft. Being able to say what a house is as well as being able to conjure one up wouldn’t make you an architect: you might be an articulate magician. And when Aristotle says in our passage that ‘Every craft is concerned with coming to be, and the exercise of the craft is also considering (theorem) how something that admits of being and not being comes to be’, he is surely referring to the craftsman’s consideration of how the product comes about. The thought seems to be that since the product is something contingent on the craftsman, he reasons about how to bring it about. Here the craftsman’s reasoning would correspond in the ethical realm to the deliberation of the practically wise (the phronitnos) about how to bring about the desired end. And just as such deliberation is proper to the phronitnos, so also correct reasoning about how to bring about the product is characteristic of the craftsman.

It would be a mistake, however, to say that the craftsman is concerned with reasoning about the production rather than the product itself. For his reasoning is premised on a correct understanding of the product. Just as we deliberate only about the ends that we desire as good, so the craftsman reasons only about how to bring about the product typical of his craft. The Metaphysics gives us a clearer picture of how the product works as the starting point for the craftsman’s reasoning:

T2 From craft come the things whose form is in the soul of the producer — and by form 1 mean the essence of each thing and the primary substance ... For example, health is the account in the soul, the scientific knowledge [of the form). So the healthy thing comes to be when the doctor reasons as follows: since health is this, necessarily if the thing is to be healthy this must be present — for example, a uniform state — and if the latter is to be present, there must be heat, and he goes on, always thinking like this, until he is led to a final ‘this’ that he himself is able to make.Then the process from this point onward, toward health, is called production .... Of comings-into-being and processes, one part is called understanding (noesis) and the other producing (poiesis) — what proceeds from the starting-point and form is understanding, what proceeds from the final stage of understanding is producing.

Metaph. VII.7 1032a32—bl77

Aristotle is clear that the doctor’s understanding of health is the starting point of her reasoning. The craft here is the reasoned ability to set in motion changes that lead to the goal of health. In the light of T2 we might, then, understand the definition in ENVI.4 as saying that the craft is the developed ability, hence state, to produce on the basis of reasoning the changes that are instrumental in bringing about a certain goal. We can then understand the proper object of the craft as the production (poiesis) given that the product will be factored into the specification of production. Medicine, for example, will then have healing as its proper object, on the understanding that healing is the process that brings about health.

However, a noteworthy feature of the definition of technê in T1 is that Aristotle does not say that craft is a state concerned with production, though it is no doubt also that, as we have just seen. Rather he says that craft is a productive state. The difference may reflect a realisation that saying that craft is knowledge of production may not be sufficient to single out an ability to make something. For one might have a theoretical grasp of a kind of production without having the ability oneself to carry it out. As some might say today, having knowledge that this is how to make something may not be sufficient for having the knowledge of how to make that thing oneself.8 But what Aristotle wants to capture is exactly the sort of knowledge that enables one to make something oneself.‘Productive’therefore qualifies the state rather than (just) the object. The aspect of being able to account for what one is doing, the more ‘theoretical’ element, comes out rather in the account (logos) that accompanies the productive ability.

The question then arises about the relationship between the productive state and the account. Aristotle says that craft is a productive state ‘with’ (meta) a logos, but ‘with’ seems vague enough to allow for anything from conjunction to constitution. So one might take the account to be something merely added to the productive state, which can be understood independently of the account, or one could take the logos to be part of what grounds or makes the state the productive state it is.The evidence favours the second option.9 So in ENVI.13 (1144bl7—30) Aristotle explains the parallel claim for virtue that it is ‘a state with the right account’ (1144b27). He contrasts the common view that virtue is in accordance (kata) with the correct account, arguing that it is possible to act in accordance with the correct account without knowingly doing so. Aristotle’s choice of with (meta) is supposed to contrast with ‘in accordance with’ (kata) so understood.The action is with a correct account only if it is informed by it.That is to say, to be not just ‘in accordance’ with the right account but ‘with’ the right account, the account must be involved in a way that explains how or why the agent acts as he does. Analogously in the definition of craft, the productive state would be ‘with’ an account in that the craftsman is able to produce as he does because he has an account that tells him how to do so.

A similar picture emerges from Aristotle’s discussion of craft in Metaphysics IX.2. Here he distinguishes between two kinds of capacity (dunamis), those with (meta) a logos and those without (1046bl), all crafts being with an account. He argues that a capacity with an account, a rational (logikê) capacity, enables one to bring about opposite results because the logos shows the craftsman how to bring about either. So the doctor can kill or cure since the same account which tells her how to cure also incidentally tells her how to kill. Aristotle says that the ‘knowledge is a capacity by having the logos' (1046bl6; emphasis added). It is quite explicit then that it is primarily the account that grounds the craft’s characteristic productive ability.

If this is right, and the logos is part of what makes the state productive, one might ask, given that the circumstances of production differ from case to case, whether the logos is an account of what goes into making a product in particular circumstances or whether it is, rather, a general account of how to go about making a product of a certain sort. T2 doesn’t on its own help us answer this since the example of health and heat could either be taken to refer to a particular case of healing where heat is the way to achieve the aim in this particular situation or to a more general procedure. Aristotle in several places emphasises that a successful craftsman takes account of the particular circumstances. In Metaphysics 1.1 he says that production concerns the individual, not the universal: for example, the doctor cures the individual human being, not the universal human being (981 al7—20). While the craftsman is distinguished from the merely experienced by having an account (logos) that enables him to explain and teach how to produce a certain outcome, it is clear that effective production also requires experience. So in EN we read that

T3 Nor is prudence about universals only. It must also acquire knowledge of particulars, since it is concerned with action and action is about particulars. That is why in other areas also some people who lack knowledge but have experience are better in action than others who have knowledge. For someone who knows that light meats are digestible and [hence] healthy, but not which sorts of meats are light, will not produce health; the one who knows that bird meats are light [and healthy] will be better at producing health. And since prudence is concerned with action, it must possess both [the universal and the particular knowledge] or the [particular] more [than the universal]. Here too, however, [as in medicine] there is a ruling [science].

EN VI. 7 1141bl5-23, transl. T. Irwin

I take Aristotle’s point to be not that experience is just added to the account, but that experience affects how the account is pitched. For example, that the account says not just that light meats are easy to digest but that that bird (etc.) meat is such meat. Experience works then to modulate the general information that the account gives the craftsman. An account which also gives us information that bird meat is light will enable us to act appropriately. Similarly, the doctors account of healing should not just give a general causal description of a disease and its remedies, but also of the stages of the disease and the correct timing and dosage of the administration of the medicine.10 Techne is a general disposition to produce things, grounded, as we saw, in a logos. So if this account is too specific, its extendability’ to all relevant cases is threatened. The account needs then to be general in intent, but should still be couched in a manner that is applicable to individual circumstances. If the account is too general it gives insufficient practical information to act on. Experience helps make the account sufficiently fine-grained to be actionable.

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