Professor and Acting Associate Chair, Classics and Philosophy
University of Toronto

The Craft of Virtue and the Virtues of Craft

Lecture I – The City of All Sciences
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House
with commentary 

Lecture II – Dreaming of Jiro
Thursday, April 25, 2024
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House
with commentary 

Seminar and Discussion with the Commentators
Friday, April 26, 2024
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m., Toll Room, Alumni House
with commentary by Adam Gopnik, Rachana Kamtekar, Christine Korsgaard and Alexander Nehamas

About Rachel Barney

Rachel Barney is Professor of both Classics and Philosophy. She was an undergraduate at University of Toronto, and returned after earning a PhD at Princeton and teaching at the University of Ottawa, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. Her research has ranged from the early sophists to the late Neoplatonic commentator Simplicius, but focuses on Plato. Her particular interest is in areas in which questions of ethics, psychology, epistemology, and philosophical method meet, as in Plato’s theory of the good.

About the Lectures

Does the ancient Greek concept of technê (craft, art, skill, expertise) illuminate modern crafts? More precisely: might ancient ethical theories which take technê as a model for human excellence (including those of Protagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics) have something interesting to say about our very different concept ‘craft’? Technê is successful specialized practical reason of any kind, including theoretically rich disciplines like medicine and hands-off ones like oratory; it is associated with modernity, the city, the division of labour, and economic progress. Craft today is associated with tradition and the past, and the handiwork of the solitary artisan. The ancient thinkers are mesmerized by the thought that it might be possible to achieve technê in the political realm: an ‘art of politics’ or expert rule. For at least some thinkers, this art of politics, as a perfectly general art of deliberation and decision-making, is also what would guide one to success in private life. Today we seem to have no faith in the possibility of either the political or the ethical technê, let alone the combination. And yet we do value ‘craft’ in some special and perhaps puzzling ways. We tend to think that the craftsperson has figured out something important about how to live, and also that there is something political about craft done well. Craft is still potentially an important locus for thinking about ethical and political norms, ones which reach far beyond the practice of craft itself. Why is that? Does the concept of technê still lurk behind that of craft? By bringing to bear ancient theories and arguments, can we articulate more clearly not only what the norms of craft itself are, but what they tell us about how best to live, both individually and politically?

Lecture I – The City of All Sciences

This first lecture will be primarily oriented to (i) a basic articulation of the questions and puzzles in the abstract; (ii) explication of the complex norms surrounding technê in sophistic thought, Plato’s early dialogues, and Republic I-II; (iii) some puzzles and problems about the normativity of craft so understood; and (iv) a preliminary sketch of some proposals about the relation of craft to deontological norms and its significance for role ethics.

Lecture II – Dreaming of Jiro

The second lecture will work through the ethical and political proposals articulated at the end of the first lecture with reference to the usually underarticulated values we attach in everyday life to various crafts today, ranging from sushi and craft beer to athletic excellence, tech expertise, and Japanese kogei. The relation of craft to technê will be reexplored, and the value of the latter concept as underlying the normativity of the former argued for. The rest of the lecture will focus on the political upshot: on the 20th-century eclipse of craft as a kind of trauma, the craftsperson as a sustainable moral paradigm and the political and economic implications of craft as a locus of value.

About the Commentators

Adom Gopnik

International Author, Staff Writer, New Yorker Magazine

Rachana Kamtekar

Professor, Sage School of Philosophy
Cornell University

Christine M. Korsgaard

Arthur Kingsley Porter Research Professor of Philosophy
Harvard University

Alexander Nehamas

Edmund N. Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities

Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature

Princeton University