I. B. Slavery as a means of freedom from labor

In the remainder of this course on labor (Chapter 1), we will focus on the issue ofSlavery.

I. Work, a terrible necessityA

. Work is opposed to leisure

B. Slavery as a means of freedom from work

Aristotle opens Book I of Politics by explaining, on the one hand, that the difference between free men and slaves is natural. On the other hand, that slaves are useful, and he explains their role.

“This is also the general law that must necessarily prevail among men. When one is inferior to one’s fellow men, as much as the body is to the soul, the brute to man, and this is the condition of all those for whom the use of bodily forces is the only and best use to be made of their being, one is a slave by nature. For these men, as well as for the other beings of whom we have just spoken, it is best to submit to the authority of the master; for he is a slave by nature who can give himself to another; and what precisely gives him to another is that he can only go so far as to understand the reason when another shows it to him; he does not possess it by himself.
The other animals cannot even understand the reason, and they blindly obey their impressions. Besides, the usefulness of private animals and that of slaves are more or less the same: both help us, by the help of their bodily forces, to satisfy the needs of existence. Nature itself wills it, since it makes the bodies of free men different from those of slaves, giving the latter the necessary vigor in the heavy work of society, making on the contrary those incapable of bending their upright stature to these hard labors, and destining them only to the functions of civil life, which is divided for them between the occupations of war and those of peace. (…)

Whatever may be the case, it is evident that some are naturally free and others naturally slaves, and that, for the latter, slavery is useful as much as it is just

Aristotle, Politics, Book I

Indeed, for Aristotle, what is just being what is consistent with nature, what is due to each person. Slavery makes possible the exercise of democracy by citizens. While the latter vote and make laws, slaves can ensure the subsistence of the city.
Work as a necessity is, however, a valuable means for man to overcome nature, and even to realize himself fully, as a vocation to satisfy God.


A. Work enables men to survive and progress
B. The vocation to work