Aristotle, MacIntyre and craft

 It may not at first be obvious what the link is here. And you may well be thinking ‘Mac who’?

In fact, Aristotle made strong links between virtue and craft. This is perhaps not surprising when we consider that the 'Father of Ethics' defined virtue as ‘having excellent and well chosen habits.’ Not an abstract notion, but habits we should practice everyday. On this basis, the wood turner who strives for excellence and beauty in his pieces, is adding intrinsic virtue to his life by simply practicing craftsmanship. 

Aristotle had a very healthy appreciation of craft and more specifically, craftsmanship and he was not the only philosopher to make links between craft and virtue. It is rather fascinating to uncover that the deep satisfaction that comes from making things is an integral part of human intelligence and endeavour.   

Aristotle said that ‘a craft product, when well designed and produced by a good craftsman, is not merely useful, but also has such elements as balance, proportion and harmony.’ 

Aristotle was pretty big on having a purpose in life, and thus acting according to your nature.  The ‘common sense philosopher’ insists that the craftsmanship, not the craftsman, is what matters, so that it is not the wood turner who produces the spindle, but the craft of wood turning within him. 

If this seems a bit opaque, consider instead the concept of 'practices', as defined by one of Aristotle’s modern day followers, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. ‘...Moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade or art... it is through these everyday social practices that people develop the virtues necessary to flourish.’ 

Practicing a craft usually involves using hands and tools to create something useful. And, typically, the Ancient Greeks had a specific word for this. ‘Techne’ (pron. tek-nay) can be translated as craftsmanship; it implies knowledge, experience and applied skill. It is doing what is necessary.

What all of this trying to say is that craft is good for us. It feels good, looks good, and according to these Greats, just the very practice of it is good. The problem is, most of us don’t know how to do it anymore. We often don’t even know where to start. And this is precisely where the abundance of creative courses across the UK comes in handy...!

Understanding how something is made, why it’s made that way, is more vital to modern life than ever. Craft is a language of material, provenance and making. It is learning the value of things.”  Teleri Lloyd-Jones, Assistant Editor of Crafts Magazine, quoted from a British Museum article in 2011.

"In doing and making and repairing - and making do - there is a tremendous pleasure." Kevin McCloud, inspired by the handmade moose-skin clothing and shoes in Escape to the Wild, Channel 4, 2015.