Aristotle on Slavery

Essay by Ippala101College, Undergraduate December 2004

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When trying to figure out the function of a human being, Aristotle says, "the remaining possibility, then, is some sort of life of action of the [part of the soul] that has reason. One [part] of it has reason as obeying reason; the other has it as itself having reason and thinking" (118). This quotation explains that there are two kinds of people: the people who can reason for themselves, and people who can only be habituated in obedience of reason. These citizens cannot reason for themselves, they can only obey reason. Since they obey, they are best suited to be slaves because obeying is what they do best. To Aristotle, this is called natural slavery: "if something is capable of rational foresight, it is a natural ruler and master, whereas whatever can use its body to labor is ruled and is a natural slave. That is why the same thing is beneficial for both master and slave" (178).

It is obvious that Aristotle believes that the master-slave system benefits both parties because the master is capable of telling the slave what to do whereas the slave is only capable of obeying what is asked of him, therefore giving him a role within the polis. This system makes the polis self-sufficient in that everyone has a job.

But Aristotle states, "Anyone who cannot form a community with no part of a city-state - he is ...a beast" (179-180). In other words, Aristotle means that any person that does not have the mental capacity either reason or obey reason cannot be part of a city-state and therefore is not a human being. This cannot be true because there are people in the world known as idiot savants who are mentally deficient but are extraordinarily great in one highly...