Aristotle on Wise and Dumb Labour

For men of experience know the fact but not the why of it; but men of art know the why of it or the cause. It is because of this that we regard also the master-artists of a given craft as more honorable, as possessing understanding to a higher degree, and as wiser than the manual workers, since the former know the causes of the things produced, but the latter are like certain inanimate things which act but do so without understanding that action, as in the case of fire which burns. Inanimate things bring about the effects of their actions by some nature, while manual workers do so through habit which results by practicing. Thus master-artists are considered wiser not in virtue of their ability to do something, but in virtue of having the theory and knowing the causes. 1

This is a classic statement of the hierarchical relation between thinking and unthinking dimensions of practice/labour. The habitual character of manual labour, which can proceed without a clear understanding of underlying causes, is contrasted to the superior, conceptually informed practice of the master-artist. In terms of this schema. the field of computational process can only appear as a secondary, utterly dumb and determined space of labour. But does this render it unimportant and secondary?

  1. Aristotle (1973) Metaphysics (trans. Apostle, H.), Bloomington Indiana, Indiana University Press
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