Event Detail

Thu Apr 25, 2024
Toll Room, Alumni House
4–6:15 PM
Tanner Lectures on Human Values
Rachel Barney, Alexander Nehamas, Christine Korsgaard
The Authority of Craft, Lecture II–Craft, Métier, Utopia

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 II – Craft, Métier, Utopia

Especially when practised as a line of work — as a job or métier — craft sets norms for its practitioners. On the whole, a shoemaker should try to be a good shoemaker, and the good person who is a shoemaker routinely does just that. But what kind of ‘should’ is this, and what could connect these two kinds of goodness? Prominent philosophical conceptions of craft, ancient and modern, offer wildly various explanations of its normative authority. The picture is complicated by the way in which craft-as-work is paradigmatic both for successful practical reason and for social roles or practical identities in general. But the most fundamental source of craft’s normativity is the one which Plato and Aristotle bring out: the fact that, when practised as a job or métier, practicing your craft can be a way to realize the human good. And so thinking about craft turns out to be a way of thinking about Utopia: a society in which a just distribution of work could secure both the flourishing of the worker and the common good.

Lecture by Rachel Barney with commentary by Alexander Nehamas and Christine Korsgaard