Women and Slaves Are Not Equal To Men

I am not an expert on Aristotle, you can find such as expert here, but while I read reading The Indelible Image, something caught my attention. Witherington postulates that in ancient society, superiors did not address (in rhetoric or letter writing) either women or slaves. Daniel Gross (Early Modern Emotion and the Economy of Scarcity Philosophy and Rhetoric – Volume 34, Number 4, 2001, pp. 308-321) would agree with him. For Aristotle, slaves (and I would say women) were inferior beings, something to be talked about but not talked to.

From: Book I, Chapters iii through vii of the Politics. and in Book VII of the Nicomachean Ethics

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?

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.

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. Wherefore the poets say,

It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians;

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.


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. 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. 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. Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. But the opposite often happens–that some have the souls and others have the bodies of freemen. 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.

The Greeks had no use for equality among men and women, or masters and slaves.

But, what about the New Testament? What about all of those letters in which Paul and Peter address men and women as equals? Masters and Slaves? The Apostles were not writing about women or slaves, but to women and slaves.

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9 Replies to “Women and Slaves Are Not Equal To Men”

  1. The Apostles were not writing about women or slaves, but to women and slaves.
    –incredibly insightful and astute!

    1. Maybe, but there is something to be said for (re)discovering things for yourself. Obviously, Yoder didn’t have the impact that he should have.

      He should have blogged.

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