Aristotle And Slavery Essay

According to Aristotle the State is composed of households. A complete household consists of slaves and freeman. He considered salves as the parts of household management. Slave is a living possession of family whereas property is a lifeless possession. He wholly belongs to the master. A slave differs from his master because of difference of power of reasoning and understanding, the master having far superior reasoning power than the slave.
Postulate of Slavery:
Aristotle theory of Slavery rests upon the following postulates:
  a) By nature men are unequal and divided with respect to their capacities for virtue.
  b) It is possible to determine who is virtuous and who is non virtuous.
Slavery secures the best condition for the slaves. A slave shares his master’s life and therefore, in a way his excellence. Slavery is justifiable as it leads to the attainment of virtue by the master through the leisure it affords him. In Aristotle’s time slavery was a necessary part of natural economy and stability. Emancipation of slaves would not only upset the balance of power in the city-state. It might have brought   down whole   social fabric under the weight of huge mass of emancipated slaves.
Justification for Slavery:
  1. Natural inequality of mankind
Men are by nature unequal with respect to their capacities for virtue. Nature desires that men should not be mentally and physically equal. There is a natural rule of the superior over the inferior and that functions must be based on nature. As soul rules over the body or reason over appetite, similarly those who rule over those reasoning capacity should rule over those who have no superior reasoning capacity. Thus, Slavery is in according with nature.
  2. Superiors rule over inferiors
Slavery is just one more manifestation of the general rule of nature of the subordination of the inferior to the superior.
  3. Secures best condition for Slaves
Slavery secures the best condition for the slaves. His connection...

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Aristotle’s Views on Slavery: Nature, Necessary and Criticism!

Aristotle strongly believed and justified the institution of slavery. He opined slaves as the possession of the family or, in other words, was considered the property of the master or the family. He stated that slavery is natural and beneficial to both the masters as well as the slaves.

He was of the belief that the slaves have no reasoning power despite the ability to understand and follow their intellect. Therefore, according to Aristotle, natural slaves are those who understand reason but possess no reasoning ability.

The logic given by him was that those who were not virtuous were slaves and that it was possible to determine who is virtuous and who is not. He further stated that as there are inequalities with reference to their capabilities and capacities, all those who had higher capacities were called masters and the rest are slaves. He also categorically stated that slave belonged to the master and not vice versa.

Aristotle justified the institution of slavery on the fol­lowing grounds:


Slavery is a natural phenomenon. The superior would rule over the inferior just as the soul rules over the body and reason over appetite. In other words, people with superior reasoning powers would rule over those inferior in reasoning. The masters are stated to be physically and mentally strong than the slaves. So, this set-up naturally makes the former the master, and the latter the slave.


Slaves are considered necessary because they provide leisure that was most essential for the welfare of the state. Aristotle stated that slavery benefited the slaves as well. Because by being a slave, he would be able to share the virtues of the master and elevate himself.


Aristotle was of the opinion that slaves have sustained the Greek social and economic system, and they helped Greece against social disorder and chaos. He stated that slavery is a social necessity. It was complementary to the slaves as well as the masters and that it aids in perfection.

Aristotle approved slavery only under certain conditions, as follows:

1. Only those who were mentally deficient and virtuously not superior should be enslaved. Aristotle, however, never agreed to the enslavement of prisoners of war because victory in the war does not necessarily mean intellectual superiority of the victor or the mental deficiency of the vanquished. He was against the idea of slavery by force.

2. Aristotle insisted that masters must treat their slaves properly, and strongly propa­gated that cruel masters must be subjected to legal punishments.

3. He advocated the liberation of only those slaves whose conduct was good and who developed capacity for reasoning and virtue.

4. Slavery was essential for the all-round development but the master has no right to misuse his power. Slaves are only assistants but not subordinates.

Criticism of Aristotle’s Theory of Slavery:

1. Classification of individuals on the basis of capacities is wrong and Aristotle never provided any logical method to be adopted to classify individuals.

2. He rejected historical origin of slavery and justified it on philosophical rationalization.

3. His views on slavery reflect his conservatism and primitive outlook towards life.

4. His theory is highly prejudicial and contradictory to the human dignity and niceties of life. It is prejudicial, in the sense it presupposed that Greeks were fit to rule the world and they could not be enslaved even if they were defeated by the barbarians.

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