The Craftsman Chapter 3


  • 19th century engineering: a movement from hands-on knowledge to the dominant authority of explicit knowledge
  • The workshop seemed increasingly merely the means to establishing another institution: the workshop as a way station to the factory
  • Machine culture
  • The craftsman… appeared ever less a mediator and ever more an enemy of the machine
  • These cultural and social changes remain with us. Culturally we are still struggling to understand our limits positively, in comparison to the mechanical; socially we are still struggling with anti-technologism; craftwork remains the focus of both.

The Mirror Tool: Replicants and Robots

  • Two types of mirror tools: replicants and robots

The Enlightened Craftsman: Diderot’s Encyclopedia

  • The energy for Enlightenment lay in (that) man could take greater control over his material circumstances.
  • Immanuel Kant, who wrote in the September 30 issue of the Berlinische Monatsschrift of 1784: ‘‘Enlightenment is mankind’s exit from its selfincurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. Self-incurred is this inability, if its cause lies not in the lack of understanding but rather in the lack of resolution and the courage to use it without the guidance of another. Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment.’’ The emphasis here is on the act of reasoning. Freedom in reasoning improves the mind by casting off childish certainties.
  • Encyclopedia by Diderot from Paris: sought to get its readers out of themselves and into the lives of artisan craftsmen in order, next, to clarify good work itself.
    • Sympathy rather than pity
  • The replicant (machine) teaches nothing about salutary failure, but the robot … can. The replicant may stimulate reasoning about ourselves, about our own internal machinery. The more powerful, tireless robot may set the standard against which all human being fail.
  • Diderot’s Encyclopedia plunged into this matter by acknowledging from the outset the most basic of human limits, those of language to encompass the workings of the human body, especially the craftsman’s body at work. Neither the worker nor the analyst of labor can really explain what’s happening. Engaging in the process of craft labor to inform himself, Diderot discovered a further limit, that of talent; he could not understand intellectually work he could not do well practically.
    He had entered the robot’s dangerous lair, in which the machine’s ‘‘talents’’ provide a model of perfection against which human beings measure their own inadequacy.
  • Only a generation after the Encyclopedia appeared, Adam Smith had concluded that machines would indeed end the project of enlightenment, declaring in The Wealth of Nations that in a factory ‘‘the man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations . . . generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.’’ Diderot’s circle reached for another conclusion, which I would formulate as follows:
  • The enlightened way to use a machine is to judge its powers, fashion its uses, in light of our own limits rather than the machine’s potential. We should not compete against the machine. A machine, like any model, ought to propose rather than command, and humankind should certainly walk away from command to imitate perfection. Against the claim of perfection we can assert our own individuality, which gives distinctive character to the work we do.

The Romantic Craftsman: John Ruskin Battles the Modern World

  • Craft workers have fought technological change on three fronts: the employers, the unskilled labourers who took their jobs, and the machines. The American Federation of Labour (AFL) became an emblematic union in this regard… On the third front they did not fight well against the machine. The unions under the AFL umbrella failed to invest in alternative strategies of mechanical design; the craftsmen did not sponsor research… Mechanical change came to the labour rather than from within the labour movement… Technological advance comes in this way to seem inseparable from domination by others. 
  • A ‘‘flamboyant’’ worker, exuberant and excited, is willing to risk losing control over his or her work: machines break down when they lose control, whereas people make discoveries, stumble on happy accidents. The surrender of control, at least temporarily, now gives Ruskin a recipe for good craftsmanship and how it should be taught. In The Stones of Venice Ruskin invents this figure of a draftsman who has temporarily lost control of his work:
    • You can teach a man to draw a straight line; to strike a curved line, and to carve it . . . with admirable speed and precision; and you will find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you
      have made a man of him for all that, he was only a machine before, an animated tool.
  • Ruskin’s draftsman will recover, and his technique will be the better for the crisis he has passed through. Whether like the stonemason one leaves in the nicks and mistakes or whether like the draftsman one recovers the ability to make exact, straight lines, the craftsman is now become self-conscious. His is not the path of effortless mastery; he has had troubles, and he has learned from them. The modern craftsman should model himself or herself on this troubled draftsman rather than on Count Dunin’s Man of Steel.