“…you thought that the shepherd as a shepherd tends the sheep not with a view to their own good, but like a mere diner or banqueter with a view to the pleasures of the table; or, again, as a trader for sale in the market, and not as a shepherd.”
Plato, Republic

Both Plato and Aristotle are at pains to distinguish between an art/craft on the one hand, and money-making on the other. The point is not that they are incompatible. Not at all. Rather, it is a question of priority.

The first focus of any real craft is never to make money. And here, once again, is the similarity of a craft and human life itself. Money-making—as necessary as it is—must be subservient; in our work, in our crafting, in our life.

This is not a matter of semantics. It is a matter of order. It is a concrete daily challenge of the first importance. It makes a real difference in work and life and is more difficult than it might appear.

Take the carpenter. Being a carpenter is surely a fine way to ‘make a living.’ Nevertheless, a carpenter as such does not exercise the art of ‘making money’—of which there is a kind of art, though it is different from all the others. The true carpenter takes his first cue from the requirements of making a quality product, as determined according to the standards of his art/craft. Today especially, this will require intentionality.

The same applies to the real medical doctor: each and every decision he makes is determined by what is actually best for human health. Here, or in any other art (other than the ‘art of money-making’), it is offensive to suggest that higher profit be a fundamental standard of judgment in the determinations that are proper to that art.

A real doctor would never prescribe this rather than that based on his profit. A real carpenter would never build this way rather than that way simply because he will make more money—though he might build this way rather than that if demanded by the limited resources of the one for whom he builds.

Allow me to clarify: making a reasonable profit is indeed a real determinant of a number of issues that surround the actual practice of arts. Can this community afford to support my work? If not, I might need to move elsewhere, or do some different work. What should I charge for my work? This needs to be determined in view of a complex set of factors: for instance, the concrete costs of crafting with excellence; and the conditions of those worked for, of the market, and of the needs of the worker and his family, etc.

But the age in which we live tends to obscure or directly deny these points. Making a profit consistently tends to overwhelm the spirit and practice of true crafts. The various arts/crafts of human life are often sacrificed to the now dominant art of money-making. The spirit of the craft, which should supply our primary approach and practice of human work, has bowed to the god of profit.

And so many of us don’t know what to do. Or perhaps this has gone so far that we are not aware of what has happened, or how things could be. We just feel that something is wrong.

One symptom of this trend is the growth of practices such as gaming the system by short term stock trading. Let me be clear: I will not claim if and when such practices are illicit. Rather, in light of the above, I simply point to a contrast between such practices and the exercise of a real craft/art.

The money-making schemes to which I refer have one key thing in common: they directly concern no real product of excellence. Unlike the real crafts they do not cultivate a sense of hard work unto the end of a product of intrinsic quality, excellence and worth in human life.

One may ask: but so what? If it’s not dishonest, why not use it to make money?

A brief thought, toward a larger discussion: regardless of other aspects, such practices tend to focus one’s attention on mere profit. What can I do here to squeeze out more than I put in? This, I contend, in the spirit of Plato and Aristotle, works against the spirit of the craft, where our work is first about serving—serving the true excellence of the product, and of those worked for.

According to Plato, when the trader—or the practitioner of the art of ‘money-making’—looks at sheep, he asks himself what will people pay for them. The shepherd, when he looks at sheep, asks himself how to make them flourish. The difference is real.

There is a time and a place in society for the trader. But what if his attitude and approach become dominant? What if the spirit of trading largely replaces the spirit of crafting? And more and more according to that spirit, our sheep are raised, our buildings are built, and our medicine is prescribed? And our communities are governed?

The spirit and the practice of the crafts is not dead, and never will be, for it arises from deep within the human soul. Even a trader can cultivate a spirit of crafting. But we will need to rediscover it, and honor it, and cultivate it. And we can start in our own daily life.

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