Can someone explain Aristotle's theory of natural slavery?

I think that the natural slave is someone who, as he claimed, was capable of understanding commands but was not capable of the higher reason needed to make commands. Also, he may have a strong body but a (as I stated) weak mind.

But is there such a human like this? If there is, wouldn’t he be mentally retarded and so probably not a good slave? And if he had a strong body, surely we rarely find that people are both strong and very stupid:shrug:.

So what was his theory?

And is natural slavery in accord with Catholic anthropology and ethics?

Aristotle’s natural slave theory is interisting for IMO two main reasons:

Firstly it is an attempt to justify slavery when slavery was widely accepted and thus did not need to be justified.

And secondly Aristotle doesn’t really give a very extensive explanation or defense(he also freed all his slaves on his death) of his theory.

For Aristotle some people were naturally strong but weren’t very bright and so weren’t very good at organising things for themselves and would only ‘flourish’ properly under the direction of another, of a benevolent master, such people are natural slaves.

In addition some people are very clever at organising things but are physically weak and thus need additional labour to ‘flourish’ properly, and to achieve their goals-these are natural Masters.

The probelm Aristotle had was how do you recognise a natural slave?

He could not explain why some people are both weak and unintellegent and some are both intellegent and strong, nor why the children of natural slaves sometimes seem like natural masters and vice versa, nor how one can become a slave-he did not see how being captured in war would allow this as that would simply be use of force which would be wrong in such a case, or since it was not always inherited, how you make the child of a natural master a slave. In the end he couldn’t provide an adequate answer although he felt natural slaves and masters existed.

Natural slavery and the denial of the personhood of the other contradicts both Catholic Anthropology(denial of the Inherent dignity of every human person) and Catholic Ethics(refusal to give the other their due diginty is an injustice on the Catholic view.)

Remember, in Athens, only 1 in 5 people were citizens. so much for their democracy…

I think that the natural slave is someone who, as he claimed, was capable of understanding commands but was not capable of the higher reason needed to make commands. Also, he may have a strong body but a (as I stated) weak mind.

But is there such a human like this? If there is, wouldn’t he be mentally retarded and so probably not a good slave? And if he had a strong body, surely we rarely find that people are both strong and very stupid.

So what was his theory?

And is natural slavery in accord with Catholic anthropology and ethics?

In my layman view on this topic (having taken one course that talked about the Natural Slave theory) I would have to say that it was purely Ethnocentrism with Aristotle stating why Greeks were a superior Master race and barbarians were naturally Slave races in which even a barbarian king was a slave compared to a Greek.

Personally I much prefer what Alexander the Great has to say about it.

“Every good Barbarian is a Greek and every Bad Greek a Barbarian”

Well, sure. But he was from Macedon, so he was pretty close to being a barbarian. He had an interest in defending their Greekness.

:wink:

I don’t agree that it was ethnocentrism on Aristotle’s part as he seemed to extend natural slavery to greek born people aswell. He simply used the barbarian’s as an example of savages who had no decency and treated their women/wives(a husband’s rule over his wive must on his view be political not despotic) and their slaves as the same thing. I believe that on aristotle’s view natural masters can be found among the barbarians and natural slaves among the greeks, and vice versa, otherwise a man would not be a slave by nature but by culture/nurture or descent(born into natural slavery) both of which are notions that Aristotle rejects.

Aristotle doesn’t deny their personhood though, or their (relative) dignity but only their (relative) intelligence.

Another question though is, “why did aristotle think that slavery benefited the natural slave, since he clearly claimed that slavery was for the benefit of the master?”

In a way, most people today are slaves to something. When you work 8 hours a day for a company, you are the company’s slave for the 8 hours. Granted, we get time off, but so did slaves when they were owned by a master.

Lack of intelligence is a sign of a natural slave, it is part of the reason to own a slave, it is not the totality of what a natural slave is but a sign of it. To own a slave is to have total control over another in a way that is contrary to human nature properly understood, and on that note is a denial or at least, a non-recognition, of the personhood of the other. You cannot own another human being. Likewise it is a denial of justice to the other by not giving them their due as a human person

He also claimed that it aided the slave to flourish by having someone more intellegent than himself(the slave) to organise and direct his life towards the good in an ordered fashion.

That’s not slavery unless the company don’t pay you for the work you have done, and even then it would be a breach of the law of the land not to pay you, thus under the law you are recognised as a person and not a slave. You entered a contract with the company to exchange your labour for money slaves have no such option they are considered by their owners property not people.

But I think that a slave can be a slave w/o being owned body and soul and this slavery, within bounds, is okay. If there’s one thing the Catholic Encyclopedia told us it was this. Maybe I should drop by the “is slavery okay” thread but I remember what the encyclopedia said.

Could you give me a reference for that please? I’m not familiar with the reference you quote within the encyclopaedia but I can’t see how one can be a slave without being owned/not free by someone/something or without being free from coercion and I can’t see how it would be ok.

I see the theory of “natural slavery” differently.

There are people who are blessed with the charism of leadership and there are people who are not so blessed.

So we have leaders and followers.

newadvent.org/cathen/14039a.htm

I think that is adequate.

By “natural slave,” Aristotle simply meant people who are incapable of directing their lives and so need someone else to do it for them. It’s not the same thing as slavery the legal institution (though, as he noted, slavery as a legal institution is best suited for natural slaves; people who are not natural slaves will tend to chafe at the arrangement). He’s basically talking about idiots. We all know people like this, myself included – my brother is one such idiot. If he had to live on his own, he’d probably die. Frankly I’m surprised he’s lived this long even as a total leech off my father’s seemingly boundless good will.

It’s a regrettable thing that our fetish for democratism has led us to abandon the historically common-sense recognition that some people are simply irreparably stupid and unable to lead well-ordered lives on their own. We used to recognize this fact and make arrangements for how to deal with these people, who often need a strong dose of paternalism. Now we don’t. The consequences are predictable. Lots of them wind up violent criminals.

But they would make rather bad servants wouldn’t they? How would this benefit the master? And there are plenty of people who are inept due to a lack of common sense and not really a lack of pure intelligence. So that being the case, how would they not be natural slaves?

The point is not to benefit the master. (Nor is it necessary to make literal slaves of actual slaves). The point is to protect them from themselves, and to protect society from them. I don’t see that the common sense/IQ distinction is very interesting; my idiot brother probably has a higher IQ than me, he just can’t do anything with it because he’s a bum.

It’s not a will to power thing. The ancients didn’t really think like that and it’s anachronistic to impose that sort of idea on them.

Could you explain this further and/or provide a source that explains natural slavery in your manner?

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