Manual Art

Bartolomé de las Casas, In Defense of the Indians

Bartolomé de las Casas,  In Defense of the Indians, trans. Stafford Poole (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992).

As always, I am a touch behind (and have been reading other things).  However, taking notes is not always advantageous to the busyness of life... However, as I cited this elsewhere, I thought it would be edifying.  I am convinced that a true Thomistic treatment of art must be a Philosophy of Making.  M.-D. Philippe had some good points to say about this but, alas, he succumbed also to the temptation that always faces the philosopher—talk about the loftiest realities.  The best place to start is not in the fine arts but, instead, in the mechanical arts.  They are all around us.  Alas, though, philosophers are always marked by their aristocratic tendencies—and their slightly snobbish detachment from day-to-day realities.  However, this is merely accidental... A product, likely, of being professors and children of professors....

(Be sure to see my note at the end of the quote, however.)

From chapter 4:

Furthermore, [the natives] are so skilled in every mechanical art that with every right they should be set ahead of all the nations of the known world on this score, so beautiful in in their skill and artistry are the things this people produces in the grace of its architecture, its painting, and its needlework.  But [Juan Ginés de] Sepúlveda [against whom Bartholomé is arguing] despises these mechanical arts, as if these things do not reflect inventiveness, ingenuity, industry, and right reason.  For a mechanical art is an operative habit of the intellect that is usually defined as “the right way to make things, directing the acts of reason, through which the artisan proceeds in orderly fashion, easily, and unerringly in the very act of reason.”*  So these men are not stupid, Reverend Doctor.  Their skillfully fashioned works of superior refinement awaken the admiration of all nations, because works proclaim a man’s talent, for, as the poet says, the work commends the craftsman.  Also, Prosper [of Aquitaine] says, “See, the maker is proclaimed by the wonderful signs of his works and the effects, too, sing of their author.”

* Note: The translator of the text notes that this seems to be a "very free or erroneous citation" of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics.  Actually, it is a slight mistake by the original author, who use the definition of logic provided by Aquinas in his commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics.  The full context from which this is taken reads (in Fabian Larcher's translation):

As the Philosopher says in Metaphysics I (980b26), 'the human race lives by art and reasonings.' In this statement the Philosopher seems to touch upon that property whereby man differs from the other animals. For the other animals are prompted to their acts by a natural impulse, but man is directed in his actions by a judgment of reason. And this is the reason why there are various arts devoted to the ready and orderly performance of human acts. For an art seems to be nothing more than a definite and fixed procedure established by reason, whereby human acts reach their due end through appropriate means.
Now reason is not only able to direct the acts of the lower powers but is also director of its own act: for what is peculiar to the intellective part of man is its ability to reflect upon itself. For the intellect knows itself. In like manner reason is able to reason about its own act. Therefore just as the art of building or carpentering, through which man is enabled to perform manual acts in an easy and orderly manner, arose from the fact that reason reasoned about manual acts, so in like manner an art is needed to direct the act of reasoning, so that by it a man when performing the act of reasoning might proceed in an orderly and easy manner and without error.