Monday, June 14, 2010

Producing and practising

I shall not give an answer to the question of my blog last week. I simply haven’t one. At least not now; maybe later. However, when I had finished the blog, I had to think of a distinction by Aristotle that may be relevant for the answer on the question whether we die a bit when my action has finished and the result of it no longer exists.
In the blog I mentioned several examples of actions: writing a book, making a garden, shopping, making a bike ride, chasing away a burglar, visiting a friend. Let us look at two of them: writing a book and making a bike ride. Writing a book is a long and complicated action. It can last many years, but in the end there is a result: a book, which you can buy in a shop, for instance. If you find writing a book a too complex example of an action, let’s say that I write a letter to a friend. It takes me half an hour to write it and then it is ready for posting. An action like making a bike ride does not have such a material result. I love cycling and several times a week I make a ride just for pleasure. However, when I am home again, I cannot say: Look, here is my bike ride. I have just finished it. Do you want to have it? Nobody would understand it, for making a bike ride does not lead to a result that you have at the end of it as a ready-made product independent of the action itself. No, the aim of making a bike ride is just the doing itself. Such an action was called “praxis” by Aristotle (from prattein, to act, to practise) and he distinguished it from actions like writing a book or a letter, which he called “poiesis” (from poiein, to make).
In view of the distinction between praxis and poiesis, maybe it is possible to say that one dies a bit when the result of a case of poiesis is destroyed, while praxis is an instance of living. Although this may be a starting point for answering my question, I think that it is not as simple as that. In the first place, we produce many things during the years. Letters, memorandums as an office worker, objects as a production worker or in spare time, meals in the kitchen, and so on. Can we say that I die a bit each time such a result of our productive actions is destroyed? I think that not everything we produce is so important that we can go that far. But secondly, not all actions can be clearly classified as a case of poiesis or praxis. Take making a garden. I have changed the wilderness behind my house into a garden. Must I say now that I have produced a garden? But at which moment was my garden finished? When I have put the last plant in it? And how about garden maintenance? A garden is not something stable but must be kept. Moreover, making a garden as such, the action of gardening, is for many people also a case of praxis. These are only a few of the points that need to be cleared, when one wants to distinguish poiesis and praxis. Nevertheless, I think that the distinction is useful and that it may help a bit to understand better what fundamentally belongs to us.

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