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ARISTOTLE’S CONCEPTION OF SLAVERY

Project Topic: EVALUATION OF ARISTOTLE’S CONCEPTION OF SLAVERY


CHAPTER ONE

1.0       Introduction

Throughout the different historical philosophical epochs, man has undergone strings of torture, suppression, oppression, dehumanization, relegation, subjugation, degradation, humiliation and all sorts of discrimination from his fellow man; thus man becomes a wolf to man. Sequel to this, man has subjected his fellow man to perennial servitude, thus, depriving him of his inalienable fundamental human rights. As a matter of fact, man should not be subjected to slavery due to his dignity as human. Since slavery dehumanizes and creates inequality among human beings and based on this, Thomas Jefferson declared unequivocally:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.[1]

Slavery as an institution is heinous and appalling. Fagothey states that “slavery as a historical institution looked on slaves as property, as animated tools, to be bought and sold. There can hardly be anything more degrading to personal dignity than this revolting practice”.[2] Human personality should be respected because God created man in his image, dignity, worth and sacredness of the human person comes directly from God. On this note Rev. Fr. John Odey remarked that:

“Since God created man in his image; the divinity, the worth and sacredness of human life derives directly from God. Every human life is a reflection of this divinity and that every act of injustice mars and defaced the image of God in man”.[3]

 A slave is one who is also deprived of the faculty of rationality and only participates in the rationality of his master. In actual fact, man should not be reduced to the level of mere instrument, a robot, and a brute, because man is substantially endowed with the faculty of rationality. For man is endowed with the faculty of the intellect to plunge into the ocean of a ratiocinative scrutiny of the vicissitudes of life. These are what Fagothey brings to consciousness, and gives us the opportunity to have a reminiscence of them, when he asserts that we tend to forget that the intellect is not something separated from the rest of the person and functioning on its own. It is, rather, an integral part of a human being, and has its place within consciousness.

The human personality should be regarded as a ‘who’ and not a ‘what’. It is not an object but a subject, not a thing but a self who has the mastery of his or her own acts, self-owned, self-possessed and self-controlled. It is on this note that Boethius gave a classical definition of person as “an individual substance of a rational nature”.[4] A person should not be subjected to the interest of another to be used and consumed as a mere means for another’s benefit. This conclusion does not mean that one person can never do a service for another, for social life is a constant interchange of goods and services, and we are made by nature to be helpful to others. When we hire people to work for us, we buy their labour, not their persons. The human person should not be treated as a means to an end but, as an end, not as an object but as a subject, not as a thing but as a self who is the master of his own acts.

1.1   Background of the Study

Slavery is wrong because it comes so close to treating a person as a thing, a mere object to be used. It is impossible to own a person if we understand person in the philosophical sense of the word”.[5] Down memory lane, man has suffered terribly in the hands of his fellow man namely: maltreatment, exploitation and dehumanization.  The so-called masters have denied their slaves freedom to explore their potentials, in order to ensure their self-development. In this manner, they suppress and relegate them to the level of brutes. These slaves are been treated and seen as mere instruments and as a means to an end and not as an end in themselves. Slavery has far-reaching effect in man, denying him of his inalienable fundamental human rights: right to own property, right to marry and procreate. A slave is seen as a property completely owned by his master, one who only participates in the rationality of his master.

However, in view of this an ancient philosopher whose thought is my point of departure in this work held  the act (slavery) as “just”, giving it a lot of concepts. He held it as nature-oriented, thereby commenting on its conventionality. From his definition he, therefore, made it evidently clear that the act of slavery is “just”. This has resulted  to a serious controversy in philosophical arena.

Moreover, the aim of this project is then to expose and evaluate Aristotle’s view(s) in his justification of slavery; thereby giving a critical analyses and laying bare the preposterous illogicalities in his arguments as regards his naturality and conventionality of slavery which is in danger of posing or has posed a serious threat on human personality and psychology.

1.2 Purpose and Scope of the Study

It is quite an obvious fact that the dignity of the human person has been dragged to the mud. This is quite evident with regard to the barbaric act displayed by man against his fellow man namely in the ancient period: the Hellenes displayed their superiority over the barbarians, the Europeans and Portuguese reduced the African person to a slave; a mere instrument of exploitation. Thus, the existence of racial discrimination: here we have instances of Hitler seeing Germans as the superior race, and trying to put into extinction other races, the emergence of apartheid in South Africa which came as a result of the white man displaying his supremacy and exploitative principles over the blacks. Having witnessed all these, it is our duty to restore the dignity of man, irrespective of his body pigmentation, genealogy, race, continent, nationality, tribe and ethnic group. The issue of slavery has remained a controversial and philosophical discourse down the ages. Some philosophers viewed it as a just act while some see it as a heinous and unjust act.

Specifically speaking, Aristotle an ancient philosopher and thinker viewed it as nature-oriented, thereby justifying slavery as an institution – it is this ancient philosopher’s view that triggered my interest to delve into this study “The Evaluation of Aristotle’s Concept of Slavery.” My aim is to analyze and evaluate the philosophical thought of Aristotle on slavery and to see his reasons for justifying such dehumanizing act as nature-oriented as contained in his Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. This study will expose the stultifying effects of slavery. Thereby proving slavery as an institution wrong; and suggesting way to stop it since it tramples on human dignity. Systematically speaking, I am going to treat this topic in four chapters.

In addition to chapter one that has already started are: the concept of slavery, evolution and origin of slavery, forms of slavery, sources of slavery, conditions of slaves, functions of slaves, and the historical development of slavery. Chapter two will dwell on the literature review of different philosophers views on slavery, down memory lane. Chapter three will expose mainly the philosopher’s views (Aristotle) on slavery; which spurred me into writing this thesis. Finally, chapter four which is the apex of this write-up will dwell mainly on my critical evaluation of the concept, followed by my conclusion.   

1.3 The Concept of Slavery

The conceptslavery’ is difficult to define but generally it involves enforced servitude along with the recognition by society that the master has rights of ownership of a slave and his labour. The origin of slavery and the various ways it was carried out is very remote and difficult to recount. This is one of the reasons why its definition is also not easy. The Encyclopedia Britannica confirms this in these words “there is no consensus on what a slave was or on how the institution of slavery should be defined.”[6] The Encyclopedia points out that although it is difficult to define slavery, there are certain characteristics associated with it which should be present in order to term someone a slave: “the slave was a specie of property; thus he belonged to someone else. In some societies, slaves were considered movable property, but in others immovable properties like real estate. They were objects of the law, and not its subjects.”[7] According to Students Merit Encyclopedia Slavery is;

“a relationship of domination in which one person is owned by another. A slave, however is almost completely or is completely dominated by another. The other considers him a piece of property that he may use in any way he pleases. He may sell the slave, and sometimes may even choose to kill him”[8]

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