Der Begriff τέχνη bei Plato, by Friedrich Bernhard Jeffré
The CHS is pleased to announce the first ever publication of Friedrich Bernhard Jeffré’s 1920 dissertation Der Begriff τέχνη bei Plato. This text offers an in-depth and enlightening analysis of the concept of τέχνη in Plato.
Jeffré’s thesis was approved for publication but only two pages were published in 1922. This text is an edited combination of two handwritten manuscripts: one held at the Berlin State Library and a later copy held at the Kiel University Library. Both manuscripts are written by the same hand.
As Marco Romani Mistretta, the editor of the text, writes in the foreword of the work:
“The interest of Jeffré’s doctoral dissertation lies not only in the thorough analysis it offers of the role played by τέχνη in all aspects of Plato’s thought, but also in the glimpse it allows us into the crisis of the Altertumswissenschaft during the tough years of the Weimar Republic. Only a few years after supervising Jeffré’s work, Jaeger began to unfold his ambitious project, later called the Third Humanism, in the hope of regenerating the German Bildungstradition through the Platonic ideal of intellectual and personal education. The anxiety of the search for a unifying, objective principle on which a coherent set of ethical and political values can be based emerges in Jeffré’s assessment of Plato’s epistemological distinction between non-technical (i.e. empirical, non-scientific) and technical (i.e. legitimately scientific) ways of reasoning.
Following the model of Hippocratic medicine, Plato’s τέχνη requires a deep understanding of the nature of the object it examines, of the causes of the phenomena it observes, and of the method or procedures it applies. Since each aspect of human knowledge and action is subject to the rules of τέχνη, which is considered as being superior to law itself, it follows that both ethics and politics are technical disciplines, i.e. productive science, in the Platonic sense. In both the ethical and the political domain, as Jeffré argues, the Platonic τεχνικός strives to achieve the goal of an organic, harmonic totality which is identified with the good. Given that only the true φιλόσοφος is knowledgeable of the good, and thus master of the political τέχνη, Plato sees the philosopher’s rule as the best form of government. Thus τέχνη itself is shown by Jeffré to be the foundation of Plato’s all-encompassing παιδεία, which was soon to constitute the core of Jaeger’s philosophical and scientific reflection. Jaeger himself, mentioning Jeffré’s work in the chapter dedicated to the Gorgias, examines Plato’s τέχνη as the concept is developed in the Socratic dialogues, and defines it as the touchstone model for Socrates’ pursuit of science: it implies an effort towards scientific exactness, which ultimately has a concrete aim, that is the practice of a science of government.”
Friedrich Bernhard Jeffré pursued his studies of philosophy and the ancient world in Münster, Berlin and Kiel. Jeffré received his Doctorate with a dissertation on the concept of τέχνη in Plato from the Hohe philosophische Fakultät of the University of Kiel. In succeeding years, he worked as a middle school teacher at the Realschule in Hückeswagen (North Rhine-Westphalia), teaching Latin, English, French, and German, although his career was interrupted by events in World War II.