Of Art and Wisdom

Of Art and Wisdom : Plato's Understanding of Techne

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A comprehensive discussion of Plato's treatment of techne (technical knowledge), which shows that the final goal of Platonic philosophy is nontechnical wisdom. The Greek word "techne," typically translated as "art," but also as "craft," "skill," "expertise," "technical knowledge," and even "science," has been decisive in shaping our "technological" culture. Here David Roochnik comprehensively analyzes Plato's treatment of this crucial word. Roochnik maintains that Plato's understanding of both the goodness of techne, as well as its severe limitations and consequent need to be supplemented by "nontechnical" wisdom, can speak directly to our own concerns about the troubling impact technology has had on contemporary life.

For most commentators, techne functions as a positive, theoretical model through which Plato attempts to articulate the nature of moral knowledge. Scholars such as Terence Irwin and Martha Nussbaum argue that Plato's version of moral knowledge is structurally similar to techne. In arguing thus, they attribute to Plato what Nietzsche called "theoretical optimism," the view that technical knowledge can become an efficient panacea for the dilemmas and painful contingencies of human life. Conventional wisdom has it, in short, that for Plato technical, moral knowledge can solve life's problems.

By systematically analyzing Socrates' analogical arguments, Roochnik shows the weakness of the conventional view. The basic pattern of these arguments is this: if moral knowledge is analogous to techne, then insurmountable difficulties arise, and moral knowledge becomes impossible. Since moral knowledge is not impossible, it cannot be analogous to techne. In other words, the purpose of Socrates' analogical arguments is to reveal the limitations of techne as a model for the wisdom Socrates so ardently seeks. For all the reasons Plato is so careful to present in his dialogues, wisdom cannot be rendered technical; it cannot become techne. Thus, Roochnik concludes, Plato wrote dialogues instead of technical treatises, as they are the appropriate vehicle for his expression of nontechnical wisdom.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 312 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 18mm | 426g
  • Pennsylvania, United States
  • English
  • 0271032731
  • 9780271032733
  • 2,352,952

Review quote

"Roochnik has written the most thorough book yet about the techne analogy as the model for knowledge in Greek thinking. He forces a reconfiguration and rethinking of the entire debate about the place of the techne analogy in Plato's thought. This is an important, provocative book."

-Drew Hyland, Trinity College "Many scholars have long suspected that Plato never sought a techne of virtue, but no one prior to Roochnik has done the hard work necessary to overcome the weight of orthodox opinion on this matter. Roochnik shows that we who live in an age enamored of things technical have much to learn from the ancient Greeks about techne itself. His important book provides us with a timely occasion to rethink what we know and the ways in which we know it."

-Jacob A. Howland, University of Tulsa
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About David Roochnik

David Roochnik is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. He is the author of The Tragedy of Reason: Toward a Platonic Conception of Logos (1991).
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Rating details

5 ratings
3.4 out of 5 stars
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4 40% (2)
3 20% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 20% (1)
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