Techne is a term in philosophy which resembles epistēmē in the implication of knowledge of principles, although techne differs in that its intent is making or doing as opposed to disinterested understanding.
As an activity, techne is concrete, variable, and context-dependent. As one observer has argued, techne "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, techne was chiefly operative in the domestic sphere, in farming and slavery, and not in the free realm of the Greek polis
Aristotle saw it 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).
Socrates also compliments techne only when it was used in the context of epistēmē. Epistēmē sometimes means knowing how to do something in a craft-like way. The craft-like knowledge is called a technê. It is most useful when the knowledge is practically applied, rather than theoretically or aesthetically applied. For the ancient Greeks, when techne 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 The Republic, written by Plato, the knowledge of forms "is the indispensable basis for the philosophers' craft of ruling in the city" (Stanford 2003). Techne is often used in philosophical discourse to distinguish from art (or poiesis).
Usage in art history
“In fact, techne and ars 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.” (Shiner 2001 p. 19-20)
In his work The Invention of Art, Larry Shiner argues that techne cannot be simply translated to art nor either simply to craft. This being due to art and craft being socially constructed at a certain period in history.
Techne as an art in rhetoric
Techne is often used as a term to further define the process of rhetoric as an art of persuasion. In his writing Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric, rhetoric scholar Dr. 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 Plato has ensued over whether rhetoric can be considered a form of art based on the different definitions of techne. 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, it can be seen in David Roochnik’s book Of Art and Wisdom: Plato’s Understanding of Techne that Plato viewed techne as “a stable body of reliable knowledge able to tell us, in fixed terms readily teachable to others, how we ought to live.” He believed that moral knowledge is equivalent to a techne and that the meaning of the term techne must be fully grasped to understand the nature of moral knowledge.
In Gorgias, Plato wrote that rhetoric is not techne 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 techne 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 writes Aristotle believed techne 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 techne and arete he said the value of techne is the end product while arete values choosing the action that promotes the best moral good.
Communication as techne
Techne 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 techne 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, techne 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 (Shepard). As Jonathan Stern puts it, “Communication requires both language and technology – and both are forms of techne.” (Shepard) 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.
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