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Aristotle's Conception of Freedom MOIRA M. WALSH That human being is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another's. (Metaphysics, 982b25-26) ' 1. INTRODUCTION THERE IS NO PLACE in the Nicomachean Ethics, or the Politics, where Aristotle provides us with an explicit definition of freedom. Nevertheless, it is possible to glean Aristotle's notion of freedom from a series of passages in the Politics, in which Aristotle discusses such matters as the existence of the natural slave, and the understanding of freedom underlying certain forms of democracy. This effort is useful insofar as it not only helps us to understand Aristotle, but also presents us with a conception of freedom interestingly different from many contemporary versions and perhaps worth our consideration. ~ The reader will notice that I deliberately retain, for the most part, the generic use of 'man' and of masculine pronouns in translatingand commentingon Aristotle, a practice which cannot go without explanationin this day and age. Such terms in English conveyjust the same ambiguity as Aristode's Greek does when, for instance, he uses the masculine adjectives eleutherosor agathos as generic terms--that is, they leave the reader uncertain as to whether women are considered capable of freedom or goodness in the same way that men are, with the suspicion that they are not. I do not share the opinion, apparently held by Aristotle, that members of my gender are intellectually inferior to members of the opposite gender; but I have tried here to present his conceptionof freedom without beggingany questions as to whether he thought womencapable of it or not. My project in this paper, then, is different from that of, e.g., Roderick T. Long, "Aristotle's Conceptionof Freedom," ReviewofMetaphysics49/4 (1996): 775-8o~, whose efforts could roughly be said to represent an attempt to ascertain what Aristotle would have thought of contemporary conceptionsof freedom, rather than to ascertain how Aristotle himselfconceived of it. [495] 496 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35:4 OCTOBER 199 7 I will focus in this paper on Aristotle's use of the term eleutheria, and its cognates. Eieutheria, usually translated as 'liberty' or 'freedom', is conceived by Aristotle in terms more moral and political than metaphysical, i.e., he considers tyranny and slavery, rather than determinism, to be its principal contraries . Self-direction, rather than bare spontaneity, is the crucial characteristic of the free person.3 In this respect, Aristotle is similar to many political philosophers of our time. As we will see, however, there is an important difference: while many contemporary theorists think of freedom as simply the capacity to guide one's own actions, without reference to the object or objects sought through action, Aristotle conceives of freedom as the capacity to direct oneself to those ends which one's reason rightly recognizes as choiceworthy. This concept of freedom as rational self-direction can be found underlying Aristotle's discussions of natural slavery and democracy. 2. FREEDOM AND SLAVERY Book I of the Politics contains an analysis of the relationships among the individual, the household, and the polls. In Chapters ~ and 5 of this book, Aristotle presents an interpretation of one of the relations within the household , namely, that of master and slave. He there makes a distinction between the political status of slavery, and the naturally slavish condition which alone can make this political status legitimate. Aristotle's discussion of the difference between the man who is naturally suited for slavery and the man naturally suited for freedom gives us a basis upon which we may build a definition of freedom as a condition of soul, rather than as a conventionally granted civil status. Our first clue is found in Chapter ~, in which the master-slave relationship is first discussed: "For that which can foresee with the mind [to dunamenon tel dianoiai prooran] is the naturally ruling and naturally mastering element, 3What other contemporary philosophers sometimes mean by 'freedom', namely, the bare ability to choose between alternatives, corresponds more closely to Aristotle's notion of the capacity to perform acts that are hek0us/a,or voluntary. The notion of the hekon,and its relation to the praiseworthiness and blameworthiness of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 495-507
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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