Body and Mind Seminar Fall 2020 with Dr. Tom Angier, University of Cape Town | Aristotle on Mind/Body, Male/Female, Master/Slave: The Relevance of Technē

Written by Alba Curry

The Center for Hellenic Studies would like to extend their greatest thanks and appreciation to all of those who participated in the first meeting of the Body and Mind Seminar. We would also like to thank Dr. Tom Angier for his talk on the relevance of Aristotle’s conception of technē as an explanation for three key hierarchical relations, namely those between mind/body, male/female, and master/slave. He argues that for Aristotle the technē or a craft analogy offers a fundamental paradigm by which the three hierarchical relations aforementioned can be explained. In other words, Aristotle’s attachment to how things work in the crafts or technai are not merely helpful analogies, but rather have explanatory force, thus illuminating the pervasive hierarchism found in Aristotle without having to resort to claiming that it is simply a brute fact of his thinking or a cultural prejudice. In doing so, Angier highlights the systematic importance of craft analogies in Aristotle’s work. It is because–or at least partly because–Aristotle sees said relations in terms of the crafts that he conceives of them in hierarchical terms to begin with.

The three relevant key characteristics about technē are: firstly, they are aimed at some good or goods in the sense of some desirable end-to-be-achieved. Secondly, they are primarily about making, poiēsis, and therefore technē requires the mastery of various materials which stand in need of marshalling, arranging, and putting together. Technē essentially involves coming to grips with, or mastering, a given array of materials (albeit abstract materials). In other words, the materials are subject to the craftsman. Lastly, technē requires reason, logos, which is limited to rational animals (viz. humans). Their grasp of their materials is a rational grasp, which sets them above the relatively haphazard activity of the artless. (Although, the more facility the craftsman shows, the less active deliberation will be necessary.) Part of what it means to be a craftsman is to be able to explain what he is doing.

These three key characteristics explain the hierarchy of mind over body, male over female, and master over slave. In the case of the mind/body relation, the human soul for Aristotle is most fundamentally rational. It is this that enables the mind (which is a complicated term when it comes to Aristotle) to have control over the body and its impulses and desires, and which allows it to achieve the goods peculiar to it. The parallelism between technē and the mind/body relation is then found in how the human soul masters the body. Of course, Aristotle distinguishes between rational and non-rational aspects of the soul, and a parallelism is also found here in how the master craftsman rules over and directs menial craftsmen just like the rational part of the soul rules over the non-rational. In the case of the master/slave relationship, Aristotle’s official position is that slaves are those who can apprehend reason but not have it themselves, and it is this that makes them an instrument of the technai. Lastly, the paradigm of the craft explains the male/female relation in a similar way to the two previous paradigms except that Aristotle does not believe women to be completely without a rational capacity: women have a rational capacity but without authority (Pol. I.13). They are therefore not quite like the body or the slave, but they are not able to be masters. The male/female relation is therefore explained more specifically through the master/menial craftsman analogy.

During the discussion following Dr. Angier’s presentation, some of the questions raised by the audience related to whether the technē of weaving and/or household management posed a problem to this reading of Aristotle since they seem to be crafts performed by women, and whether Aristotle ever uses weaving as a metaphor for statecraft in the way that Plato does, thus highlighting its importance. Another question regarded the apparent contradictory views that Aristotle holds towards slaves and how that may be reconciled with the craft paradigm.

Some suggestions for further readings are:

Angier, Tom. 2010. Techne in Aristotle’s Ethics. Bloomsbury.

Deslauriers, Marguerite. 2003. “Aristotle on the Virtues of Slaves and Women.” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Volume XXV. 213-231.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Professor Lisa Raphals from the University of California, Riverside for her work as organizer of this semester’s Body and Mind Seminar Series. Questions of how our bodies relate to our minds and spirits are of central importance to several disciplines and are becoming an important focus of study in several areas of Classics. This fall semester seminar investigates current research and methodologies in conceptualizing perspectives on the body and its relation to mind, soul or spirit in the ancient Mediterranean. Topics include perspectives from anthropology, the history of sport, epic, gender medicine, the study of language and metaphor, philosophical debates, and practices of cult and sacrifice. Any interested researchers should write to for more details about the series schedule.