"Good God! You never shut up about cobblers and fullers and cooks and doctors!" So Callicles charges Plato's Socrates with an excessive fascination with the technai in the Gorgias (491a). Callicles, certainly, has a point: Plato makes arguments from or about techne hundreds of times in the dialogues, while also portraying Socrates as a former demiurgos himself (Alc. 1.121a) who passes his time in the Agora--near important administrative buildings, to be sure, but also among bronze-workers and masons.
In my dissertation, I examine the philosophical importance of techne in Plato. In my first chapter, I develop a fresh interpretation of the concept in the classical period, drawing not just on literary evidence but economic and art history as well. Four aspects of techne stand out: first, it generally is associated with low-class, full-time occupations; second, it is closely related to teaching; third, practitioners of a given techne are specialized; and last, it is associated with rationality, which is exemplified by its association with step-wise protocols, writing, and mathematics.
In the second chapter, I carefully analyze Plato's vocabulary of expertise. The general idea is to look at his vocabulary as a structured whole and to see what techne is regularly correlated with (e.g., episteme) and contrasted with (e.g. parergon) in order to get at the meaning of these terms. My analysis of the terminology shows that a techne is a lifelong vocation which involves a good deal of knowledge and requires both committed practice and the right nature. Episteme, in contrast, can indicate the knowledge component of techne or can be assimilated to a more general kind of wisdom, which is associated with virtue.
In the third chapter, I analyze how this rich concept is deployed by Plato as a way to differentiate himself from his intellectual rivals. By developing philosophy and "true" politics on the model of techne, Plato can differentiate himself from the sophists, who promise quick fix intellectualism and plausibly are associated with irrational magic.
Episteme and Techne in the Platonic Dialogues:
I have been working on Plato's knowledge vocabulary, and especially the terms episteme and techne, in the course of my dissertation research. I am currently working on a paper revisiting John Lyons's work. I have also presented on the use of these terms in the Republic and Statesman. I have posted summaries of this work below.
Propaganda and Religious Innovation in the Republic:
In the course of researching the cult of Hephaistos for my dissertation, I noticed Plato refers to newer Athenian cults (e.g., Bendis, Basile, etc.) more often than most Greek authors. I have an article under review exploring how Plato's interest in the religious innovations of the Athenian democracy, signalled particularly by his mention of Bendis at the beginning of the Republic, should impact our understanding of his own politically motivated mythmaking. A summary is posted below ("The Noble Lie Revisited").
Techne in the Oracular Lamellae from Dodona
Thousands of tablets have been recovered from Dodona which report the questions asked of the oracle (see below for one example). Many of the questions are about the author's techne, and whether he will be (financially) successful by pursuing it. Often, the question is about a patroia techne (i.e., an ancestral trade). I analyze these tablets to show that they bring out different aspects of techne than the literary sources do. In particular, they emphasize the financial component of these trades, as well as the connections these trades have with one's kin and social identity.
The Second Antinomy in the Parmenides:
I suggest an interpretation of the second antinomy in the Parmenides, wherein we distinguish two kinds of participation in a Form. Summary will be posted below.
(Above) An Oracular Lamella (DVC 2421): This one asks if the author, struggling with his debts, should give up his techne and become a butcher!