Natural slavery

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Natural slavery was Aristotle's belief, found in the Politics, that some people are slaves by nature, while others were slaves solely by law or convention.[1]

Aristotle's discussion on slavery[edit]

Aristotle describes a natural slave in his book Politics as "anyone who, while being human, is by nature not his own but of someone else…" Aristotle also states "he is of someone else when, while being human, he is a piece of property; and a piece of property is a tool for action separate from its owner."[2] Based on this quote, Aristotle defines natural slavery in two phases. The first part is the natural slave's existence and characteristics. The second part is the natural slaves in society and how they interact with his or her master. According to Aristotle, natural slaves' main features include being pieces of property, tools for actions, and belonging to others.[3]

Aristotle's work has come under controversy and criticism in recent years, with many scholars agreeing that "…the formulation of Aristotle's account of slavery is riddled with inconsistency and incoherence."[4] Other scholars have argued that the state of natural slavery is ultimately alterable, since Aristotle's conception of nature is as well.[5]

In book I of the Politics, Aristotle addresses the questions of whether slavery can be natural or whether all slavery is contrary to nature and whether it is better for some people to be slaves. He concludes that

those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast—and they are in this state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them—are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled in accordance with this sort of rule, if such is the case for the other things mentioned.[6]

It is not advantageous for one to be held in slavery who is not a natural slave, Aristotle contends, claiming that such a condition is sustained solely by force and results in enmity.[7]

Influence[edit]

During the 16th century, as the Americas began to be colonized, the debate over enslavement of the native peoples grew. John Mair (Johannes Maior) was the first European recorded to cite Aristotle's theory of Natural Slavery, in 1510.[8] Mair stated "As the Philosopher [Aristotle] says in the third and fourth chapters of the first book of the Politics it is clear that some men are by nature slaves, others by nature free... And this has now been demonstrated by experience, wherefore the first person to conquer the Indians, justly rules over them because they are natural slaves."[9] The idea of their being "natural slaves" came from Aristotle's writings, and were used to justify their enslavement.

Perhaps the best-known case of Aristotle's idea of Natural Slavery being applied is through its use as justification for the chattel slavery in the Americas and the opposing arguments of Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.[10] During the 1520's Las Casas worked in Spain and the New World (modern-day Venezuela) in an attempt to peacefully convert native peoples without enslaving them.[11] For years, Las Casas protested the treatment of natives by Spaniards, and in 1520 was granted an audience with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain).[12] Las Casas protested the enslavement of Native Americans and asked instead for their peaceful conversion.[13]

In 16th century Spain, theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda defended the position of the New World colonists, claiming that the Amerindians were "natural slaves."[14] He wrote this in Democrates alter de justis belli causis apud Indios (A Second Democritus: on the just causes of the war with the Indians). Although Aristotle was a primary source for Sepúlveda's argument, he also pulled from various Christian and other classical sources, including the Bible.

Sepúlveda was opposed in the Valladolid debate by Bartolomé de las Casas, bishop of Chiapas. De las Casas countered that Aristotle's definition of the "barbarian" and the natural slave did not apply to the Indians, who were fully capable of reason and should be brought to Christianity without force or coercion.[14][15]

Though Las Casas may be one of the best-remembered voices against the conversion of Native Americans, he was hardly the only one protesting the forced enslavement.[16] However, for as many voices as protested, many others supported enslavement and went to great lengths to morally justify it. Las Casas worked to avoid enslavement of Native Americans and found one of his greatest challengers in Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. In April of 1550, Las Casas and Sepúlveda met in Spain for a debate on the rationalization of native American enslavement and its morality based on Aristotle's idea of Natural Slavery.[17] Sepúlveda reasoned that the enslavement of natives was a result of war: the "superior" was dominating the "inferior", and the Spaniards had every right to do so.[18]

In many accounts of the infamous debate between Las Casas and Sepúlveda, the latter is often villainized for his ruthless nature towards American Indians of the 16th century. In his essay "Some Notes on a Controversial Controversy: Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Natural Servitude," Robert E. Quirk analyses Sepúlveda's exact wording in the debate of 1550.[19] Quirk states that Sepúlveda used the Latin term "natura servus", which has been often mistranslated to "natural slave."[20] In some cases, servus can also mean "serf," in the same way of a Medieval European serf; therefore Quirk asks whether Sepúlveda was referring to Native Americans as serfs, rather than slaves.[21] Either way, the debate over the social standing of Native Americans would have still been hotly contested in 16th century Europe.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wayne Ambler, "Aristotle on Nature and Politics: The Case of Slavery," Political Theory 15, no. 3 (Aug. 1987): 390-410.
  2. ^ Aristotle, Politics, 1254b16–21.
  3. ^ Karbowski, Joseph (2013). "Aristotle's Scientific Inquiry Into Natural Slavery". Journal of the History of Philosophy. 51.3.
  4. ^ Dobbs, Darrell (1994). "Natural Right and the Problem of Aristotle's Defense of Slavery". The Journal of Politics. 56.1.
  5. ^ Rodriguez, Philippe-André (2016). "L'impérialisme institutionnel et la question de la race chez Aristote". European Review of History. 23.4.
  6. ^ Aristotle, Politics, 1254b16–21.
  7. ^ Aristotle, Politics, 1255b11–15.
  8. ^ Capizzi, Joseph E. (2002-02). "The Children of God: Natural Slavery in the Thought of Aquinas and Vitoria". Theological Studies. 63 (1): 31–52. doi:10.1177/004056390206300131. ISSN 0040-5639.
  9. ^ Anthony., Pagden, (1999). The fall of natural man : the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521337046. OCLC 851301114.
  10. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  11. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  12. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  13. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  14. ^ a b Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America, 4th ed. University of California Press, Berkeley: 1992.
  15. ^ Bonar Ludwig Hernandez, ""The Las Casas-Sepúlveda Controversy: 1550-1551"," Ex Post Facto: Journal of the History Students at San Francisco State University 10 (2001): 95–104.
  16. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  17. ^ 1484-1566., Casas, Bartolomé de las, (1996). The devastation of the Indies : a brief account. Hopkins Univ. Press. ISBN 0801844304. OCLC 315061719.
  18. ^ Moreiras, Alberto (2000-01). "Ten Notes on Primitive Imperial Accumulation: Ginés de Sepúlveda, Las Casas, Fernández de Oviedo". Interventions. 2 (3): 343–363. doi:10.1080/13698010020019181. ISSN 1369-801X.
  19. ^ Quirk, Robert E. (1954-08). "Some Notes on a Controversial Controversy: Juan Gines de Supulveda and Natural Servitude". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 34 (3): 357. doi:10.2307/2508897. ISSN 0018-2168.
  20. ^ Quirk, Robert E. (1954-08). "Some Notes on a Controversial Controversy: Juan Gines de Supulveda and Natural Servitude". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 34 (3): 357. doi:10.2307/2508897. ISSN 0018-2168.
  21. ^ Quirk, Robert E. (1954-08). "Some Notes on a Controversial Controversy: Juan Gines de Supulveda and Natural Servitude". The Hispanic American Historical Review. 34 (3): 357. doi:10.2307/2508897. ISSN 0018-2168.