Is slavery good? It was practiced by a variety of civilizations and some people thought it was good even in 20th century.

Disclaimer: The arguments for the motion do not represent the view of Wikiversity. Wikiversity editors do not assert that slavery is good, just, morally acceptable or that some people are slaves by nature. The purpose of this page is to examine arguments in a debate format, including arguments one disagrees with.

Key distinctions and notions: slavery, serfdom, freedom, achievement, human rights, humaneness, viability, practicability, humans, human societies, animals, parasitism, food chain.

Limitations: the article does not yet cover all arguments found in W:Proslavery.

Slavery is good edit

Arguments for edit

  •   Argument for Slavery was practiced by great civilizations such as Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, Ancient Rome, ancient China, ancient Korea and ancient India. It enabled their achievements.
    •   Objection Slavery is unnecessary for the achievement of a nation. What constitutes an achievement, or at least a desired one, is subjective. For example, some argue high wealth is an achievement while others argue mere wealth accumulation is not an achievement or desired achievement for a nation. This also begs the question: are any of these nations truly great?
      •   Objection The above objection states at least three different arguments, and per the debate format, they should be separate objections.
      •   Objection The first sentence is too vague or general, giving no time period for the sake of analysis.
      •   Objection The last sentence is a question yet questions are usually not a form of argument but rather a form of leading a discussion.
      •   Objection The objection contradicts itself by first using the word "achievement" without any challenge, implying the speaker understands what is meant by "the achievement of a nation", yet then we learn that achievement is subjective, which casts doubt on the use of the definite article in "the achievement of a nation".
    •   Objection That seems to assume that achievement is a justification for violation of human rights. If we assume so, we may allow medical experiments on prisoners or on selected races to increase human achievement and possibilities. That does not seem acceptable.
    •   Objection It is not clear why similar feats could not be achieved by serfdom. At the very least, the master should not have the right to kill their slaves.
    • Correction Slavery did not end in Antiquity, it only changed form and name. Slaves became workers. Slaves worked for roof, food, clothes and medical treatment; workers work for salary barely sufficient for roof, food, clothes and medical treatment. Slavery is bad but inevitable in any civilized society
      •   Objection For the sake of this discussion, we use words in a strict, non-metaphorical sense. Industrial workers are not slaves, by definition, no matter how bad conditions they are exposed to.
  •   Argument for Expanding on the above, slavery enabled Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Without slavery, we would not have this great philosophy.
    •   Objection See the objections above.
  •   Argument for Slavery was practiced by a wide range of societies, high-achieving and low-achieving. See the linked Britannica article. It is a near-universal human practice. It is therefore unlikely to be bad.
    •   Objection The same is true of war, yet we hope to achieve a world free from war or at least one where there are much fewer wars. We hope to achieve moral progress, to move beyond morally and instrumentally bad past practices whether near-universal or not.
  •   Argument for Slavery is found not only in humans but also in W:slave-making ants. It is a natural phenomenon, a good move discovered by natural selection. It cannot be bad.
    •   Objection That assumes that features or relationships discovered by natural selection are good and in particular morally good. It would follow that parasitism is good since it is a phenomenon widely found in biological nature. That does not seem acceptable.
      •   Objection Parasitism is not within a single species. When we analyze things between species, humans eat plants, one organism destroying another organism to take advantage of it. Such a relationship is unavoidable for humans.
      •   Objection An analog of parasitism in human world is hard to avoid. Thus, large employers take advantage of their workers by giving them lower wages than a true many-many labor market would produce. A society of genuine equals is impossible.
    •   Objection War was discovered by natural selection. We do not accept aggressive war as good.
    •   Objection The above ignores the is-ought problem. The fact that slavery was widely practiced, whether by humans or ants, does not automatically make it morally good, something that ought to be practiced.
  •   Argument for Black people have not genetically evolved in the conditions of civilization, unlike the white races or the Chinese. Black people will have greater tendency to violence. The greater performance of black people in sports is in line with that: sports have much more to do with the requirements of primitive life in Africa than in the civilized life in Europe.
    •   Objection The above speculation requires a solid proof, and none is available. It has to be proven that blacks have a greater tendency to violence. If that is proven, it has to be proven that slavery provides better conditions for dealing with the tendency to violence than both serfdom and freedom for the blacks. If it is proven that serfdom is insufficient, there is still a range of options of limiting freedom of blacks that violates their dignity but does not reduce them to slaves: for instance, there could be a law that makes it easier for police to stop blacks and investigate them. This is not to say that it would be a good law; it is to avoid false dichotomies. Since, the space of non-slavery is rich, and includes serfdom and various hard to overview options for limited freedoms. The idea that the right of the master to kill the slave and the right to sell the slave as property are requirements for handling putative problems seems particularly badly justified.
  •   Argument for Some people are slaves by nature, and their enslavement serves their best interests. In particular, some people are related to other people like body is to soul or like animals are to humans. Thus, in some people the principles of bodiness (muscularity as opposed to intellectuality) and animality dominate, and these are the kinds of people who are slaves by nature.
    •   Objection That would assume that whole ethnics or nations are somehow more body-oriented or more like animals than humans. That is so since the actual practices of slavery were based on ethnicity, in part for ease of administration. That assumption seems implausible.
    •   Objection That would assume that it is in the best interest of a slave to be threatened with killing by their master. That seems implausible. At a minimum, serfdom would be more adequate.
    •   Objection Plato's learned slaves did not seem to be dominated by masculinity. Slaves could be used for purposes related to muscle as well as dexterity and the mind. Thus, the above is implausible.
    •   Objection Enslavement is a result of a combination of force with disregard for human rights, not a result of proper application of the mind. The principles of animality and muscularity are found in the enslavers, and are found in their act of enslaving someone else. It does not take a genius to be an enslaver.
      •   Objection Perhaps it takes a military genius.
        •   Objection It might. But many of the enslavers are not military leaders but soldiers. A group of people dominated by the concerns of the mind such as learning and acquisition of knowledge cannot on their own enslave another nation.
  •   Argument for Since the Old Testament condones slavery, slavery cannot be bad.
    •   Objection Since morality is entirely subjective, the concept of slavery can be neither good nor bad, objectively.
    •   Objection That assumes the Old Testament is good.
    •   Objection That assumes the Old Testament is a word of God rather than fiction created by a fairly backwards culture.
    •   Objection Old Testament was amended by New Testament. The amendment is clear in Jesus doctrine of forgiveness, in contrast to the old eye for eye. Thus, Old Testament should not be taken to be the final word by God but rather a first draft.
      •   Objection If we are Jews, Old Testament is the final word.
        •   Objection Old Testament is an incoherent jumble of contradictions anyway, so anything can be derived from it, whether support for slavery or opposition to slavery. It has no force, and no place in an honest philosophical examination of merits and demerits of slavery.
  •   Argument for While not all slavery is good, voluntary slavery is: people should be able to sell themselves as slaves. Prohibiting them from doing so is a violation of Mill's harm principle. See also Should Mill's harm principle be accepted?
    •   Objection That may be an argument for accepting Mill's principle only in a limited form. There is a paradox: by taking some freedoms of people away, we greatly increase their effective freedom, or in any case their negotiating power. Negotiation power can be greatly increased by losing options, a classic example being two drivers playing a game of driving against each other and the one who turns away loses. In that game, a driver who throws away the steering wheel first wins, by forcing themselves to not turn away and the other party turns away to avoid death. If we accept that people should be free to give up their fundamental rights in exchange for money, we will accept development of a wide range of undesirable social phenomena resulting from desperate people accepting otherwise unacceptable deals. Thus, people may undergo dangerous medical experiments for money (they only harm themselves), prostitutes can function (they only harm themselves), people should be able to sell their arm as a spare part for the rich (they only harm themselves) or sell one of pair organs such as kidneys. The space is rich, and seems generally unacceptable. It follows we need a restricted form of Mill's principle, and one of the restrictions is that fundamental human rights are not for sale.
      •   Objection Good point. However, in a non-disclosure agreement, the fundamental human right of free speech is sold.
        •   Objection Good point. However, what it means is that we may need a more differentiated approach; the general principle stands. The right not to be a slave is probably much deeper human right than the right of free speech, especially since free speech is in fact limited to some extent, e.g. as for libel.
          •   Objection One could argue that all libel laws should be abolished as doing more harm than good, but that would be for a separate discussion.
        •   Objection That may be an indictment of non-disclosure agreements: perhaps they should be banned. That would not only increase human rights but also prevent a range of undesirable business practices. But that would be for a separate discussion.

Arguments against edit

  •   Argument against All people were made by God to be equal.
    •   Objection Probably not by the Christian God since otherwise the Christian holy texts would not condone or tolerate slavery.
  •   Argument against Slavery violates basic human rights.
  •   Argument against Slavery goes beyond serfdom in unreasonable and inhumane ways, e.g. by allowing the master to kill the slave. All that slavery promises to do can be achieved with serfdom, which is much more humane.
  •   Argument against Slavery goes beyond the social institute of people dependent on work for livelihood, whether peasants, industrial workers or working intelligence. All that slavery promises to do can be achieved by freedom.
    •   Objection That seems improbable given that so many great civilizations depend on slavery.
    •   Objection That may be true in the technological conditions of enlightenment Europe, but it is not clear it was true in the technological conditions of ancient civilizations.

Further reading edit