Thinking with Your Hands: Part II

What does Nicholas Wolterstorff make of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (Yale University Press, 2008)?

About half-way through the review, Wolterstorff critiques Sennett’s advocacy of animal laborans’ (i.e., the laboring human being, who asks How?) ability to function separate from homo faber (i.e., the human being who asks Why? and assumes the role of guide/critic to animal laborans) or at least a conversation in community regarding the ethics of particular crafts.   In particular, Wolterstorff uses Sennett’s treatment of Robert Oppenheimer’s craftsmanship of the atomic bomb  to question whether the worker focused on producing excellent goods for their own sake will ask the question whether the good/product should be created/manufactured at all.  Wolterstorff wraps up by asserting that Sennett’s pragmatism lacks the strength to properly support his incomplete definition of craftsmanship, which finds difficulty in extending into more expansive areas such as proper/good goverance (a significant concern of Hannah Arendt, whose put down of  animal laborans served as a motivation for book):

I applaud Sennett for his insistence that we cannot understand the craftsman if we think in purely instrumental terms; the craftsman is dedicated to good work for it’s own sake.  But Sennett does not explain and articulate this core idea of good work done for its own sake, nor does he say much about the point of such work.  Doing either of these would require setting his account of craftsmanship within the context of some account of the good and some account of human flourishing.  Sennett sees the need the need or desirability of a larger philosophical framework for his discussion of craftsmanship; at the end of his discussion he introduces American pragmatism for this pupose.  American pragmatism is laudable in its opposition to the dichotomy between thinking and doing what Sennett wants to undermine; but one looks in vain to the pragmatists for an account of why it is a good thing that we should do good work for its own sake.

Any thoughts from the science and the writing labs regarding craftsmanship?  How about from philosophers, ethicists, and theologians regarding homo faber and whether animal laborans can have enough homo faber instilled (through human nature, training and guilds/associations) to always be about beneficial craft?

Coming. … Thoughts from interviews of Richard Sennett posted on Yale University Press’ site for The Craftsman.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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2 Comments

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on March 20, 2009 Reply

    Despite the stereotyping of scientists and the juvenile humor of Vonnegut, everyone in a technology field should read _Cat’s Cradle_, the story of the scientist who creates “ice-nine”, loosely based on the story of the atomic bomb. It asks haunting questions. And it relates to the present debate about cloning and stem cell research. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can never be put in again.

    In my paper, Obama’s switch to federal funding to create new stem cell lines was reported as a victory of “science” over “politics”. In other words, some scientists wanted to do X, and therefore anyone who says X might be immoral, is being “political” not “scientific”, and therefore clearly wrong.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on March 20, 2009 Reply

    P.S. I should mention that the real story of the atomic bomb is one of highly dedicated people working for what they felt was a good tool to help the good guys defeat evil. They were not just being craftsmen making something for the fun of it. But Vonnegut has a point anyway.

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