Techne (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A woman delivers a speech with a microphone
Rhetoric is a "techne" in the sense of being a craft or skill (Photo: Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images).

In philosophy and classical rhetoric, techne is a true art, craft, or discipline. The plural form is technai. It's often translated as "craft" or "art" in the sense of being a learned skill that is then applied or activated in some way.

Definition and Context

Techne, says Stephen Halliwell, was "the standard Greek word both for a practical skill and for the systematic knowledge or experience which underlies it" (Aristotle's Poetics, 1998). It differs from a similar concept, episteme, in that it is concerned with applied expertise (making or doing something) as opposed to passive understanding or musing.

Unlike Plato, Aristotle regarded rhetoric as a techne: not only a skill for communicating effectively but a coherent system for analyzing and classifying speeches.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Greek, "art" or "craftsmanship." The English words technical and technology are cognates of the Greek word techne.

Pronunciation: TEK-nay

Alternate Spellings: techné

Examples and Observations

  • "[R]hetoric is techne in the fullest sense: the activity it performs is not only cognitive but also transformative and practical as well. It does not limit itself to conveying neutral, sterilized facts (that would be docere), but its aim is to carry away the audience; to produce an effect on them; to mold them; to leave them different as a result of its impact."
    (Renato Barilli, Rhetoric. Trans. by Giuliana Menozzi. University of Minnesota Press, 1989)
  • "In fact, techne and ars referred less to a class of objects than to the human ability to make and perform ... the issue is not about the presence or absence of a word but about the interpretation of a body of evidence, and I believe there is massive evidence that the ancient Greeks and Romans had no category of fine art." (Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art. University of Chicago Press, 2001)
  • Logon Techne as "Argument Skills"
    "That both Plato and Aristotle use the expression logon techne as an equivalent to rhetorike to refer to the 'art of speech' has led scholars such as W.K.C. Guthrie to project the same usage back to the fifth century [BC]: 'The rhetorical art was also known [among the Sophists] as "the art of the logoi"' (1971, 177). However, the expression logon techne appears very rarely in the fifth century, and when it does, it has a broader meaning than Rhetoric. . . . The sophistic tract Dissoi Logoi or Dialexeis (hereafter Dialexeis) explicitly refers to logon techne, but in that context the skill is described as distinct from the abilities 'to plead one's court-cases correctly' and 'to make popular speeches.' Thomas M. Robinson aptly translates logon techne in this passage as 'argument-skills.' Accordingly, if logon techne in Dialexeis is the art that is the object of Plato's critique, it is clearly much broader than what would later be defined as Rhetoric."
    (Edward Schiappa, The Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory in Classical Greece. Yale University Press, 1999)
  • Plato's Phaedrus
    "[I]n the Phaedrus, Plato suggests that the ability to adapt arguments to various types of people is central to a true art or techne of rhetoric. The speaker 'must discover the kind of speech that matches each type of nature.'"
    (James A. Herrick, The History and Theory of Rhetoric, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2005)
  • Aristotle's Rhetoric
    - "The Rhetoric is the earliest extant example of a complete techne, or art, of rhetoric. Aristotle's major contribution to rhetoric was his systematic and thorough treatment of invention--the art of finding the available arguments in a given case. . . . While Aristotle may have borrowed some of these proofs from other rhetoricians, he was the first to combine them into a systematic treatment of available argumentative strategies."
    (Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2004)
    - "The early sophists used techne to describe the knowledge they purveyed; Protagoras described his instruction as a political techne; Isocrates, Aristotle's contemporary, also referred to his instruction as a logon techne, or art of discourse. After Plato's bifurcation of techne into the true and the sham, however, Aristotle's classification of art in the domain of productive knowledge was one of the last and most serious treatments of techne as a model of knowledge."
    (Janet M. Atwill, Rhetoric Reclaimed: Aristotle and the Liberal Arts Tradition. Cornell University Press, 1998)