02 March 2005

Craftsmanship and the Craftsman

One point in Andrea Falcon's review of Johansen merits separate attention.

Here's the problem. Johansen points out that Aristotle follows Plato in holding that, properly speaking, when Jones, a physician, heals a patient, then it is Jones' medical skill, and not Jones, which is responsible for the healing. We may express this using reduplication: Jones qua physician heals the patient, not Jones qua Jones.

May we conclude from this that an appeal to the individual craftsman is always irrelevant in explaining the product of a craft? Falcon apparently thinks 'yes' and agrees with Johansen in applying the point to the Demiurge:

The divine craftsman is no exception to the rule. The divine craftsman is the manifestation of the relevant craftsmanship rather than an individual person with particular beliefs, desires and intentions. The salient point is this: "whilst this reading does not make the craftsman redundant, it does make questions about the individual craftsman's motivations extraneous to cosmology" (85).

But some considerations against this:

1. It seems obviously false. Explain Plato's philosophy without appeal to Plato's individual realization of that craft? Explain the statue of Zeus without appeal to Phideas' particular craft? The statue perhaps is to be explained by the craft, but (it would seem) this particular statue by this craft. (One would think that even mathematical proofs would be regarded as achievements of particular individuals, with a distinctive style: cf. Netz.)

2. Aristotle seems to hold that medical skill in the physician is formally the same as health in the patient, and yet he insists that a physician aims not at health generally, but at the health of this particular patient (1097a11-14): so wouldn't the relevant explanans of a particular healing, then, be that particular application of medical skill? But, if so, why shouldn't we take the physician's "beliefs, desires, and intentions" to be relevant, as much as the constitution, condition, and anomalies of the patient's body?

(I'll check the text later, but doesn't Aristotle say in Physics II that 'this statue' needs to be explained by appeal to 'this sculptor'? --But does 'this' mean not simply 'form plus matter' but also the particular or individual case?)

(Also: it seems a fudge to say the individual's motivations are extraneous. Of course the 'end' is given already by whatever project he or she is up to.)

4 comments:

sean kelsey said...

"May we conclude from this that an appeal to the individual craftsman is always irrelevant in explaining the product of a craft?"

Two comments/questions:

1. Does it depend on the question the putative explanation is supposed to answer? We can ask "by what was it made," and answer "a sculptor," and again "by which (whom)" and answer "that one" or "Polyclitus." But is it the business of the student of nature to ask questions of the second type?

2. What wd. it be to ask after the causes of this sculpture qua "this one"? In the case of the efficient or material cause one can see it: it is to ask by or from which thing (as opposed to: what sort of a thing) it was made. But how about in the case of formal or final cause?

Wes DeMarco said...

Lots going on here. What grabs me first is an implication about style.
There seems to be a difference between the Netz and Phideas cases. Grant, for the sake of argument, that the source of production is a vector (the craft-in-the-person, or the person *qua* maker; either the Platonish or the Aristotelian emphasis, as you please). Either way, the ontology of the situation of production requires a support for the reference to style. In the mathematics case, the style more plausibly has its source in the particularity of the person; that is the element added to some purported 'universal' formal content. In the sculpting case, at least, we have not only to account for individual style, but generic 'style' as a received content that is troped by individual style. That is, we need to refer both to Phideas' personal style and to the Greek classical style; we need to refer to Henry Moore's personal style(s) and to the modernist abstract style. What is the ontological support for this second sense of style, a generic style shared by a number of creative individuals?
The more Aristotelian alternative is to regard it as an abstraction that needs only the support of the individual being *qua* producer. The more Platonish alternative is to posit an eidos for the style itself. (Think of so-called Platonism in philosophy of language: we can, with Katz, posit an eternal form of 'English' as well as a form of language separate from and not subject to human psychological limitations.)
The more Aristotelian alternative is unsatisfying because it does not recognize the relative independence of the 'style' and the producer's dependence on it. We can say it is embedded in a tradition, but then the question becomes the ontology of 'traditions', and whether one can be an Aristotelian and a holist about those. It is implausible on the other hand to posit an arbitrary number of styles pre-existing in the 'noetic place,' each differing from the other in infinitesimally small degrees. That more Platonic option also does violence to our experience of creativity. It depicts creative agents as human fax machines, transmitting some eternal form into a sensuous medium.
Suppose, instead, actuality is shrouded by possibilities, every existence mantled as if by a cloud of virtuality. Suppose further that we can discern in this blanket of possibilities several degrees of generality. Then we could say that possibility depends on actuality in certain respects and actuality depends on possibility in certain respects. Actuality precedes possibility in some ways, and possibility precedes actuality. The key advantage of this view is that the possibilities that precede actuality need not be fully determinate. If there are layers of increasingly indeterminate possibility (I argue elsewhere that there are), we have a natural account of creativity and style. Human makers who innovate radically and introduce a style or found a tradition reach further out into the layers of (increasingly indeterminate) possibility than those who work within a pre-existing tradition of style.
Neither sort of creative producer is a human fax machine merely transmitting determinate forms, and neither is creating something from nothing. My argument is that since we should avoid both these extremes, we should acknowledge real indeterminate possibility; since we observe degrees and kinds of creativity (for instance, producers who work within a style and those who generate a new style), we should acknowledge degrees and kinds of possibility that provide the ontological underwriting for this observation.
I have argued that we can distinguish between at least four grades of possibility: independent indeterminate, and dependent indeterminate possibilitiy, determinables and possibilities that are ingredient in actuality and maximally determinate. These are the ontological supports for style and the degrees of creativity (variations of someone else's work, having an original voice within a stylistic tradition, being a stylistic innovator, introducing new materials, founding a new medium).
Is this appeal to a series of possibles a more Platonic or a more Aristotelian option? Presumably the answer depends on whether there really is a grade of possibility that is independent of actuality, as stipulated in passing above. We might look to the mathematical side for pertinent considerations. But the arts suggest it as well, at least if some artworks embody truths as universal as those of the formal sciences. Both provide evidence for more and less general truths. And grades of generality and grades of possibility come hand-in-hand.
If this approach is true, then the individual craftsman is not irrelevant, nor is the skill, nor the style, nor the genre, nor the materials, nor the medium. Each has its contribution; each has its support. Production is in any event a matter of transformative involvements. Creativity is neither the transmission of a pre-existing determinate possibility, nor the making of actuality-and-possibility out of whole cloth. It is making the indeterminate to be determinable and the determinable to be determinate. Plato and Aristotle each emphasize one side of this chain of transformative mediations that makes creative production possible.
(Okay, that's stated dogmatically, but this is in near telegraphic shorthand. That do anything for anybody?)

Anonymous said...

It seems that the individual artist is simply an agent cause unless his art that involves beauty. There is one simplest software code, way to treat a disease, solve an equation, etc. Thus, if one discovers that best way, their discovery is merely historical.

With subjective arts the artist participates in the final cause, as well. A sign of this is that many styles cannot be imitated by others.

-Eric Maurer

Thomas Johansen said...

Pakaluk wrote:

”Here's the problem. Johansen points out that Aristotle follows Plato in holding that, properly speaking, when Jones, a physician, heals a patient, then it is Jones' medical skill, and not Jones, which is responsible for the healing. We may express this using reduplication: Jones qua physician heals the patient, not Jones qua Jones.
May we conclude from this that an appeal to the individual craftsman is always irrelevant in explaining the product of a craft? Falcon apparently thinks 'yes' and agrees with Johansen in applying the point to the Demiurge:

The divine craftsman is no exception to the rule. The divine craftsman is the manifestation of the relevant craftsmanship rather than an individual person with particular beliefs, desires and intentions. The salient point is this: "whilst this reading does not make the craftsman redundant, it does make questions about the individual craftsman's motivations extraneous to cosmology (85).”

I reply:

I fear that the summary of my argument in Falcon’s review may not have been sufficient to rule out misunderstanding. I do not claim or imply in the book that that ‘an appeal to the individual craftsman is always irrelevant in explaining the product of a craft’ (my italics). It is quite clear from texts such as Physics II.3 (which I refer to, p.84) that Aristotle wishes to correlate particular causes with particular effects. So, Aristotle says, ‘we should look for kinds of cause for kinds of thing, and particular causes for particular things’ (195b25-27, Charlton transl.). However, II.3 suggests that there is also a way in which we may talk of the craftsman qua craftsman. Moreover, I cite Aristotle at 195b21-25 to the effect that craftsmanship is the akrotaton, ‘most precise’ (Ross) or ‘top-most’ (Charlton) specification of the cause. It is this Aristotelian way of talking about the cause as the craftsman qua craftsman, or the craftsman ‘with respect to craftsmanship’ (kata tên oikodomikên), that I pick up on in my book at pp. 83-86. That is to say, the point from Aristotle that I am applying to the Timaeus is that there is a way - also a way - of talking about the cause as a craftsman by virtue of the properties that he shares with other practitioners of his craft, insofar as they are practitioners of that craft. The reason for picking up on this way of talking (rather than the other) was that I wanted to highlight some advantages in the interpretation of the Timaeus of talking about the divine craftsman not as a particular individual but simply as a craftsman, or as I also put it, as the manifestation of the craft. One advantage (p.83) was that it would be easier to see why, and how, Timaeus would think that we might be able to retrace the creative steps of the demiurge, if we considered the demiurge insofar as he was following the craft. Another advantage, I suggested, was that focusing on the cause as the craftsman as such gave us a way to negotiate certain difficulties concerning the peculiar circumstances of the creation (such as the particular time of the creation or the particular motivations of the creator), questions which naturally arise when we focus on the craftsman qua individual. None of this is to deny that the divine craftsman is an individual. Nor is it to deny that there are cases in Aristotle or more generally where it is explanatory to refer to the craftsman qua individual (indeed I rather rely on the existence of these as the contrast cases for those cases where it is pertinent to refer to the craftsman qua craftsman.)

So the specific suggestion I advanced is that, as far as Timaeus’ cosmology is concerned (no more), it is the demiurge qua craftsman rather than qua individual that does the explanatory work. Going beyond what I did in the book, one may of course want to query this claim as a reading of the Timaeus. For example, one may point to the way in which Timaeus repeatedly refers to the demiurge’s work as ‘this’ (hode) cosmos (e.g. 29d3, b2). Surely, one might object, an individual product requires us to focus on an individual cause. Again, however, the question is whether Timaeus wants to explain this cosmos in its individuality or rather as an instance of a type. I think the evidence points to the second option. Here is one way of approaching the issue. Timaeus’ primary aim is to produce the most likely account (eikôs logos) of the cosmos. The most likely account is the one that best shows the cosmos as an eikôn of an intelligible paradigm, the same paradigm that the divine craftsman looked to when he fashioned the cosmos. The equivalent in the case of a house would be explaining the house by showing how the house has reproduced the architect’s design, that is, showing the properties that the house has insofar as it is a copy of the design. Since, in the case of the cosmos, the design is an eternal formal paradigm we know that it is not a paradigm that has been designed specifically to this project, to the production of this world rather than another. It is the same paradigm that any good craftsman engaged in world-making would look at. So far then we are, when doing cosmology, looking at the cosmos as an eikôn insofar as it has those features that the forms have and these are features that any cosmos would have insofar as it was an eikôn of the forms. However, this is not the whole picture, for there could, given the same paradigm, be made many different kinds of likeness. So the likely account must also, in order to show the cosmos as a likeness, show the peculiar way in which the demiurge chose to follow the design. This point highlights that there are important ways in which the divine craftsman cannot simply read off how to make the cosmos from the paradigm. He has to engage rather in practical reasoning of the sort that is illustrated by the example of the working out of the human skull (75a-c: ideally you’d make humans with a thick skull and high sensitivity, but both aren’t possible so you need to choose one option). Like other craftsmen, god’s craftsmanship is subject to the constraints of his materials, a factor referred to by Timaeus as ‘necessity’. However, these constraints are again general ones arising from the general nature of the simple bodies and their compounds and are of the sort that any craftsman would encounter given any cosmological enterprise. The demiurge was not in the position of Ingmar Bergman, who according to an anecdote explained why his actors were all in red by saying that these were the only materials available on set. Moreover, his solutions are ones that it would be right for any craftsmen to adopt (e.g. make the skull thin to increase sensitivity since sensitivity is better than longevity). There is much more to be said on this subject-matter and I’d be interested to pursue it. However, I see no grounds, as yet, to think that Timaeus’ explanatory project requires us to see this cosmos as more than an instance of a type of cosmos that any good craftsman would bring about, given the eternal paradigm and the general materials available for world-making.