PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday February 3, 2003

[2.3.] Natural Slaves.  Nature contains many ruler/subordinate relationships:







rational part of the soul

emotional ("affective") part


tame animals




These relationships are all natural and beneficial. The relationship between masters and slaves is like these others: it is also natural and beneficial.


...all men who differ from others as much as the body differs from the soul, or an animal from a man (and this is the case with all whose function is bodily service, and who produce their best when they supply such service) -- all such are by nature slaves. In their case, as in the other cases just mentioned, it is better to be ruled by a master.  (1254b, pp.226-227)


A natural slave meets two conditions:

(i)      He is capable of becoming the property of another (and because of this actually does become someone's property). In I:6, Aris acknowledges that naturally free men can be captured and forced into slavery when they are vanquished at war... so by itself, this is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of being a natural slave.


(ii)    He can understand the reasoning of others but cannot reason well himself -- i.e., he can understand and carry out a plan given to him by someone else, but he can't develop a plan of his own.[1]


Here Aris is advocating a natural subordination theory of authority.[2] When it comes to masters and slaves (and to men and women), masters (men) have the moral authority to rule slaves (women) due to the good consequences (for both the master and the slave) that stem from the fact that the party who is naturally superior is controlling the party that is naturally inferior.


DISCUSSION: Is this natural subordination account plausible? In particular, is it plausible to think that there are human beings who are rational enough to be able to serve as useful slaves but not rational enough to rationally guide their own lives?


This might look like a partial answer to our Question 2: What Justifies a Political Society? (What is the Source of Political AuthorityN?). In particular, it might look like an answer to that question that applies to masters and slaves: it is the natural superiority (with regard to rationality) of masters over slaves that justifies the rule of the former over the latter. But the authority of master over slave is not political authority (and therefore not political authorityN).[3] The authority of a legitimate political ruler does not stem from natural superiority, since it is an authority of equals over equals... [we'll discuss this when we get to Book VII-which-is-fourth]



[3.] Politics Book II.


[3.1.] Criticism of Plato on the Importance of Unity (Politics II:2).


Aristotle criticizes an assumption that Plato made in his argument in favor of communal sharing of wives among the guardians. The assumption is that "the greatest possible unity of the whole city is the supreme good." (Aris' words, 1261a, p.229) In Plato's own words:


                Do we know then of any greater harm to the city, than that which should tear it asunder, and make it into a multitude of cities instead of one? Or of any higher good than that which should bind it together, and make it one? (Rep Book V, 462a-d, p.93)


Aristotle's criticism is that there is a limit to the degree of unity which it is good for a polis to demonstrate -- since maximum unity would destroy the polis.


… a city, by its nature, is some sort of plurality. If it becomes more of a unit, it will first become a household instead of a city, and then an individual instead of a household; for we should all call the household more of a unit than a city, and the individual more of a unit than the household. It follows that, even if we could, we ought not to achieve this object: it would be the destruction of the city. (1261a, p.229; he repeats this point at 1263b, p.233)


If the polis were to become more and more united, it would first become a household, and then an individual -- thus, it wouldn't be a polis any more.


So what Plato held to be the good for the city (unity) would actually be "its ruin" (1261b, p.229). Aristotle argues that there are three necessary conditions of stability of the polis: (1) plurality; (2) diversity and (3) reciprocity.


Plurality: a healthy polis is not a single unit -- it must be composed of a number of units.


Diversity:: "Not only is the city composed of a number of people: it is also composed of different kinds of people, for a city cannot be composed of those who are like one another." (1261a, p.229)


Reciprocity: "each of its elements rendering to the others an amount equivalent to what it receives from them" (1261a, p.229). The different sorts of people in a polis must provide goods and services to each other. E.g., doctors must be able to rely on farmers for food; farmers must be able to rely on doctors for health care. What one group provides to others must be no more valuable than what they receive-- otherwise, they'll stop providing their own specific goods or services.[4]


These there are all necessary, not simply for the stability, but for the self-sufficiency of the polis.


[1] In ch.6, Aris distinguishes between natural slaves and legal slaves, i.e. individuals who are "vanquished in war" and become the slaves of the victorious party. (1255a, p.227) He notes that this sort of slavery is beneficial when those who are captured are natural slaves, i.e. when they also can understand and carry out the reasoned plans of others but cannot formulate such plans themselves -- but slavery is not a beneficial relationship when it is merely legal (when those who are by nature free men are forced into slavery).

[2] Jean Hampton, Political Philosophy, pp.10ff.

[3] Jean Hampton, Political Philosophy, p.33.

[4] Peter Simpson, A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle, pp.75-6.

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