Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is
established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order
to obtain that which they think good.
Aristotle discussed the good in the
Ethics, which is on my site with my notes, and to which I refer the
interested reader for more details about the good and Aristotle's
ideas about this concept.
The main mistake in this quotation is
at the end: Mankind (individual men) are quite capable of acting in
order to do that which they think bad, both intentionally and by
accident. (Indeed, if it were otherwise, there would be far fewer
moral problems.) Back.
But, if all communities aim at
some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of
all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree
than any other, and at the highest good.
This is a mistake, rather as if you
or I get better men if we were to succeed in standing on a higher floor or
in acquiring a more powerful position.
What is true, though, is that
generally persons with more power or influence, and notably the
officials of the state or the church, are far more powerful and
influential than most other men - with no guarantee whatsoever that
they will use their power to do good, at least if it is good for
As in other departments
of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved
into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must
therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in
order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from
one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about
each one of them.
This outlines the analytical mode of
doing philosophy ("Analyze! Always first analyze!"), which I also am
in favor of.
Note though that what are "the
elements" of the "the science of politics" is not immediately obvious:
Groups, societies, men? Beliefs, traditions, religions, ideologies?
Human needs, or human moral or legal systems? All of these, and more,
are undoubtedly somehow involved, but not in any obvious or clear way.
He who thus considers
things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything
else, will obtain the clearest view of them.
Actually, that is not so, simply
because things may grow, and when doing so may grow more complicated,
or into different things than they started from. Even so, it makes sense to
start simply, also in this case, and for Aristotle the beginning of
human society is the human family.
the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist
without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may
continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate
purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants,
mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of
themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be
What is interesting is that human
beings differ from other primates in their sexual relations: It seems
natural for humans, and not for other primates, to pair off in a one
male - one female relation, and it is natural for humans, and not for
other primates, to be in heat during the central decades of their
And this is very probably not a
matter of choice or culture, but mostly a matter of biology, that may
have arisen because humans take some two decades to grow and be
educated into a capable adult, which again is very probably related to
their having far better brains than other animals.
For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by
nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its
body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a
slave; hence master and slave have the same interest.
This is simplistic, and it seems
quite odd to read that "master
and slave have the same interest",
but - as we shall see - for Aristotle the subordination of the weaker
to the stronger, and of the stupid to the smart, seems both natural
and desirable, and indeed that is also his view of the relation of
master and slave, and of man and woman: There is a natural relation of
subordination between them, that is based in the end on the greater
strength and intelligence of male masters compared to slaves, children and women.
Surely, this is not "the modern
enlightened Western view", but then it makes sense to observe that,
whatever the value of the modern views and practices, mankind has for
a far longer time held human slaves than not, and almost all
known societies involve considerable differences in power, riches,
status and income for different members and groups, completely apart
from slavery or not.
Now nature has
distinguished between the female and the slave. For she is not
niggardly, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many
uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is
best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among
barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because
there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves,
male and female.
Here Aristotle sketches a distinction
that may also hold for upperclass women and lowerclass working people,
but that seems quite accidental and arbitrary.
Also, it may be remembered that "barbarians",
to the Greeks, where all those who happened to lack the distinction of
being and speaking Greek, and it may be supposed that among these there were, also
in Aristotle's time, many distinct approaches to forming societies.
One thing that is clear, though, is
that Aristotle is rather unromantic about power: He believed that it
is natural and good that the strong and intelligent rule the weak and
the stupid or ignorant. And indeed, this seems fair, within limits,
for adults and children.
 Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and
slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right
when he says,
"First house and wife and an ox for the plough, "
for the ox is the poor man's slave.
Hesiod may be quite right, but it is
not true that the ox and the human slave are on a par, if only because
the human slave has an understanding of himself, of justice, and of
other men that is entirely absent in oxen.
 The family
is the association established by nature for the supply of men's
This may also be read as claiming
that the human family is a natural unit, or natural formation.
In the West, in modern days, there
are quite a few who have lamented or lauded 'the death of the family'
or 'the decline of the family', and so it may be worthwile to point
out that human beings, understood as talking apes, differ from other
apes in their sexual relations, and seem unique, among apes, in
forming naturally a man and woman team to raise and protect their
This seems natural for humans (even if also
seems natural for men and women to remain interested in others for
sexual or personal relations), and one possible natural reason for this
is that it takes in fact some 15 tot 25 years to properly educate a
human being, and that apart from education it takes some 15 years for
a human animal to attain an adult size and body.
 But when
several families are united, and the association aims at something
more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is
the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be
that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and
grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.'
This indeed also seems natural, and
indeed gorillas and chimpanzees do something like it, except that
their sexual relations are not organized in the same way, nor are
they, like adult human beings, in sexual heat all the time (and
therefore in principle constantly sexually attracted and attractive).
family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the
family the kingly form of government prevailed because they were of
the same blood.
Here Aristotle seems to confuse what
seems mostly natural (the most powerful rules) with what seems mostly
cultural (kings and primogeniture).
 As Homer
"Each one gives law to his children and to his wives. "
This is certainly so among gorillas,
and it is noteworthy to mention one reason why it is less so among
human beings, even if some human males would like to see Homer's point
of view prevail: Human women and children are quite capable to discuss
and question orders, and also quite capable of understandig their male
masters in a thoroughly human way.
 For they
imagine, not only the forms of the Gods, but their ways of life to be
like their own.
This mirrors an observation made by
other ancient Greeks, such as Herodotus: In general, men have gods who
they believe to be like them, in looks, behavior and preferences.
 When several villages are united in a single complete community, large
enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into
existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in
existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier
forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of
them, and the nature of a thing is its end.
What is true is that human groups and
cooperation that goes beyond one's own family seems to be less based
on sympathy than on self-interest, and that accordingly the forming of
larger groups of human beings seems mostly motivated, in so far as it
is free choice, on the belief that this will further the interest of
the cooperating members, in that many can easily do what one or a few
cannot do at all.
Apart from that, the state seems to
be not so much natural as cultural, first because it requires human
ideas, ends and agreements, and second because, if it were otherwise,
there would have been human states as long as there are humans, and
that is not so.
Incidentally, the claim "the
nature of a thing is its end" is quite Aristotelean, for he
held that living things have natural ends, that also define what they
are and may be. For more on these Aristotelean basic ideas, see his
Physics and Metaphysics.
 For what each thing is
when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a
man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing
is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
None of this seems true.
First, I see no reason why children
would be less natural or perfect than adults, even if they happen to
grow into them, if they make it.
Second, I see no reason to hold that
the final cause of something (whatever that may be) or end would be
best. This is again tied up with Aristotle's teleological notions, but
its logical conclusion seems to be that death is best, since that is
for all a natural terminus and end.
Third, one may hold that "to
be self-sufficing is the end and the best" but then this is not
easily compatible with being a member of a society, and goes counter
to what Aristotle earlier said about society. And indeed, the basic
rational reason for a human society is that it provides a means to
cooperate, and to produce more collectively and cooperatively than the
sum of each could produce independently and solely, without
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that
man is by nature a political animal.
man is by nature a
political animal - is a famous
Aristotelian dictum, but it may be doubted for the same reason as it
may be doubted that "the
state is a creation of nature":
Even if both come natural to men, it took them a long time to get as
far, and the arisal of both states and policies seem to involve many
free human decisions, without any natural need to be made as they
eventually are or were made.
Here it may also be remarked that as
late as the 1930ies societies of men were discovered (e.g. in
Papua-New-Guinea) who lived much like human beings in Europe lived a
100.000 years ago, and who, accordingly, also living in virtual total
seclusion of the rest of mankind, did not number sufficiently strong
or intelligent men to think of a better idea to organize human society
or produce commodities in a better way than they did for countless
generations by tradition.
Incidentally, it strikes me as quite
curious that such - isolated, small -societies were capable to subsist
for some 100.000 years with apparently little development in knowledge
or techniques. (Of course part of the reason may be that it may have
been fairly easy, in a tropical climate, with abundant and easy growth
of food, to find the wherewithall to lead a satisfactory life with
little work.) Back.
 And he who
by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad
man or above humanity (..)
Possibly so, but what if, as happened
to Heraclitus of Ephesos, one's fellows ostracize one on the ground
that "if you want to be best, than do it elsewhere", or, as also
happened to him, it seems to one that the society one lives in is
neither good nor interesting?
Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other
gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing
in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift
of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or
pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature
attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of
them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended
to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the
just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone
has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and
the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family
and a state.
This contains a number of points to
First, the reason that "man
is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious
animals" is given by Aristotle as speech, which is true
as far as it goes, and implies, at least commonsensically, that what
makes man "political" (not uniquely
"social", for so indeed are the bees, and many other species of
animals) is his ability to choose deliberately and reflexively, and
in free discussion with others.
power of speech" implies a far greater ability to
understand, and to consider possibilities, alternatives, the future,
and the past.
Third, whether man "alone
has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like"
may be doubted, though it may be granted that man's sense of good and
evil, like man's values and ends, are far more sophisticated than
those of other social animals. Even so, social animals do enforce some
rules, though the less complex the animal, the more instinctual will
this be. (Ants kill ants without the proper smell of the nest, for
Fourth, the human family and state
indeed are in considerable part free creatures of the human
imagination, rather than instinctually forced modes of being and
cooperating: It is in many ways the result of conscious, free,
deliberate choice, based on a deliberate weighing of alternatives,
possibilities and risks.
Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to
the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity
prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there
will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might
speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better
No. This is in various ways false and
mostly rhetorical, and also easily invites totalitarianism. And
in any case, man does not exist for the state, but the state for man -
unless it is a dictatorial state.
But things are defined by their working and
That makes sense, and a somewhat more
abstract rendering of the same is: by their capacities and acts
(though not by all of them).
The proof that the state is a creation of nature
and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is
not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the
whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need
because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god:
he is no part of a state.
See first under .
Also, I think the alternative "either
a beast or a god" is hyperbolic: One may be quite human, yet
live by oneself, out of choice, for example because of the kind of
society or type of man one would otherwise need to live with, or by
force or accident, like Robinson Crusoe on his island.
Indeed, he who cannot live by himself
or unto himself must be a pretty poor individual, if sound of body and
A social instinct is implanted in all men by
nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of
The first is undoubtedly true, though
it also is quite vague. The second is doubtful, and better rephrased
by "he who first saw that human
cooperation could be used and
furthered in the interest of all who cooperated had a very important
insight". (But it may be presumed this lies a 100.000 years in the
past, at least. Even so, it was the beginning of civilization.)
For man, when perfected, is the best of animals,
but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all;
since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at
birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he
may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is
the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of
lust and gluttony.
Yes, and the reason is that whatever
may be used may be abused, and thus the greater one's capacities for
good, the greater one's capacities for evil.
But justice is the bond of men in states, for
the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is
just, is the principle of order in political society.
For which see the
Books ... Back.
Seeing then that the state is made up of
households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the
management of the household.
Indeed, but this is not quite
inkeeping, logically speaking, with what was said in .
a complete household consists of slaves and
freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest
possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family
are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We have
therefore to consider what each of these three relations is and ought
to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, the marriage
relation (the conjunction of man and wife has no name of its own), and
thirdly, the procreative relation (this also has no proper name).
Here it is of course noteworthy that
Aristotle held that "a complete household
consists of slaves and freemen", and thought this quite natural
as well, as he will proceed to explain.
Note that while many in modern times
have great trouble with the notion of slavery, most of these many do
stand in a relation to others fairly described as "master
and servant". (Many in modern society believe themselves to be
free, even if in fact they are forced to work most of their lifes
under the command of others, merely to be able to obtain the means for
And there is another element of a household, the
so-called art of getting wealth, which, according to some, is
identical with household management, according to others, a principal
part of it; the nature of this art will also have to be considered by
Aristotle has also discussed this to
some extent in the Ethics, and had no high opinion of men whose
primary aim in life was to be wealthy. Even so, and apart from wealth,
a family needs the wherewithall to eat, sleep, be protected against
the weather etc.
some are of opinion that the rule of a master is
a science, and that the management of a household, and the mastership
of slaves, and the political and royal rule, as I was saying at the
outset, are all the same. Others affirm that the rule of a master over
slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave
and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an
interference with nature is therefore unjust.
So here we see that already with the
ancient Greeks slavery was not universally considered good or
natural - though the reader should realize that in fact much of the
ancient Greek economy worked on slave labor, and there tended to be
far more slaves than free men.
Property is a part of the household, and the art
of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household;
for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided
Indeed, but this neither explains
what property is, nor what the necessaries are.
Here, however, another distinction must be
drawn; the instruments commonly so called are instruments of
production, whilst a possession is an instrument of action. The
shuttle, for example, is not only of use; but something else is made
by it, whereas of a garment or of a bed there is only the use.
Marx made much of this distinction,
and indeed so much that it vitiated a considerable part of his
economics, as Steedman's "Marx after Sraffa" explains.
Also, it is noteworthy that Marx's
labor theory of value is rather close to Aristotle's theory
about the economical values of commodities. See
,  and .
The master is only the master of the slave; he
does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his
master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and
office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man,
is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who,
being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be
defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.
is not clarified, but Aristotle's meaning is clearly that a slave are
related to their masters as are cattle to their owners.
Note that this is not a very logical
idea, in as much as the human abilities of slaves are quite different
from the abilities of cattle. On the other hand, in a society were
human slaves could be bought and sold as a matter of course in the
market place, it seems not very unreasonable to state and conclude
that, in such a society, slaves did have the marks of property,
however this was precisely understood.
But is there any one thus intended by nature to
be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or
rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?
That, of course, is the question.
Aristotle will answer it in a way that is not modern nor popular among
moderns - though it should also be realized that in effect slavery in
the European countries was abolished in the first three quarters of
the 19th Century only, and until then was regarded by most as quite
natural, quite fair, or at least not intolerable, especially as
regards human beings of other races, often also deemed "backward",
"primitive" or "savage".
There is no difficulty in answering this
question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should
rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient;
from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection,
others for rule.
Even if this is so - and it is true
that some are born smart, others strong, and yet others neither strong
nor smart, and that this seems to imply that some are naturally more
fit to rule than others - that some should rule and others be ruled in
no way implies that the former should own the latter, and the latter
enslaved by the former.
we must study the man who is in the most perfect
state both of body and soul, for in him we shall see the true relation
of the two; although in bad or corrupted natures the body will often
appear to rule over the soul, because they are in an evil and
It seems to me that the best are not
the right way to understand the average, simply because the best are
rare, and the average common. And - for example - Aristotle himself is
not quite the right person to understand or explain far less
And it is clear that the rule of the soul over
the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the
passionate, is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two
or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful.
Perhaps, but at best this is an
argument by analogy, and the point made under  remains standing.
The same holds good of animals in relation to
men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame
animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are
One may ask whether the animals would
agree, if they were capable of making such choices, which they are
not. But it is true that there will be more cattle if men keep cattle,
and also true that a good farmer takes proper care of his animals, if
only out of self-interest. Besides, it is unlikely that the life in
the wild, for most animals, is much like bliss, and far more likely to
be a continuous struggle for food and safety, in which nearly all
perish long before their old age, often painfully.
Again, the male is by nature superior, and the
female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this
principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.
Interestingly, Aristotle does not
explain why this would be so: He merely asserts it.
As far as human beings are concerned,
it seems the main differences between men and women are that the
former are on average slightly larger, slightly stronger, and somewhat
There are no obvious intellectual or
moral differences (or those which there are may be considered partial
to women, who tend to be less aggressive, and who do put the children
in the world and take care of them in their young years), except
perhaps that there are more geniuses among men - but then that is
something that applies to at most 1 in 10 million or so, and therefore
is hardly relevant to judge "men" and "women" by.
Accordingly, there seems to be no
rational reason to treat women as inferior to men, and many moral and
practical reasons not to, and the supposed superiority of men seems of
a beastly nature, that derives from mere size and physical strength.
Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body,
or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is
to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are
by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that
they should be under the rule of a master.
What one can agree with is that it is
practically unwise (fraught with harmful consequences for many) if the
stupid or the ignorant rule the intelligent and knowledgeable.
But "rule" is not the same as
"master", and "master" is not the same as "slave-owner", so Aristotle
doesn't prove his point.
And there also is this point, taken
Ayer & O'Grady, who took it from Singer:
...when in the 1850s the call for
women's rights was raised in the United States, a remarkable black
feminist named Sojourner Truth made the (..) point (..)
They talk about this thing in the
head; what do they call it? ['Intellect', whispered someone nearby.]
That's it. What's that got to do with women's rights otr Negroes'
rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart,
wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?
Interestingly, Singer uses this for
the following end
...it is in accordance with this
principle that the attitude that we may call 'speciesism', by analogy
with racism, must also be condemned.
In short, Singer is an animal
rightist of the more extremist kind - as if Sojourner Truth had asked
or meant 'wouldn't you be mean not to treat me as a pig?'. (In brief,
I reject the analogy and Singer's argument, and like human beings, for
all their stupidities, crudities, and intentional cruelties, better
than, say, tapeworms. If that makes me 'a speciesist', so be it. I'm
sure the pigs and the tapeworms don't care either.)
For he who can be, and
therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle
enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by
nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend a principle;
they obey their instincts.
Here the point seems to be that the
stupid should not rule the intelligent - but as remarked under the
previous point, this does not establish Aristotle's contention.
And indeed the use made of slaves and of
tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies
minister to the needs of life.
This wholly avoids discussing the
differences between human beings treated as cattle, and animals
treated as cattle. Even the most stupid of men, if not a congenital
complete idiot, is more intelligent than the most clever of animals,
and also far more like the person who may own him as slave, than any
And doubtless if men differed from one another
in the mere forms of their bodies as much as the statues of the Gods
do from men, all would acknowledge that the inferior class should be
slaves of the superior. And if this is true of the body, how much more
just that a similar distinction should exist in the soul? but the
beauty of the body is seen, whereas the beauty of the soul is not
seen. It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others
slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.
If we first consider only the body,
it seems true that most men (and women) seem inclined this way, in as
much as the naturally beautiful are far more appreciated than those
who are not, and generally are attributed further good properties,
merely on the strength of being physically attractive.
Even so, this does not license the
inference that "the inferior class should be
slaves of the superior", even if the inferior are less strong
and attractive than the superior.
There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by
nature. The law of which I speak is a sort of convention - the law by
which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors.
But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who
brought forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion
that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior
in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject. Even among
philosophers there is a difference of opinion.
Note first - as e.g. illustrated by
Thucydides - that "the law by which whatever is
taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors" was common
practice then, and for a long time afterward. The whole notion of law
extending to situations of war only started in the 17th Century.
Second, that "Even
among philosophers there is a difference of opinion" sounds a
bit cynical, for obviously the whole notion that one can do what one
pleases with and to the members of a group or city that has been
defeated is cut from the same cloth as from which comes "might is
as superior power is only found where there is
superior excellence of some kind, power seems to imply virtue
No way: This is again far too close
to "might is right". And one may be a perfect bully and a great
And again, no one would ever say he is a slave
who is unworthy to be a slave. Were this the case, men of the highest
rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their
parents chance to have been taken captive and sold. Wherefore Hellenes
do not like to call Hellenes slaves, but confine the term to
It is noteworthy that the Greeks of
Socrates's or Aristotle's time were in fact of very mixed stock, and
that "Hellenes" were those who had Greek
as their mother language, and "barbarians"
those who didn't.
Even so - see
Thucydides, e.g. on the Miletians - the Greeks gladly chopped off
the heads of the males of a Greek city they defeated, and sold the
women and children into slavery, though perhaps not to Greeks but e.g.
it must be admitted that some are slaves
everywhere, others nowhere. The same principle applies to nobility.
Hellenes regard themselves as noble everywhere, and not only in their
own country, but they deem the barbarians noble only when at home,
thereby implying that there are two sorts of nobility and freedom, the
one absolute, the other relative.
It seems both chauvinism and the
desire to seem better than others are quite human -
human-all-too-human, as Nietzsche might have said, though he too liked
to think of himself as an aristocrat.
Hence, where the relation of master and slave
between them is natural they are friends and have a common interest,
but where it rests merely on law and force the reverse is true.
Again, this is much like the relation
between a good farmer and his cattle, and in fact hardly credible,
since very few men like to be slaves, for it is natural to desire to
do as one pleases.
The previous remarks are quite enough to show
that the rule of a master is not a constitutional rule, and that all
the different kinds of rule are not, as some affirm, the same with
each other. For there is one rule exercised over subjects who are by
nature free, another over subjects who are by nature slaves.
As my "previous
remarks" show, Aristotle's opinions on the topic of slavery are
far from rational, and the best that can be said for them is that he
described and sought to legitimize what was the common practice in his
days, and remained so for some 2000 years, in most places.
Now it is easy to see that the art of household
management is not identical with the art of getting wealth, for the
one uses the material which the other provides. For the art which uses
household stores can be no other than the art of household management.
There is, however, a doubt whether the art of getting wealth is a part
of household management or a distinct art.
Here Aristotle has turned to
discussing wealth and property. It is noteworthy here that, both for
Aristotle and for his contemporary Greek free men, it was more or less
axiomatic that men works to live, and does not live to work - which
was, incidentally, another reason to hold slaves.
Such are the modes of subsistence which prevail
among those whose industry springs up of itself, and whose food is not
acquired by exchange and retail trade - there is the shepherd, the
husbandman, the brigand, the fisherman, the hunter.
I extract this from a longer
discussion on ways of making a living to show that, since then, there
have arisen enormous complications and differentiations in working for
Property, in the sense of a bare livelihood,
seems to be given by nature herself to all, both when they are first
born, and when they are grown up.
This is again not a clear sense of "Property"
other than the wherewithall to survive on or with.
In like manner we may infer that, after the
birth of animals, plants exist for their sake, and that the other
animals exist for the sake of man, the tame for use and food, the
wild, if not all at least the greater part of them, for food, and for
the provision of clothing and various instruments. Now if nature makes
nothing incomplete, and nothing in vain, the inference must be that
she has made all animals for the sake of man.
This is again an application of
Aristotle's penchant for teleological explanations, and it may be well
to extract the principles
- things exist for ends
- nature makes nothing incomplete
- nature does nothing in vain
None of this seems true: Human ends
are unique to humans, in as much as they depend on rational linguistic
planning, imagination and desire; many natural things might have been
better than they are, in various senses; and if nature does nothing in
vain it is only because whatever it does in particular enters into
relations with other particulars.
Even so, this mode of teleological
reasoning has been popular for ages, and indeed it is remarkably easy
to justify inferences that are desirable, such as nature "has
made all animals for the sake of man" - which, incidentally,
can also be found in the Bible, except that God contrived this in His
And so, in one point of view, the art of war is a
natural art of acquisition, for the art of acquisition includes
hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts, and
against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not
submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.
What is true is that violence is
natural, while it is also true that some other social animals, such as
ants, may be quite warlike to other ants.
Note also Aristotle's line of
reasoning to justify war: It is justified if the warred against party
is naturally inferior. The problem, of course, is that it comes
natural to consider those one wishes to exploit or subject as
the amount of property which is needed for a
good life is not unlimited, although Solon in one of his poems says
"No bound to riches has been fixed for man. "
Put otherwise: Human desire tends to
be unlimited. Here then it may also be remarked that, as one man's
riches tend to be other men's losses, the desire for boundless riches
implies the desire for limitless exploitation or at least easily justifies it,
to the rich. Back.
But there is a boundary fixed, just as there is
in the other arts; for the instruments of any art are never unlimited,
either in number or size, and riches may be defined as a number of
instruments to be used in a household or in a state.
No, that doesn't make sense, though
it leads up to a better point below. It doesn't make sense, because
the limitation of instruments implies no limitation of products.
Of everything which we possess there are two
uses: both belong to the thing as such, but not in the same manner,
for one is the proper, and the other the improper or secondary use of
it. For example, a shoe is used for wear, and is used for exchange;
both are uses of the shoe. He who gives a shoe in exchange for money
or food to him who wants one, does indeed use the shoe as a shoe, but
this is not its proper or primary purpose, for a shoe is not made to
be an object of barter. The same may be said of all possessions, for
the art of exchange extends to all of them, and it arises at first
from what is natural, from the circumstance that some have too little,
others too much.
Marx made much of this, and called it
'use value' and 'exchange value'. It is noteworthy that these days
most marketable commodities are made for trade, and that this is
related to the industrial mode of production and the division of
Hence we may infer that retail trade is not a
natural part of the art of getting wealth; had it been so, men would
have ceased to exchange when they had enough. In the first community,
indeed, which is the family, this art is obviously of no use, but it
begins to be useful when the society increases.
Aristotle, who was an aristocrat, had
little liking for traders, merchants and what are these days called
businessmen, mostly because he considered their activities and motives
appropriate to inferior men only.
And in fact, speaking socially, "retail
trade" is the foundation of a society's wealth, however it is
divided among its members, and - as pointed out in the previous point,
and at far greater length in Adam Smith's "The wealth of nations"
this also involves the industrial mode of production and the division
of labor. Back.
For the members of the family originally had all
things in common; later, when the family divided into parts, the parts
shared in many things, and different parts in different things, which
they had to give in exchange for what they wanted, a kind of barter
which is still practiced among barbarous nations who exchange with one
another the necessaries of life and nothing more; giving and receiving
wine, for example, in exchange for coin, and the like.
This contains two noteworthy points.
First, that "the
members of the family originally had all things in common" is
something that is still, in some sense, true of families: There is, it
might be said, something like a natural human spirit of communism -
"from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs"
- namely that which prevails in ordinary well-functioning families.
This also is true of the most
capitalistic of entrepreneurs, whose capitalistic modes of dealing
with others stops at the door of his family mansion, where his family
members are concerned.
- exchange of commodities without the intermediation of money - must
have been practiced for tenthousands of years, and indeed is the
beginning of trade, and a kind of
This sort of barter is not part of the
wealth-getting art and is not contrary to nature, but is needed for
the satisfaction of men's natural wants. The other or more complex
form of exchange grew, as might have been inferred, out of the
simpler. When the inhabitants of one country became more dependent on
those of another, and they imported what they needed, and exported
what they had too much of, money necessarily came into use.
Aristotle makes the distinction
between "barter" and trade quite clearly:
Only the latter involves money, incidentally invented around 700 B.C.
Note that money is a curious thing: A
medium of exchange that, at least when it itself is not of the nature
of gold, silver or diamonds, is without any value as such, other than
as abstract title and means of exchange with commodities.
When the use of coin had once been discovered,
out of the barter of necessary articles arose the other art of wealth
getting, namely, retail trade; which was at first probably a simple
matter, but became more complicated as soon as men learned by
experience whence and by what exchanges the greatest profit might be
made. Originating in the use of coin, the art of getting wealth is
generally thought to be chiefly concerned with it, and to be the art
which produces riches and wealth (..)
Note the underlying point: Whereas it
is in principle possible, in a society with barter but no money, to
hoard enormous quantities of goods, such as sheep or amphorae of wine,
this normally is quite useless, since one will not be able to barter
them, and is forced to store and take care of them. But as soon as one
can hoard pieces of metal, each of which can be exchanged for
commodities, hoarding of money becomes an obvious possibility.
Indeed, riches is assumed by many to be only a
quantity of coin, because the arts of getting wealth and retail trade
are concerned with coin. Others maintain that coined money is a mere
sham, a thing not natural, but conventional only, because, if the
users substitute another commodity for it, it is worthless, and
because it is not useful as a means to any of the necessities of life,
and, indeed, he who is rich in coin may often be in want of necessary
coined money is a mere sham" is at best a hyperbole, for in a
functioning society, where money and trade are normal, a quantity of
money is at least as good as, and usually better than, a promise by an
honest man to give one something.
Hence men seek after a better notion of riches
and of the art of getting wealth than the mere acquisition of coin,
and they are right. For natural riches and the natural art of
wealth-getting are a different thing; in their true form they are part
of the management of a household; whereas retail trade is the art of
producing wealth, not in every way, but by exchange.
As mentioned before, Aristotle had an
aristocratic disdain for mere traders, and for people whose end in life is
the acquisition of wealth. One problem with this mindset is that most
ordinary men feel differently, and are willing to spend much efforts
on becoming wealthy, and indeed for an understandable reason: Men
desire to do as they please, and in a society with money, having lots
of money is the best guarantee for doing as one pleases, and also for
being respected, admired, and to get status and power.
What is true, on the other hand, is
that such a concern with monetary wealth as the end of life tends to
put a stop to many other things, such as humane relations and
development of mind and character, if only because for most it seems
that whoever is rich enough can get all he wants, so that it seems
natural for many to try to become rich before becoming properly human,
educated or wise.
Yet again, as
Mandeville pointed out,
this human-all-too-human concern with becoming personally rich, and
with outsmarting others in economical deals, also is the foundation of
social wealth for all, and seems a naturally fitting way to make most
ordinary men behave legally and productively.
And it is thought to be concerned with coin; for
coin is the unit of exchange and the measure or limit of it. And there
is no bound to the riches which spring from this art of wealth
getting. As in the art of medicine there is no limit to the pursuit of
health, and as in the other arts there is no limit to the pursuit of
their several ends, for they aim at accomplishing their ends to the
uttermost (but of the means there is a limit, for the end is always
the limit), so, too, in this art of wealth-getting there is no limit
of the end, which is riches of the spurious kind, and the acquisition
Aristotle's disdain is clear, but his
argument is not quite sensible, if only because e.g. medicine and many
other human pursuits have a clear and limited end (such as the health
of the patient in medicine), whereas it is a peculiar feature of money
that it can be acquired without limit, and gives its possessor, as
long as society is not disrupted, a power proportionate to his wealth,
since his wealth is proportionate to the commodities and services he can buy with
And, therefore, in one point of view, all riches
must have a limit; nevertheless, as a matter of fact, we find the
opposite to be the case; for all getters of wealth increase their
hoard of coin without limit. The source of the confusion is the near
connection between the two kinds of wealth-getting; in either, the
instrument is the same, although the use is different, and so they
pass into one another; for each is a use of the same property, but
with a difference: accumulation is the end in the one case, but there
is a further end in the other.
This was explained above, and is also
part of Marx's inspiritation when he wrote of alienation, for it
seemed to him (as to Aristotle) that those whose aim in life is to
become wealthy become divested from their proper humanity, because
they reduce everything human to profit and trade.
Indeed, this is so to a considerable
extent - but then most if not all successful entrepreneurial types
seem to have little talent for real science or art, and may be most
usefully employed in organizing things and trade for their own
benefits, thereby contributing to social wealth.
What is true is that such
entrepreneurial types should not be the leaders of, or most important
force behind, government, since that requires far more in knowledge
and abilities to do well and fairly than are necessary to become a
successful trader, wheeler and dealer.
Hence some persons are led to believe that
getting wealth is the object of household management, and the whole
idea of their lives is that they ought either to increase their money
without limit, or at any rate not to lose it.
Indeed, and that is in many ways the
human ideal of most who live under capitalism: To get rich.
Those who do aim at a good life seek the means
of obtaining bodily pleasures; and, since the enjoyment of these
appears to depend on property, they are absorbed in getting wealth:
and so there arises the second species of wealth-getting. For, as
their enjoyment is in excess, they seek an art which produces the
excess of enjoyment; and, if they are not able to supply their
pleasures by the art of getting wealth, they try other arts, using in
turn every faculty in a manner contrary to nature.
As pointed out before, as long as a
society with money functions, to have money in it is to have power in
it, and to have power in it is to be able to do as one pleases, which
is what all men naturally desire.
Nevertheless, some men turn every quality or art
into a means of getting wealth; this they conceive to be the end, and
to the promotion of the end they think all things must contribute.
This I explained in previous notes,
and all that remains to be added here is that such men may be clever
dealers, but seem to have little talent for art or science, and also
may be quite successful in putting the cart before the horse as far as
their personal happiness is concerned.
But, strictly speaking, as I have already said,
the means of life must be provided beforehand by nature; for the
business of nature is to furnish food to that which is born, and the
food of the offspring is always what remains over of that from which
it is produced. Wherefore the art of getting wealth out of fruits and
animals is always natural.
This harks back to previous points of
Aristotle, and also insists again, a bit tacitly, that the desire for
monetary riches is not precisely "natural".
There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have
said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail
trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists
in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by
which men gain from one another.
Indeed - but see under
,  and
. Briefly, it may be that most men are not capable of doing much
The most hated sort, and with the greatest
reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from
the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in
exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest,
which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding
of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an
modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.
This point had great influence: It
took until late in the Middle Ages for usury to become permissible,
and for devout muslims it still is forbidden to demand interest on
But Aristotle was mistaken, at least
practically if not morally: The great harm usury may do can be mostly
limited and prevented by law and by fair taxes.
Enough has been said about the theory of
wealth-getting; we will now proceed to the practical part. The
discussion of such matters is not unworthy of philosophy, but to be
engaged in them practically is illiberal and irksome.
In other words: The true philosopher
is willing to think about making money, but to superior a person to
engage in it.
The problem with this is that it
either requires inherited wealth, or great strength of character and
living in a tun, as did Diogenes, or else some subtle redefinitions,
such as making teaching philosophy for money something that is not at
all on a par with, say, trading furs for money. (Here it may be
pointed out, perhaps, that prostitutes would have a better case,
logically speaking, since they are paid to please.)
Of the other, which consists in exchange, the
first and most important division is commerce (of which there are
three kinds - the provision of a ship, the conveyance of
goods, exposure for sale - these again differing as they are safer or
more profitable), the second is usury, the third, service for hire -
of this, one kind is employed in the mechanical arts, the other in
unskilled and bodily labor.
This is a neat division, that also
suggests that economical relations in Antiquity, indeed until the
Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century, were considerably more
simple and more direct than in modern days, where the majority of
working people do not produce commodities, but engage in paper work
and organizing things, or are bureaucrats of the state or city.
Those occupations are most truly arts in which there is the least
element of chance; they are the meanest in which the body is most
deteriorated, the most servile in which there is the greatest use of
the body, and the most illiberal in which there is the least need of
In brief: The better sort of person
one is, the less bodily labor one engages in. This may seem natural to
an aristocrat, but personally I have known hardworking farmers who
seemed to me far more rational and reasonable than far less
hardworking entrepreneurial types or academically employed
philosophers, that I have also personally known. Back.
There is the anecdote of Thales the Milesian and
his financial device (..)
This is the philosopher - florished
around -580 - who said that the world originated from water, was
sustained by water, and drifted on it. He also is supposed to have
laid the foundations of geometry, though this may be later legend. He
is also believed to have been an engineer who built at least one
bridge for King Croesus, the inventor of money. Thales certainly was a
very smart man, and known as such in his own and Aristotle's time.
It is noteworthy that he was one of
the first men to whom conscious rational speculation about the origin of reality
and about mathematics was attributed.
He is supposed to have given a striking proof of
his wisdom, but, as I was saying, his device for getting wealth is of
universal application, and is nothing but the creation of a monopoly.
It is an art often practiced by cities when they are want of money;
they make a monopoly of provisions.
Note two things: Here a better term
than "wisdom" is "intelligence" or
"cleverness", and "monopoly" is a very
old and well-known means to get stinkingly rich.
And indeed, in a well-run state with
free trade and money, the state or the law takes care to prevent
monopolies, if only because they give to much power to monopolists.
Of household management we have seen that there are three parts
- one is the rule of a master over slaves, which has been discussed
already, another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband
and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the
rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal, over his wife
a constitutional rule.
Note that for Aristotle (1) these are
natural relations and (2) this extends to the kinds of subordinations
(men - women - children - slaves) he speaks of.
For although there may be exceptions to the
order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the
female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger
and more immature. But in most constitutional states the citizens rule
and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies
that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all.
feminists may feel joy in
contemplating "the idea of a constitutional
state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal", but
Aristotle takes care of that in the next point.
Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is
ruled we endeavor to create a difference of outward forms and names
and titles of respect (..). The relation of the male to the female is
of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent.
As I argued before, this seems to me
not founded on reason.
On the other hand, it also seems
clear to me, if not to modern feminists, that men and women are
different - and that the differences are mostly concerned with bearing
and raising children.
Since this is very important, it also
seems to me that men and women should have some different rights and
duties in these respects - and indeed, I am one of those who believes
it is quite sensible for many women to desire to raise their own
children, and organize their own family, rather than work 40 hours a week
in a menial job, so as to be able to pay other even more menial women
to take care of their children for pay, or do the cooking.
And therefore Homer has appropriately called
Zeus 'father of Gods and men,' because he is the king of them all. For
a king is the natural superior of his subjects, but he should be of
the same kin or kind with them, and such is the relation of elder and
younger, of father and son.
Again it is noteworthy that for
Aristotle these are natural relations, which he also saw illustrated
not only in Greek gods and men, women and children, but also in some
animals, for social animals tend to live in packs or hordes, in which
there are leaders, with some social order based on power and status,
since this is even true of goats and chickens.
A question may indeed be raised, whether there
is any excellence at all in a slave beyond and higher than merely
instrumental and ministerial qualities - whether he can have the
virtues of temperance, courage, justice, and the like; or whether
slaves possess only bodily and ministerial qualities. And, whichever
way we answer the question, a difficulty arises; for, if they have
virtue, in what will they differ from freemen? On the other hand,
since they are men and share in rational principle, it seems absurd to
say that they have no virtue. A similar question may be raised about
women and children, whether they too have virtues: ought a woman to be
temperate and brave and just, and is a child to be called temperate,
and intemperate, or not.
Clearly, Aristotle's own answer is on
the line of: Yes... but there is a natural lower and higher, and
naturally males are highest.
Here the very
constitution of the soul has shown us the way; in it one part
naturally rules, and the other is subject, and the virtue of the ruler
we in maintain to be different from that of the subject; the one being
the virtue of the rational, and the other of the irrational part. Now,
it is obvious that the same principle applies generally, and therefore
almost all things rule and are ruled according to nature. But the kind
of rule differs; the freeman rules over the slave after another manner
from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the
Realistically speaking, usually "the
male rules over the female, or the man over the child",
regardless of his abilities or intentions, because of his bigger size
and greater strength, and not because of his superior intelligence or
Apart from that, it may well be asked
to what extent the rational, deliberating and conscious part of one's
mind is in control of the emotional, passionate and possibly
unconscious part, especially if one considers that (1) quite probably
intelligence is a modification of feeling itself, rather than quite
distinct from it and (2) in any case the choice to deliberate rather
than to enact one's feelings will in considerable part depend on
feelings (that themselves again may depend on perceived or presumed
For the slave has no deliberative faculty at
all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has,
but it is immature. So it must necessarily be supposed to be with the
moral virtues also; all should partake of them, but only in such
manner and degree as is required by each for the fulfillment of his
Here Aristotle settles by postulation
what he should prove, but very probably knew to be quite false, namely
that "the slave has no deliberative faculty at
Note also, incidentally, that there
is no logical inference from "having more power" to "having higher
moral virtues", even if most who have power like to think and pretend
so. But there is no obvious reason why someone of limited gifts in a
menial social position may not be morally an excellent person.
Clearly, then, moral virtue belongs to all of
them; but the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and
justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as Socrates maintained, the
same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in
obeying. And this holds of all other virtues, as will be more clearly
seen if we look at them in detail, for those who say generally that
virtue consists in a good disposition of the soul, or in doing
rightly, or the like, only deceive themselves.
It seems to me Socrates was more
right here than Aristotle. For more on the virtues, see the
Some one will ask whether, if what we are saying
is true, virtue will not be required also in the artisans, for they
often fail in their work through the lack of self control? But is
there not a great difference in the two cases? For the slave shares in
his master's life; the artisan is less closely connected with him, and
only attains excellence in proportion as he becomes a slave. The
meaner sort of mechanic has a special and separate slavery; and
whereas the slave exists by nature, not so the shoemaker or other
Here it is noteworthy that in
Antiquity there were artisans, that is, free men who made their living
by exercising some learned craft.
Wherefore they are mistaken who forbid us to
converse with slaves and say that we should employ command only, for
slaves stand even more in need of admonition than children.
This sounds as if it should be spoken
in a pronounced upperclass accent, as if it was a most moral thought.
For, inasmuch as every family is a part of a
state, and these relationships are the parts of a family, and the
virtue of the part must have regard to the virtue of the whole, women
and children must be trained by education with an eye to the
constitution, if the virtues of either of them are supposed to make
any difference in the virtues of the state. And they must make a
difference: for the children grow up to be citizens, and half the free
persons in a state are women.
Note here "women and children must be trained by
education with an eye to the constitution", which is to say
that, also for Aristotle, as for the moderns, the state and its laws
enter into family life.