JASON STANLEY AND THE RECOVERY OF ARTISANAL KNOWLEDGE IN PLATO
University of Valladolid
The talk has two parts, epistemological and political. I will proceed in the “sympathetic hypothetical” mode. Rather than delve into the linguistics-oriented critical literature on Stanley’s intellectualist thesis on know-how (e.g., Poston 2015), I will instead strive for a charitable exposition of the neuroscientific elements of latest version of that thesis (as presented in his 2013 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience piece with John Krakauer) in order to elucidate the stakes of his work: if we assume his position withstands criticism, what then follows for both our epistemology and our politics?
First I show how Stanley critiques the mental knowledge / manual skill distinction by means of his deflationary sense of (not necessarily verbally articulable) propositional knowledge. Stanley and Krakauer claim non-conceptual “motor acuity” (reduction of variance in movement) is only one part of “motor skill.” Not necessarily verbally articulable propositional knowledge provides a scaffold for the exercise of such acuity, and it’s the combination of knowledge and non-conceptual acuity that constitutes motor skill. Conversely, non-conceptual forms of perceptual ability inhabit manifestations of perceptual knowledge, and it is even the case that prototypical intellectual work such as mathematics involves “neural computations equivalent to those underlying both perceptual and motor acuity.” There is thus a sort of “non-conceptual intellectual acuity” just as there is “factual knowledge in motor skill.” This criss-cross allows us rethink the distinction of mental knowledge and (merely) physical skill or knack. With Stanley’s help we can now see the distinction presupposes an underlying form with elements of both sides; we can call this “artisanal knowledge.”
Now the mental / manual distinction is not just an epistemological point, but also a political one: “Our society is divided into castes based upon a supposed division between theoretical knowledge and practical skill” (Stanley 2012). The philosophical justification of this political structure can be seen in Plato, to whose foundational status Stanley often refers: “Plato’s Republic is the wellspring from which all subsequent Western philosophy flows, and political philosophy is no exception” (Stanley and Weaver 2014).
So in the second part of the talk I show how the concept of “artisanal knowledge” illuminates a seemingly minor, though in fact key, passage in Plato’s Laws about how the childcare provided by slave nurses provides the emotional basis of moral and political education. Plato denigrates the choice by the slave nurses of the proper lullaby (and by extension other forms of morality-influencing childcare) as mere “guesswork.” So, there are political stakes to Stanley’s epistemological work: although denigrated by philosophers as mere knack, the entire moral / political system of Plato’s Laws rests upon the “artisanal knowledge” of these slave nurses, just as, we could argue, using developmental psychology, the emotional bases of our moral-political system rests upon contemporary childcare.
I will conclude the talk with some reflections on the role of political emotion in Stanley’s recent book, How Propaganda Works.