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Aristotle's Natural Slaves: Incomplete Praxeis and Incomplete Human Beings EUGENE GARVER 1. IT IS DIFFICULT tO reconstruct Aristotle's argument for slavery and natural slaves because it seems a paradigm case of a great mind defending the indefensible .' I think, though, that it is possible to get some distance on the subject, so that examining the arguments on slavery is no more difficult than trying to understand his arguments against inertia or the void. In advance of reading Aristotle I am confident that his conclusion that natural slaves exist must be false,just like his conclusion that the void does not exist. But my better knowledge of physics seems to have a different role in my trying to figure out his arguments against the void than my similarly better knowledge of morality in my interpretation of his arguments for slavery. I will try to show that there is less difference between the two cases than one might think. I propose to gain the necessary distance by making central to my analysis three of the more puzzling and usually ignored or unexplained aspects of Aristotle's conception. First of all, in Politics I Aristotle claims that the slave belongs to the master and is a tool for prax/s rather than making. Second, in Politics VII he asserts that people naturally suited to be slaves are deficient not in logos but in thymos. Finally, I want to notice that Aristotle has two distinct arguments in Book I, one for the nature of slavery, and the second for the zSchofield's recent comment sums up the consensus: "[It] is a common complaint among scholars that Aristotle's idea of natural slavery is an anomaly within his philosophical system.... [Although] it might be granted argumenti causa that there are persons who satisfy Aristotle's description of natural slaves.., it is a massiveerror or pretence to assume that in the actual world (for Aristotle, the contemporary Greek world) slaves are what he calls natural slaves." Malcolm Schofield, "Ideology and Philosophy in Aristotle's Theory of Slavery," in Ar/st0te/es'"Politike': Akten des XI. symposium Aristotelicum (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 199o), 4. [173] 174 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 32:2 APRIL 1994 existence of people fitting the descriptions of slaves. It is only after he shows the necessity of the institution of slavery that he goes on to establish, as he sees it, the existence of natural slaves. As I will show, he needs that separation of the two questions, but that distinction will ultimately be the cause of the trouble with his argument. In my exposition, though, I will reverse Aristotle's order and begin by looking at the case for natural slaves, and then turn to the case for the institution of slavery. According to Aristotle, the souls of slaves are incomplete, ateles. A substance , such as a soul, is incomplete if it is defined by an essence, a formula or logos, outside itself. Its completion consists in reference to something outside itself. The soul of an earthworm, then, or of a domestic animal, qua animal, is not incomplete; itjust cannot do a lot of the things my soul can do. If the souls of slaves are incomplete, it follows that their energeiai can only be k/nese/s, actualizations of potentials qua potencies. My thesis is that the slave's actions are incomplete if and only if the slave's soul and his logos is incomplete. It is not obvious what it means for a soul to be incomplete, or how to tell whether a soul is incomplete, but criteria are available for determining whether an action is incomplete. The slave's actions on Aristotle's account are by their nature incomplete, and so his acts fit the definition of motion as the actualization of the potential qua potential.* Motions are incomplete actualities. Their completion lies outside themselves, in the end aimed at. When a movement reaches its end, motion is no longer taking place. It is no defect in a making, a poiesis, to be a motion; they are supposed to be incomplete (ate/es), because they are done for the sake of an end outside themselves. It...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 173-195
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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