Aristotle on friends, slaves, and humans

Aristotle gets to be a good deal more gratifying to read later in the EN, when he takes up questions of friendship and human relationship. We are back to conviviality. Aristotle is a serious guy, and so very instrumental, so even his discussions of friendships have a certain, dour edge to them (at least to me). Nonetheless, the last two books–Books IX and X–do a great deal to shore up all his first books’ fretting about virtue by clarifying what he means, exactly by pleasure and happiness, and the connections between them and a key idea: meaning.

I’m getting a mite ahead of myself in my discussion, though. What caught my eye the other day as I was reading through was this interesting bit from Book VIII, Chapter 11, Section 7:

ἀλλ᾿ οὐδὲ πρὸς ἵππον ἢ βοῦν, οὐδὲ πρὸς δοῦλον ᾗ δοῦλος. οὐδὲν γὰρ κοινόν ἐστιν· ὁ γὰρ δοῦλος ἔμψυχον ὄργανον, τὸ δ᾿ ὄργανον ἄψυχος 7δοῦλος. ᾗ μὲν οὖν δοῦλος, οὐκ ἔστι φιλία πρὸς5 αὐτόν, ᾗ δ᾿ ἄνθρωπος· δοκεῖ γὰρ εἶναί τι δίκαιον παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ πρὸς πάντα τὸν δυνάμενον κοινωνῆσαι νόμου καὶ συνθήκης·

For master and slave have nothing in common: a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave. Therefore there can be no friendship with a slave as slave, though there can be as human being: for there seems to be some room for justice in the relations of every human being with every other that is capable of participating in law and contract, and hence friendship also is possible with everyone so far as he is a human being.

“A slave is a living tool” ἔμψυχον is rather important to this concept, and I’m not easy with any of my possible translations. That bit above comes from Henry Rackham. Terrence Irwin translates it as “a slave is a tool with a soul, while a tool is a slave without a soul.” Irwin’s is more economical, and more lyrical, English. My little dictionary treats ἔμψυχον as “inspirited”, which conveys much more than simply “living” and perhaps less than Irwin’s “soul.” It doesn’t occur to Aristotle that the act of defining another person as tool immediately creates a barrier to seeing that person as fully human. He doesn’t allow it; he notes that slave and master are not friends; their interests are too different, but it is possible to separate what is human from what is slave, and that essential human-ness means that a common humanity might be shared.

Justice in relations too, might obtain with all those among humanity who live in ‘law and contract’–Rackham’s translation. Irwin deals with the troublesome modifier κοινωνῆσαι with “capable of community” in front of “law and agreement.” Shared? Jointly held? What is the social glue that attaches one to laws and agreements if, by law, one isn’t free to dissent? Nonetheless, there is a kernel of universal humanity here from Aristotle.