People always talk about slavery, such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as being a bad thing, this is cited in countless textbooks for teenagers, as well as several pop-culture documentaries, etc. (sources can be provided if needed) but I never understood why many people feel this is such a bad thing, I mean, it's offering:

  1. free labor to make products, which in turn allows the products to be sold at cheaper prices, which in turn allows poor families to more easily survive and live off of resources they might not have been able to and

  2. it provides a safe and reliable, sturdy home-living environment for the slaves, with sufficient food and basic medical care, during the great depression there are some personal accounts from ex-slaves saying when they were a slave they never went hungry, as opposed to in the depression

Some people argue that just the idea of "owning a person" is inherently immoral and should never be accepted in any society, but the thing is this same standard doesn't apply to American citizens themselves, for example, in regards to the FATCA laws, requiring US citizens to pay taxes to the US even with money made outside of the country, essentially because citizens are considered "property" of the government, and has been considered human rights abuse:

"It is the natural consequence of a citizenship which owes allegiance to two sovereignties, and claims protection from both. The citizen cannot complain, because he has voluntarily submitted himself to such a form of government."

even though its "optional" in the sense that one can pay a lot of money to remove one's citizenship, but one could make a similar argument for slavery, that if the slave somehow got enough money to redeem himself, he could also be free, but it's just really impractical for slaves to do that because they can't own money, etc.

Another example is the prison system, where the inmates are obligated to work in some cases, and for sure aren't "free", it could be argued that they deserve it because of what they did, but that would go against the moral that its wrong to "ever own any human being", it would then change to "its wrong to own a human being who didn't do anything wrong, or for no reason", but the slave owners will argue based on religious grounds that the slave's ancestors molested Noach (Noah,n English) after the flood and castrated him, not allowing him to have a fourth son (who would have been an entire nation of the world etc) so their souls require atonement though slavery, so there is a reason behind it according to them, one would then need to disprove the historical narratives of the bible in order to make a valid case against them, which hasn't been done

Another point is the reasoning behind "owning a person", I haven't heard it explained what is so bad about it anyway, even if the people didn't do anything to deserve being owned, I mean everyone takes advantage of everyone, just look at the capitalist society of the rich getting ahead, etc., it's not the same as owning but it is the same as abuse and power-grabbing, doesn't the world work in a way of the stronger overtaking the weaker, isn't that just the circle of life? Even animals fight with each other over things, people have always had wars with each other to gain land, etc., and those wars either resulted in the mass murdering of the population, or the population being transformed into slaves, it just seems like the natural way the world was meant to work, is there any reason to assume it's not?

Therefore, can't strong arguments be made for 'There is nothing inherently wrong with slavery'?

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    The arguing is always arguing from something, if one adopts the ethics of "might is right" then there is, indeed, nothing "wrong" with slavery, or child rape, or murder. But why should "the natural way" be the way we adopt? There is no deriving what we should do from what "nature" happens to display, and most people today adopt values that condemn slavery, rape and murder. Here is Mill's response to Carlyle's infamous defense of slavery. – Conifold Nov 26 '20 at 22:52
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    Would you gladly accept to be owned as property, deprived of freedom with no other prospect in life, until you die, than working for just enough food to keep you alive, getting sold, beaten or raped at your owner's whim ? If no, what gives you the right to impose this situation unto others ? If yes, come to me I really need someone to clean my cats' feces. No worries, I have lots of cat food to feed you. – armand Nov 26 '20 at 23:45
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    The question can probably be shortened a lot, currently it looks more like an argument than a question – tkruse Nov 26 '20 at 23:49
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    "need to disprove the historical narratives of the bible in order to make a valid case against them, which hasn't been done" this is just silly... I hereby hold my own holy book, and it says your ancestor once farted in the general direction of my ancestor. Therefore according to your own logic unless you can disprove it, i can own you as property and rape you to my content. It sucks, but hey, my holy book says so. Tough luck. – armand Nov 27 '20 at 0:02
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    Edited to avoid the "opinion objection". – J D Nov 27 '20 at 15:21

OP says " 2. it provides a safe and reliable, sturdy home-living environment for the slaves, with sufficient food and basic medical care, during the great depression there are some personal accounts from ex-slaves saying when they were a slave they never went hungry, as opposed to in the depression."

The OP has two major premises. This is the second. It is false and absurd. Google pictures of former slaves displaying their scars from being whipped. Read accounts of the abuses endured. Read statistics on abuses (such as there are). Yes, some small minority of slaves who were house slaves had kind masters. That has also been documented. But to go from "There was a kind slave owner who treated his/her slaves well" to "all/most slaves were well cared for" is a hasty generalization that cannot be supported by the evidence and frankly sounds more like southern propaganda than anything rooted in actual fact.

The OP also had a statement to the effect "there is documentation of at least one former slave that said they were better fed as a slave then they were during the depression." Per the OP they said they were better fed, not that they were better off, nor that they preferred being a slave.

Secondly, even if that person did mean that he/she was happier as a slave, the logic required to use this to justify slavery would be "If someone likes X, then X is good." There are people who like mutilating themselves, or killing other people; there were women who were against suffrage. The point is, the assumption proves to be a non sequitur--it does not follow that simply because someone likes something that it is good for them or others.

You started with a premise that is obviously false and you employed a logical fallacy, consequently your conclusion lacks warrant and you have failed to show that your idea isn't as absurd as it seems on the face of it.

  • First "Google pictures of former slaves displaying their scars from being whipped. " That is ONE guy, who was massively over exaggerated by the North propaganda cnn of the time, the thing is it doesn't give any context of we the got those whips, did it steal? Was it a first time offense? Also "Per the OP they said they were better fed, not that they were better off, nor that they preferred being a slave." Yes no where in the question was it trying to make an argument it being "better off" (whatever that means) or that they preferred it, like you said just because someone doesn't prefer – bluejayke Nov 29 '20 at 15:58
  • Something doesn't mean it isn't good for them, children don't prefer to go to the dentist, but their parents know it's good for them so they force them to go anyways. Anyways you seen not to notice the bottom part which is all about what OTHER people say, the fact is other people make these arguments, that is something they can be demonstrated for the record this is the only guy that shows his whips qph.fs.quoracdn.net/… that was used as major North propaganda in the civil war, without any context, look it up – bluejayke Nov 29 '20 at 15:58

You elide the difference between a social contract, the emergent dynamic of rulers with when a citizenry will rebel, and being born into slavery - note the differences between the First Barons War & English Civil War, and the Haiti rebellion & Jamaican Great Slave Revolt. When there was no mutually binding acceptance of the situation before, it tends to be impossible to make an agreement that encodes progress afterwards. Haiti, like Liberia, was basically cut off from that kind of cultural continuity of ways to improve life - that of their African ancestors & of Europeans. Jamaica's revolt was ended so bloodily the true nature of controlling slaves was revealed, & the slave trade ended.

I wrote a post here Are there laws which govern minds? which I quote from:

As well as issues of social cohesion, of communities being defined by adherence to a shared interpretation of history and social cosmology, I would also point to game theory, for understanding morality as objectively as we can. These approaches are not at odds. 'Sacred' values are higher level concepts, which incorporate histories of social learning. Frequently this has been about how psychopathy and narcissism in leaders, can create a free-rider problem, destabilising a society, ie game theoretical dynamics. So by organising a 'social immune system' against these behaviours, the complexity of the social system is able to continue increasing.

And from Could a State be considered as a huge famlly?

And any state which seeks to constrict or prevent an individuals reproduction, violates a kind of evolutionary social contract - and the reason that's a problem is the same that kaiboshed group selection: if a strata get to control the reproduction of non-kin, you get a free-rider problem, which makes the situation unstable. Those controlled in this way will always see the controllers as oppressive, and those controlling will have a distancing from the production of resources because of the decoupling from the group that create them (if there is no social mobility or mutual gene-flow), which will impair their fitness. This accounts for a great deal of human history, and the stability of democratic socialism. I would argue it points to sources of instability in the USA & China, around lack of social mobility even over generations (India is less economically unequal than the USA!), and the pressure resulting from that to generate an out of touch elite incapable of making decisions for the benefit of the whole population (I'm not saying that currently does or has to happen, there are checks-and-balances, but it's a constant risk).

So, I would argue that morality is essentially about the game-theory of mutual benefit, and that slavery, like fixed inequality in general, is an essentially destabilising force because it removes mutual gene flow.

I would also argue that being good at mental projection into the situations of others, at intersubjectivity, is foundational to social intelligence, and is the basis of communication itself. So by restricting that we impair intelligence - like psycopaths, who do occur at fairly consistent low percentage around the world because there are some game-theoretic benefits, but they also create many problems. Similarly with ending most animal bloodsports. It undermines collaborative intelligence to limit intersubjectivity.

There is a counterfactual history question, why didn't the industrial revolutiin happen in the Roman Empire? It is said living standards of Imperial Rome were not exceeded after it fell until 1720s in England. But the latter kept progressing. The argument is complex & historically contingent, but seems inextricably bound-up with slavery. After the end of slavery in the US, it is said plantatiins became more profitable not less, for the paying of wages.

You should know the 13th Amendment specifically allowed prisoners to be used as slaves.

Slavery wasn't one thing. Debt slavery between Christians. Chattel slavery when going to war with 'non-believers'. Serfdom. Bonded labour. Whether slaves had souls, and so could become Christian, was a key issue. Enslavement of Chrustians by Christians, is very tightly regulated by the Bible, and is not AT ALL chattel slavery.

"disprove the historical narratives of the bible in order to make a valid case against them, which hasn't been done"

That's just a not-funny joke on every possible level. You better start stoning people for adultory & executing apostates, if that holds.

You have a strong flavour of libertarianism in your post. Which always seems to be favoured by well-off white men. The freedom to take a slave, is a slave's freedom to string you up from a lamp post. It's entirely up to how developed your moral understanding is which side of that dynamic you identify with. It sounds to me like you prefer to be on the losing side of millenia of history, as slaves states collapsed, imploded, were invaded by those with industry, or just rotted away from their own incompetance.

  • What's the difference between being born into a country that up can't afford to leave and being forced to pay taxes and follow their rules that they get to make up, and being born into a slave position on a plantation that you can't leave and have to follow the rules? – bluejayke Nov 27 '20 at 22:05
  • @bluejayke: I feel i addressed that in my answer. Mutual obligations. Vs only violence. NB "no taxation without representation". The libertarian inability to understand taxes always seems comical. Coinage and taxes it had to be paid in, emerged to pay for armies. Without law & order nothing else is possible, it's a precondition to not waste resources on 'the war of all against all'. If you want that, go to Somalia, & live tax free, until a war lord notices your wealth, or have private military at higher $ & still risk losing to one more ruthless. Libertarianism is a joke, philosophically. – CriglCragl Nov 27 '20 at 22:36
  • When you finally manage to put aside enough money to leave, people don't run after you with dogs with the intent to cut your hand when they finally catch you (assuming the dogs left something to cut, of course)? – armand Nov 27 '20 at 22:37
  • @armamnd maybe not actual dogs, but if a us citizen jumps the border to Canada for example there are immigration laws in place as well as foreign tax laws, the police in Canada could potentially take someone, maybe even with actual dogs, and Deport then back to America, or other IRS Representatives will have that person pay taxes to America even for foreign resources, sure one can get a passport for $100+ but what is someone is poor and can't find a job do to all the government regulations? If someone else would buy the slave to set him free they would generally allow that – bluejayke Nov 27 '20 at 22:51
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    @bluejake, the case you give is very different. From the idea of a master trying to prevent the escape of his possession, you jumped to the Canadian police trying to prevent illegal entry from a non citizen. Notwithstanding that they are not allowed to harm the migrants or seize them as their personal possession. Overall, you seem very confused. – armand Nov 27 '20 at 23:32

"Is there anything inherently immoral or wrong with slavery?" No, and it is absolutely necessary.

"If it should be true that the Greeks perished through their slavedom then another fact is much more certain, that we shall perish through the lack of slavery."

"Accordingly we must accept this cruel sounding truth that slavery is of the essence of Culture."

"Be it then pronounced that war is just as much a necessity for the State as the slave is for society."

Nietzsche, "The Greek State"

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    Careful with Nietzsche ( ^^) I have no doubt he would approve of the master owning slaves, if so is the extend of his power, disavowing the voices calling for mercy and the master to refrain from realizing their potential, he would also approve of the slave taking his freedom by gutting the master at the first occasion. – armand Nov 27 '20 at 10:22
  • Is that first line all Nietzsche? The speechmarks are unclear whether you added a note, or he is dialoguing with himself. – CriglCragl Nov 27 '20 at 13:56
  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site. – J D Nov 27 '20 at 15:20
  • @CriglCragl No, it was a question in the title of the thread and then it changed. – siebentod Nov 27 '20 at 17:55

Slavery is immoral if you consider it an important inalienable right of every human to be:

  • free to live in any city (of your country) you can afford
  • free to choose any available labor for which you are qualified
  • free to get basic education
  • free to get any advanced education you can afford
  • free to gather and own private property as you can afford
  • free to vote and get elected into any political position of your country
  • free to have consensual romantic involvement with anyone you want
  • ... (and some more less relevant to the topic of slavery maybe)

"A person owning another person" is immoral as far as it prevents the above rights. Government taxation is not a form of ownership, and freedom from taxation is not typically considered an inalienable right (as long as taxes are decided democratically).

Imprisonment (and other legal punishment) for unlawful behavior is commonly not immoral as long as the laws are moral and the justice processes are moral. However this is a special case, which can not be used to justify slavery outside the context of legal punishments.

Similar issues as for imprisonment exist around military impressment.

Slavery was historically an accepted practice quite long when people did not believe those to be inalienable rights (or at least not inalienable for everyone), or important rights (when poverty did not allow acting on such freedoms). Historically diverse slavery arrangements existed, some of which were less immoral than others.

In situations of extreme hardship (war, famine, pandemic), it is quite possible that those rights are again considered non-essential, and become unprotected for the duration of the crisis. They are a kind of luxury for societies producing enough safety and wealth to allow for most citizens to make good use of those freedoms.

Those inalienable / natural rights are a product of politics, and their philosophical justification is weak. The philosophic way to justify those rights goes something like this: Practically all humans regardless of their background will consider a government flawed if it does not provide those rights to them, and philosophically in ethics, all humans must be treated equally. Thus taking away such freedoms is immoral (unless justified by crisis or crime). Thus slavery is immoral.

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    But what is the basis of origin of those rights? Don't they come down to power? So how do they come to supercede power? Freedom of movement is not generally considered a fundamental right, which is lucky as many regions have to close borders due to covid (eg Australia). Your list is a right mish-mash. Religious institutions are perfectly able to limit students by religion - & seminaries is how universities started. Ex-prisoners in the US can't vote. Age limits on consent. And how have you established they are moral, not just legal? You take all this for granted. The point of this q is: justify – CriglCragl Nov 27 '20 at 14:12
  • What does inaliable mean? Who decides it? If it inaliable to own a yacht, without paying for it? If so should every citizen be given a yacht by the government for free? If not who says? Ok bet argue it's not "necessary" because one can live without it, but one can live without a lot of things mentioned in this answer, and their still considered "inaliable" – bluejayke Nov 27 '20 at 22:07
  • I added a section on where the rights come from and how they are justified, though it is a separate question. See e.g. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/11505 , philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/14768 , philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/7743 – tkruse Nov 28 '20 at 1:13

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