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Monday, October 08, 2012

Slaves?

A little while ago, I asked, "Would Aristotle have thought other-directed wage workers to be slaves?"

Well, I still am not sure of the answer to that; but now I am sure that Cicero so thought them:

"Vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill ; for in their case the very wages they receive is a pledge of their slavery." -- De Officiis

The key thing here is not what contractual basis the works takes place under -- whether I own you or I pay you -- it is whether you work (almost) entirely under my direction, or you have active control over some non-minor part of your labor. The artistically skilled craftsman accepts wages, but is not a slave because he directs -- indeed, must direct, in that his employer does not have his skill -- a large part of his own labor. The slave is not a slave because he is owned (although he may be), but because he does not own his own time.

I think this is indirect evidence that it is not crazy to impute the same view to Aristotle. And if that is so, to the many of our contemporaries who dismiss the philosopher because, after all, "he believed in slavery," he might respond, "Evidently, so do you."

3 comments:

  1. 'Servus' was translated as either 'slave' or 'servant', when I learned Latin. It seemed to be interchangeable; perhaps because they believed even a 'free' servant, who was paid, was still under his direction. Just thought that was interesting.

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  2. But did Aristotle believe that being a whips-n-chains slave *implied* being an Aristotelian slave?

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    Replies
    1. I would think not. Polybius was a slave in Rome, after all!

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