Techne, ends and deliberation

First (A). One complication is that phronesis does not deal with the good haplos but the good for man. Aristotle is clear that this is not the only good, since the good for humans, would be different from the good for fish, just as human health is different from piscine health. Nor is the human good the best good full stop, since man is not the best being in the cosmos; that would be god (ENVI.7 1141a22—29). So one might say that phronesis too is about something (peri tinos or tinos) in the sense of concerning man or being of man, and phronesis for another species, if such a thing is possible, would be about what is good for that species.

In ENVI.5 Aristotle expresses the difference between the objects of techne and phronesis in terms of the part—whole relationship: phronesis deliberates about what as a whole (holos) contributes to the good life, not as a part (kata meros), as for example what contributes to health or strength (1140a26—28). However, it is also clear that this notion of the human good in general doesn’t preclude deliberating about some human good.The thought would seem to be that deliberation is not just about what the overall human good is, say happiness, but also about some human good in some situation, let’s say, whether to have a child or not. A limiting condition here is that there should be no techne dealing with the issue. So it would seem right that there is no techne for whether or with whom or when to have a child, but there would be a techne for how to develop one’s strength or attain health, namely, the trainer’s or the physician’s art. However, there are several further issues arising from this contrast.

  • (1) Why doesn’t deliberating about when to have a child count as deliberation kata meros? One reason might be that we can only decide on such issues in relation to the overall human good: you need to think about this decision in relation to the overall happiness and well-being of yourself and others.This suggestion seems to be consistent with the fact that there is no techne of such matters. A techne can be exercised without regard to whether it contributes to overall human goals. That is why there is a virtue of techne, as Aristotle says (EN 1140b21—22). The decision whether to exercise the techne in a given situation is an ethical one which lies outside the craft’s proper remit. So the condition that there should be no techne covering the issue is not ad hoc but touches on the very nature of practical deliberation: even when practical deliberation faces a limited question this question needs, directly or indirectly, to take into account its bearing on the overall human good.
  • (2) Another issue is whether Aristotle wants to accept that techne deliberates at all. In EN VI.7 1141bll Aristotle says that it is the function (ergon) of the phronimos to deliberate well. This might create the impression that it is not also the function of the craftsman, though what Aristotle says does not exclude that the craftsman might incidentally engage in some deliberation.To be sure, deliberation may not be a feature of craft in the way it is for practical wisdom. However, we cannot ascribe too marginal a role to deliberation in techne, since Aristotle repeatedly illustrates ethical deliberation by technical examples. He says, for example, that a doctor does not deliberate whether his patient should be healthy or not, but whether, say, he should take walks or not (EE II.11, 1227b25-6; NE 111.3,1112bl2-l3).

The scholarly problem arises because of a claim in Physics 11.9 (199b28—29) that‘art does not deliberate’. Aristotle is here using an analogy with craft to argue for final causality in nature. He wants to say that it is no objection to this analogy that final causes operate in the arts as objects of a crafting mind, and not so in nature, since also ‘art does not deliberate’. Just how to take these words has been much debated. One option is to say that since Aristotle talks about the craft rather than the craftsman, he has in mind the rules and procedures that characterise the craft as such.11 At this level there is no deliberation, but that does not mean that a craftsman when applying the craft does not deliberate. The problem with this, however, is that Aristotle in Physics II.9 has just referred to how we do not in nature ‘see the moving thing having deliberated’. And here it would seem to be the particular thing that we would or, rather, would not have seen move. If, then, the comparison with craft is to be like for like, we should be thinking of the craftsman, not the craft as such. However, a modified version might be plausible: the craftsman qua craftsman does not deliberate since the large majority of cases are routine. Deliberation would then not be involved in what exercising the craft as such would be about, and that might be why Aristotle here chooses to refer to the ‘craft’ rather than the ‘craftsman’.

It is hard, perhaps, to avoid the impression that this is still an idealisation of what craftsmen do.12 However, what is noteworthy is that when Aristotle acknowledges the importance of the particular circumstances in the exercise of arts such as medicine or navigation, he says that they 'fall under no craft or profession, but it is necessary for the practitioners themselves to consider what is appropriate (pros ton kairon) to the circumstances’ (EN II.2 1104a7—9). It would appear that Aristotle has in mind here not the sort of means-end reasoning we find described in T2.This we might take as a typical case of medical reasoning: when a patient suffers such and such, apply heat, etc. Here the doctor is following a routine procedure rather than deliberating. Rather deliberation would be when the doctor judges in this particular case that the patient’s fever is at a point where he has passed the critical stage and therefore this medicine rather than that will be efficacious.1’ Or, in the nautical case, that the clouds are promising a storm of a magnitude that given that the ship’s cargo is of this weight and this value means that it is right to jettison this amount of the load. As far as the craft is concerned the practitioner is on his own when reasoning about such particular cases. This is not to say that being able to make such decisions is not part of your development as a craftsman. For example, we may take it that what experience particularly gives the craftsman is this ability to recognise and negotiate the salient features of particular situations. You don’t and can’t learn this in medical school but a good doctor can do it. There is a sense in which deliberating exceeds what is characteristic of the craft qua craft though it may be presupposed by the successful exercise of the craft in certain circumstances, and more so for some crafts than others. However, compared to practical wisdom, and this is

Aristotle’s main point in ENII.2, deliberation about particular decisions will play a much more limited role in the exercise of craft. In the same spirit we might take it that Aristotle in Physics II.9 wants to say that it is not a general feature of craftsmen qua craftsmen that they deliberate (in the way it is for the phronimos) and therefore there is no general contrast on this point between the teleology of craft and nature.

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