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Born in the year of 384 B.C. Aristotle was seen as conventional for his
time, for he regarded slavery as a natural course of nature and believed that
certain people were born to be slaves due to the fact that their soul lacked the
rational part that should rule in a human being; However in certain
circumstances it is evident that Aristotle did not believe that all men who were
slaves were meant to be slaves.
In his book Politics, Aristotle begins with the Theory of The Household,
and it is here that the majority of his views upon slavery are found. With the
beginning of Chapter IV, Aristotle’s idea of slavery is clearly defined. “The
instruments of the household form its stock of property : they are animate and
inanimate : the slave is an animate instrument, intended (like all the
instruments of the household) for action, and not for productions.” This
distinction between action and production, is based upon the understanding that
‘production’ is a course in which a result is desired beyond the immediate act
of doing. Where as, the simple act of completing a task is identified as
‘action’. Aristotle, who believed that life was action and not production
theorized that slaves were instruments of life and were therefore needed to form
a complete household. In fact Aristotle went as far as to say that a slave was
comparable to a tame animal, with their only divergence in the fact that a slave
could apprehend reason. For he concluded that a slave and animals only use was
to supply their owners with bodily help.
At the end of the Theories of the Household, Aristotle explains how
slaves are different from andy other types of people, in the sence that they are
the only class who are born into their occupation and become property of their
masters. In examining this relationship we find that he thought that while
masters were the masters of the slaves, they still held a life other than that
of being master; However, Aristotle believed that not only was the slave a
slave to his master, but the slave had no other life or purpose than belonging.
From this consideration we begin to understand Aristotle’s views on the
relationship between Master and Slave.
At the beginning of Chapter V of the Theory of the Household, the
distinct role of master and slave is defined.
There is a principle of rule and subordin-
action in nature at large : it appears
especially in the realm of animate creation.
By virtue of that principle, the soul rules
the body; and by virtue of it the master, who
possesses the rational faculty of the soul,
rules the slave, who possesses only bodily
powers and the faculty of understanding the
directions given by another’s reason.
It was Aristotle’s views on the human soul that gave grounds to his
arguments for slavery. It was his beliefs that the soul was divided into two
parts, being the rational faculty and the capacity for obeying. Aristotle
postulated that a freeman was innately born with the rational faculty while “A
slave is entirely without the faculty of deliberation.” And with his views he
felt as though it was necessary for there to be a natural ruling order, whereas,
the body was ruled by the soul, and those with the natural rational faculty
within their soul should rule others without. This relationship, Aristotle
found to be an essential element in his idea of master and slave being two parts
forming one common entity.
It was his belief that a man’s body was the representation of his inner
self and that it was nature’s intentions to distinguish between those who were
born to be freemen and those born to be slaves. However, we see that Aristotle
have somewhat reservations upon his beliefs that all slaves corresponded to his
mold. With such quotes as “But with nature , though she intends, does not
always succeed in achieving a clear distinction between men born to be masters
and men born to be slaves.” we begin to see that Aristotle was not as
conservative as believed. In fact, we start to understand the left-wing
attitudes that Aristotle held. At the end of Chapter V of the Theories of the
Household, Aristotle concludes “The contrary of nature’s intentions, however,
often happens: there are some slaves who have the bodies of freemen-as there
are others who have a freeman’s soul.”
Aristotle in his Theories of the Household, allocates a full section
(section 9 chapter VI), to the explanation of the relationship between a slave
and a freeman who are not naturally meant to be as such. It was Aristotle’s
view that although there are slaves who were born to be freemen and freemen who
were born to be slaves, there could be a relationship in such cases where the
two discerning parties would work in a community of interest and in a
relationship of friendship. “The part and the whole, like the body and the soul,
have an identical interest; and the slave is a part of the master, in the sence
if being a living but separate part.”
Aristotle had many slaves himself within his household, and during the
course of his death and through the executing of his will we find insight into
the character of Aristotle. He died in the year of 322 B.C. and with his death
he requested that four of his slaves be emancipated. Also he asked that none of
his house slaves be sold and that they all be given the opportunity of being set
free at a due age if they so deserved. This act of generosity and goodwill
gives light to the attitudes that Aristotle held. It is evident that he
believed that these slaves had the capacity to be freemen with the rational
faculty within themselves to make conscious, and reasonable decisions. Many
scholars such as Professor Jaeger, author of Aristotleles, theorized that many
of the views that Aristotle held upon the subject of slavery were developed
through the close relationship that Aristotle had formed with an ex-slave. This
man was Hermias. A man who had risen from the ranks of slave to a prince of
considerable wealth, as well as father in law to Aristotle.
On the general analysis of Aristotle we find that he was a man of great
curiosity, wisdom and ideas. Although his views on slavery seemed to hold true
to the times, he had many variations on the conservative norms and beliefs. He
had believed that slavery was a just system where both master and slave were
beneficial from this relationship. And with this he thought that by nature,
certain people were born to be slaves, yet with these beliefs we find many
exceptions, where Aristotle allocates areas to describe those who by chance
became slaves but in his opinion were born to be free. And in such incidence
where men born free were not fit to be masters Aristotle explained how it would
be easier for the master to obtain a steward who was more adept at giving
instructions to run the household and leave the master of the house to more
We can only guess as to what made Aristotle believe that by the human
soul one could delineate whether or not a man was meant to be a slave or a
freeman. And with his arguments we find that it was just as difficult for him
to make that distinction as well. “Though it is not as easy to see the beauty
of the soul as it is to see that of the body.”
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