Techne and practical wisdom: the distinctions

Much of what I have said so far about the elements of the definition of techne in ENVL4 applies mutatis mutandis to practical wisdom. But Aristotle uses the definition in T1 also to distinguish techne from practical wisdom (phronesis), as the sort of knowledge that is most similar to techne. Indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter, Plato, at least in some of his works, took phronesis to be a kind of craft. Aristotle is keen to correct this mistake, not just from the point of view of getting techne right, but also more importantly' for the purposes of the EN, to become clear about the distinctive features ofphronesis.

Pl, as we saw, is the primary' criterion for distinguishing capacities and their states. But this criterion can be seen to be at work in two different ways, giving us two different contrasts between techne and phronesis.

  • (A) phronesis is of an end without qualification (telos haplds), while techne is of‘an end in relation to something and of something’ (telos pros ti and tinos);
  • (B) techne is of production and phronesis is of action.

We have already' come across (B) in Tl. Here is the text in which both (A) and (B) are brought up:

T4 It follows that prudence [p/tronesis] is not science nor yet craft knowledge. It is not science, because what is achievable in action admits of being otherwise; and it is not craft knowledge, because action and production belong to different kinds. The remaining possibility, then, is that prudence is a state of grasping the truth, involving reason, concerned with action about things that are good or bad for a human being. For production has its end in something other than itself, but action does not, since its end is acting well itself. That is why Pericles and such people are the ones whom we regard as prudent, because they are able to study what is good for themselves and for human beings.

EN VI.5 11401)2-11, transl. Irwin

At first blush, one might have thought that (B) would render (A) superfluous: if phronesis and techne have different genera of objects, and so different ends (tele), there is no reason to state a contrast between a qualified and an unqualified end. More strongly, one might say that (A) and (B) are in tension with each other: if phronesis and techne differ in terms of one dealing with a telos unqualified which the other also deals with but in a qualified manner then it can’t also be the case that the two are dealing with two generically different ends. Let us, then, consider (A) and (B) in turn and see if these are genuine problems.

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