Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

serve the use of all, in the spirit of the proverb which says ‘Friends’ goods are goods in 
common’. (Politics, 1263a, in Barker, 1952. p. 49) 
in his justification of slavery, Aristotle also developed the argument that knowledge is a 
basis for asserting ownership, and in the case of slavery, of course, ownership means direct 
interpersonal dominance. Aristotle argued that the essence of property is its instrumentality. 
It serves as a subordinate part or extension of the owner. Property has no life or being other 
than that of belonging. It lacks its own telic self-direction, which in man is based on knowledge 
and reason. Just as the soul controls and owns the body because the superior reason of the 
soul can direct the care and use of the body in a beneficial and productive manner, so too does 
the superior knowledge of the master justify his control and ownership of the slave: 
A man is thus by nature a slave if he is capable of becoming (and this is the reason why 
he also actually becomes) the property of another, and if he participates in reason to the 
extent of apprehending it in another, though destitute of it himself. Herein he differs from 
animals, which do not apprehend reason, but simply obey their instincts. But the use which 
is made of the slave diverges but little from the use made of tame animals; both he and they 
supply their owner with bodily help in meeting his daily requirements. (Politics, 1254b, in 
Barker, 1952, p. 13) 
However, Aristotle does make it clear that control and enslavement of others by mere physical 
power is unjust. 
Aristotle also leaves suggestions that property serves a communicative, symbolic 
function. For example, in his discussion of the proper use of wealth, he mentions that the 
display of wealth should not be for self-regard but for public benefit: 
For the magnificent man spends not on himself but on public objects, and gifts bear some 
resemblance to votive offerings. A magnificent man will also furnish his house suitably to 
his wealth for even a house is a sort of public ornament. (Ethics, IV. 2, in Ross, 1983, p. 84) 
In another example, Aristotle explains how wealth serves as a sign from which superior moral 
gualities are inferred: 
...culture and breeding, the attributes of aristocracy, are more associated with the wealthier 
classes who form the basis of oligarchy. We may also note as explaining this common 
usage of the term ‘aristocracy’ that the wealthy are generally supposed to possess already 
the advantages for want of which wrongdoers fall into crime; and this Is the reason why they 
are called ‘gentlemen’ or ‘notables’. Now as aristocracy aims at giving preeminence to the 
best, men are led in this way to extend the term and to describe oligarchies too as states 
governed by gentlemen. (Politics, IV 1293b, in Barker, 1952, p. 175) 
Finally, Aristotle’s discussion of property draws upon cross-cultural and cross-species 
comparisons. In his rebuttal to Plato, Aristotle (Barker, 1952) cites examples of property 
practices in Arcadia, Athens, Crete, Carthage, Libya, Lorcia, Miletus, Sparta, Thebes, Thessaly 
and Thrace. This was undoubtedly a part of Aristotle's larger survey of 158 social regimes 
(Jaffa. 1963). Historically, Aristotle’s work was probably the first cross-cultural survey on a

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