Techne (Greek: τέχνη, tékhnē, 'craft, art'; Ancient Greek: [tékʰnɛː], Modern Greek: [ˈtexni] (listen)) is a term in philosophy that refers to making or doing. As an activity, technē is concrete, variable, and context-dependent. The term resembles the concept of epistēmē in the implication of knowledge of principles, in that "both words are names for knowledge in the widest sense." However, the two are distinct.
As a system of knowledge
The term resembles the concept of epistēmē in the implication of knowledge of principles. Martin Heidegger maintains that the concept, for the Ancient Greeks, goes together with episteme, particularly citing Plato as using the two terms interchangeably. The idea is that technē and episteme simply mean knowing and "both words are names for knowledge in the widest sense." However, Aristotle distinguishes clearly between the two, and even Plato seems to draw a distinction between them in some of his dialogues.
As one observer has argued:
[Technē] was not concerned with the necessity and eternal a priori truths of the cosmos, nor with the a posteriori contingencies and exigencies of ethics and politics.… Moreover, this was a kind of knowledge associated with people who were bound to necessity. That is, technē was chiefly operative in the domestic sphere, in farming and slavery, and not in the free realm of the Greek polis.
Socrates also compliments technē only when it was used in the context of epistēmē, which sometimes means knowing how to do something in a craft-like way. The craft-like knowledge is called a technē. It is most useful when the knowledge is practically applied, rather than theoretically or aesthetically.
Aristotle saw technē as representative of the imperfection of human imitation of nature. For the ancient Greeks, it signified all the mechanic arts, including medicine and music. The English aphorism, "gentlemen don't work with their hands," is said to have originated in ancient Greece in relation to their cynical view on the arts. Due to this view, it was only fitted for the lower class while the upper class practiced the liberal arts of 'free' men (Dorter 1973).
For the ancient Greeks, when technē appears as art, it is most often viewed negatively; whereas when used as a craft, it is viewed positively because a craft is the practical application of an art, rather than art as an end in itself.
In his The Invention of Art, Larry Shiner argues that technē cannot be simply translated to art nor either simply to craft. This is because art and craft are socially constructed at a certain period in history.
In fact, technē and arts referred less to a class of objects than to the human ability to make and perform…the issue is not about the presence or absence of a word but about the interpretation of a body of evidence, and I believe there is massive evidence that the ancient Greeks and Romans had no category of fine art.
Techne is often used as a term to further define the process of rhetoric as an art of persuasion. In writing Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric, rhetoric scholar John Poulakos explains how the sophists believed rhetoric to be an art that aimed for terpis, or aesthetic pleasure, while maintaining a medium of logos.
For centuries, debate between sophists and followers of Plato has ensued over whether rhetoric can be considered a form of art based on the different definitions of technē. Contrasting from others, Isocrates saw rhetoric as an art—yet in the form of a set of rules, or a handbook. Some examples of handbooks are the Rhetoric of Aristotle, the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum, and the De Inventione of Cicero, all composed of rules to write effective speeches.
On the other hand, David Roochnik, in his Art and Wisdom: Plato's Understanding of Technē that Plato, views technē as "a stable body of reliable knowledge able to tell us, in fixed terms readily teachable to others, how we ought to live." He believes that moral knowledge is equivalent to a technē and that the meaning of the term technē must be fully grasped to understand the nature of moral knowledge.
In Gorgias, Plato wrote that rhetoric is not technē but a habit of a bold and ready wit. Plato continued saying rhetoric is not an art but an experience because it fails to explain the nature of its own application. He compared it to cookery and medicine saying cookery pretends to know what is best for the body because it is pleasurable while medicine knows what is for the best of the health of the human body. Medicine is technē for it seeks what is best for the health of a person unlike cookery which is only for pleasure and fools a person into believing it is better for their health.
Richard Parry (2003) writes that Aristotle believed technē aims for good and forms an end, which could be the activity itself or a product formed from the activity. Aristotle used health as an example of an end that is produced from the techne of medicine. To make a distinction between technē and arete, he said the value of technē is the end product while arete values choosing the action that promotes the best moral good.
Technē is also a part of communication, and affects how human cultures interact. When people speak to one another, they apply their knowledge of social interactions, verbal and nonverbal cues, and their shared language to the skill of speaking. It is both personal and social, everybody has their own personal technē around their speech based on learned experiences and personal tics, and very social in that communities all communicate amongst each other on the interpersonal and large scale.
In relation to communication, technē is based less on what a person says or thinks, but on what they do. The mechanical action of speaking is mostly unconscious, and most of the work takes place in the centers of the brain similar to how a pianist knows where his fingers should go even without looking. As Jonathan Sterne puts it, "Communication requires both language and technology – and both are forms of technē."
In relation to technology, the use of a cell phone or any other communicative device requires both an understanding of how the phone works and how social interactions are supposed to be handled on the telephone, but also requires that a person actively does it.
Techne and technik
Techne can also be compared to or distinguished from the German term technik, which refers both to the material composition of industry as well as to the rules, procedures, and skills used to achieve a particular end. The writing of Thorstein Veblen eventually linked this concept with technology, particularly in his evaluation of the works of Gustav Schmoller and Werner Sombart.
The concepts of technē (art) and technik (technology) is viewed to share a commonality—that both are ways in which beings as a whole may be brought to light. However, while technē maintains a relation to nature's capacity for self-disclosure, technik severs it through a regulatory attack that provokes nature to give up its latent power. According to Heidegger, technik—as opposed to technē—refuses "to let earth be an earth."
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