Event Detail

Wed Apr 24, 2024
Toll Room, Alumni House
4–6:15 PM
Tanner Lectures on Human Values
Rachel Barney, Adam Gopnik, Rachana Kamtekar
The Authority of Craft, Lecture I–The End of Craft

Web page for Rachel Barney’s Tanner lecture series.

The aim of these lectures is to recover Plato’s idea of craft or art, Greek technê, in the expansive sense which includes not only the handicrafts but skilled practices from housebuilding to navigation. Plato and other Greek thinkers are fascinated by the craft model: the idea that both the moral virtue of the good person and the political widom of the expert ruler are — or could be made into — skilled practices as reliable as shoemaking or carpentry. Similar ideas appear in classical Chinese philosophy, developed in very different ways by Daoist and Confucian thinkers. In our time, craft is in a bad way: marginalized in theory and everywhere endangered in practice. Ancient thinkers can help us to see what remains valuable and urgent about craft today, and what a reinvigorated understanding of it might contribute to our ethical and political thought. Crafts to be considered include carpentry, medicine, drawing, film editing, the ‘multicraft’ of the restaurant, tennis, and traditional Polynesian navigation. Philosophical points of reference, in addition to Plato, Aristotle, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi, include Murdoch, MacIntyre, Korsgaard, and the Hart-Fuller debate, as well as literary reflections from Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy.

Lecture I – The End of Craft

What is a craft? For Plato, paradigmatic craft-practitioners include the doctor, carpenter and navigator; an updated, more generous conception should include the dancer, coder, waitress, painter, chef, professional athlete, and firefighter. Each of these skilled practices is oriented to the achievement of a distinctive end, the goodness of which is independent of the self-interest or inclinations of the practitioner. This Platonic conception of craft as involving disinterested teleological rationality can explain how craft sets objective norms for correct action, and for the excellence of the practitioner. And it shows that to master a craft is not merely to acquire knowledge or skills but to take on the ‘internal standpoint’ definitive of the craft, internalizing its values and treating its reasons for action as authoritative.

Lecture by Rachel Barney with commentary by Adam Gopnik and Rachana Kamtekar