The Rathouse
Plato and Aristotle on the 'baunausic'  classes and the indignity of professionalism
Note 4 to Chapter 11 of The Open Society and its Enemies.

Aristotle’s use of the word ‘banausic’ in the sense of ‘professional’ or ‘money earning’ is clearly shown in Politics, VIII, 6, 3 ff. (1340b) and especially 15 f. (1341b). Every professional, for example a flute player, and of course every artisan or labourer, is ‘banausic’, that is to say, not a free man, not a citizen, even though he is not a real slave; the status of a ‘banausic’ man is one of ‘partial or limited slavery’ (Politics, I, 14; 13; 1260a/b). The word ‘banausos’ derives, I gather, from a pre-Hellenic word for ‘fire-worker’. Used as an attribute it means that a man’s origin and caste ‘disqualify him from prowess in the field’. (Cp. Greenidge, quoted by Adam in his edition of the Republic, note to 495630.) It may be translated by ‘low-caste’, ‘cringing’, ‘degrading’, or in some contexts by ‘upstart’. Plato used the word in the same sense as Aristotle. In the Laws (7416 and 743d), the term ‘banausia’ is used to describe the depraved state of a man who makes money by means other than the hereditary possession of land. See also the Republic, 4956 and 590c. But if we remember the tradition that Socrates was a mason; and Xenophon’s story (Mem. II, 7); and Antisthenes’ praise of hard work; and the attitude of the Cynics; then it seems unlikely that Socrates agreed with the aristocratic prejudice that money earning must be degrading. (The Oxford English Dictionary proposes to render ‘banausic’ as ‘merely mechanical, proper to a mechanic’, and quotes Grote, Eth. Fragm., vi, 227 = Aristotle, and ed., 1880, p. 545; but this rendering is much too narrow, and Grote’s passage does not justify this interpretation, which may originally rest upon a misunderstanding of Plutarch. It is interesting that in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream the term ‘mere mechanicals’ is used precisely in the sense of ‘banausic’ men; and this use might well be connected with a passage on Archimedes in North’s translation of the Life of Marcellus.)

In Mind, vol. 47, there is an interesting discussion between A. E. Taylor and F. M. Cornford, in which the former (pp. 197 ff.) defends his view that Plato, when speaking of ‘the god’ in a certain passage of the Timaeus, may have had in mind a ‘peasant cultivator’ who ‘serves’ by bodily labour; a view which is, I think most convincingly, criticized by Cornford (pp. 329 ff.). Plato’s attitude towards all ‘banausic’ work, and especially manual labour, bears on this problem; and when (p. 198, note) Taylor uses the argument that Plato compares his gods ‘with shepherds or sheep-dogs in charge of a flock of sheep’ (Laws, 901e, 907a), then we could point out that the activities of nomads and hunters are quite consistently considered by Plato as noble or even divine; but the sedentary ‘peasant cultivator’ is banausic and depraved. Cp. note 32 to chapter 4, and text.