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Stoic Condemnation of Slavery:


Aristotle had argued that some people are slaves by nature.  He wrote that:

Aristotle - from Politics 1

[…] 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.

But the Stoics had a concept of Natural Law and the view that no man was born a slave.

Diogenes Laertius (3rd Cent CE) - Summarising views of Zeno of Citium and Chrysippus

They declare that he alone is free and bad men are slaves, freedom being power of independent action, whereas slavery is privation of the same;  though indeed there is also a second form of slavery consisting in subordination [subjugation], and a third which implies possession of the slave as well as his subordination; the correlative of such servitude being lordship [slave-ownership]; and this too is evil.  (7.121-122)

Epictetus, from Fragments

What you avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others. You avoid slavery, for instance; take care not to enslave. For if you can bear to exact slavery from others, you appear to have been yourself a slave. For vice has nothing in common with virtue, nor freedom with slavery. As a person in health would not wish to be attended by the sick nor to have those who live with him in a state of sickness ; so neither would a person who is free bear to be served by slaves, nor to have those who live with him in a state of slavery.

Epictetus, from Discourses 1.13

Slave yourself, will you not bear with your own brother, who has Zeus for his progenitor, and is like a son from the same seeds and of the same descent from above? But if you have been put in any such higher place, will you immediately make yourself a tyrant? Will you not remember who you are, and whom you rule? that they are kinsmen, that they are brethren by nature, that they are the offspring of Zeus?—But I have purchased them, and they have not purchased me. Do you see in what direction you are looking, that it is towards the earth, towards the pit, that it is towards these wretched laws of dead men? but towards the laws of the gods you are not looking.  (1.13)


Source:

For these passages and disccussion see D. Roberston: Did Stoicism Condemn Slavery (2017) [Internet Archive backup here]

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to ancient history. Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall, February 2023
ihsp@Fordham.edu


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