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What is a slave?

  1. Dec 22, 2004 #1
    What is a slave? How would you define what it means to be a slave, is there some general principle to it? Are there degrees of slavery? Is slavery right or wrong? Does anyone know they are a slave when they are one? Why is it sometimes difficult to see when people are slaves throughout history and today?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 22, 2004 #2


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    Good question. There have been various definitions of slavery, and in my opinion what a slave is involves our understanding of what a human is. If our understanding of humanity depends on a notion of radical freeness, such as existentialism, then our ideas of when a given condition constitutes slavery will differ from someone, like the ancient greeks, who thought of humans as essentailly limited and bound in societies. So if one society conquered another, there was no problem about enslaving the losers.
  4. Dec 22, 2004 #3


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    Well, start with physical slavery: complete physical control over another human's life.
  5. Dec 23, 2004 #4


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    I'll go with this definition: A person that is the legal property of another person.
  6. Jan 3, 2005 #5


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    That is one particular kind of slavery, called chattel slavery. It was the form practiced in the early US, but it is not the only kind in hisotry.

    There were people who were slaves of a whole community, such as the Helots of the Spartans. And there were serfs, who were bound to a piece of land; they did not technically belong as people to the owner of the land, but in practice the distinction was meaningless.

    In the law of the ancient Israelites, a slave was only temporary, unlike genuine property. Every seven years they were supposed to be freed. People who kept slaves worked out loopholes around the law, but the status remained as the law had it.
  7. Jan 3, 2005 #6
    In the law of the ancient Israelites, a slave was only temporary, unlike genuine property. Every seven years they were supposed to be freed. People who kept slaves worked out loopholes around the law, but the status remained as the law had it.[/QUOTE]

    Indentured servant right?

    From wikipedia:

    An Indentured servant is an unfree labourer under contract to work (for a specified amount of time) for another person, often without any pay, but in exchange for accommodation, food, other essentials and/or free passage to a new country. After working for a number of years they were free to farm or take up trade of their own.

    Indentured servitude was a form of contract labor, usually of a forced nature. One had to give up one's personal freedom for a specified period of time. In some cases it was called "white servitude," but contract labor was not limited just to white European immigrants. People of every race and ethnicity have some history with this form of labor. Many economic historians have written about the incentive compatibility structure, including David Galenson, Farley Grubb, and Abbot Smith.
  8. Jan 4, 2005 #7


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    Well English translations of the Bible say "slave". It wasn't a seven year term of service for the individual; rather every seven years ALL the slaves were freed and they started all over again. So if you bought a slave in year 6 of the cycle, you could only get a years work out of her (in theory; as I said above the slave owners had workarounds that violated the spirit but met the letter of the law).
  9. Jan 4, 2005 #8
    not free

    A slave is someone, or some animal, or some life form, that is not free. Now what is it to be free?
  10. Jan 4, 2005 #9
    Pondering Slavery

    I would say a slave is a perosn that is oppressed to a degree in which almost all that that person may Will can not be done. Just as one could say our souls are sometimes slaves to this world, the same could be said for a human body being a slave to other humans that are in direct/indirect contact with that individual.
    If one thinks about that long enough, you can start to see slaves of today. For instance: prisoners. It doesn't matter whether we think they deserve it or not, they are, in my opinion, slaves.

    ----- nwO ruoY evaH ,deeN oN <----?eeS I tahW eeS uoY oD
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2005
  11. Jan 4, 2005 #10
    A slave is one who has limited will as compared to a 'free' person.
  12. Jan 4, 2005 #11
    Dig deeper. Its better to be in a submarine than a wave runner when it comes to philosophy. :wink:

    ----- nwO ruoY evaH ,deeN oN <----?eeS I tahW eeS uoY oD
  13. Jan 4, 2005 #12
    I agree...

    We become slaves to everything when we limit our freedom of everything. Literally, a slave is not free, i.e. the blacks in the south United States. However, we do not examine the freedoms we take away from ourselves thus making ourselves slaves.

    For example, we are free to dress in whatever way we want. We limit this freedom by having "fashion" and various trends passing through fashion. We enslave ourselves to the big designers who make us walking billboards for their clothing lines.

    When looking at "what is a slave" we have to be careful, because we sometimes forget the slavery we as a society put ourselves through.
  14. Jan 4, 2005 #13
    I dont think that makes complete scence. What is truely free then? Even if we had no laws nor fashion nor anything limiting of taht nature, we would still have to say a certain word for one to understand what we are trying to say. This world is goverened by laws, if I understand what u are saying, you probebly believe that it is impossible to be completely free.

    ----- nwO ruoY evaH ,deeN oN <----?eeS I tahW eeS uoY oD
  15. Jan 4, 2005 #14

    It sounds as if you are saying that a person can choose to make himself a slave. I don't think that is true. As long as it is his choice he is still free to choose and therefore free. Slavery implies the absence of freedom (absolutely or by degree, to be decided). But one who is free to choose slavery or freedom at will is at that moment not in slavery no matter what his physical state.

    The question is, "What is freedom?" because its absence is slavery. Slavery can only be understood when freedom is understood. What you cannot perceive cannot be perceived to be absent either.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 4, 2005
  16. Jan 4, 2005 #15
    Seems like a good principle to work with Dekoi.
    That's a good point can a person knowingly be a slave? I mean can someone choose to remain unfairly restricted in will and still be considered a slave?
  17. Jan 5, 2005 #16


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    You mean freely choose? I don't mean to get into quibbles about free will; I just mean socially free, so that the individual won't be punished if she chooses "wrong". I think that most people generally do freely accept limited behavior ranges; this is what is usually called socialization, and is basic to law systems, to family life and to work. Somewhere in our teens or twenties most of us shrug and decide not to "kick against the pricks" as the poet said. Only a few remain truly free: outsiders, street people, and hermits.
  18. Jan 5, 2005 #17
    What about this one?

    Slavery is involuntary servitude.

    A person whose effort or property is forcefully taken from him for an individual or a group of individuals is serving the individual or the group of individuals.
    Since force is being used, the person is serving involuntarily.

    Therefore, IMO, the definition of slavery should be something like:
    A person whose effort or property is forcefully taken from him for an individual or a group of individuals is a slave to those people.
  19. Jan 5, 2005 #18
    I'm not sure what I mean I'm still trying to comprehend slavery.
  20. Jan 5, 2005 #19
    I have examined what it means. There is a huge PARADOX in its definition. I have confronted many paradoxes in many philosophical definitions, this one is by far the worst. The paradox begins as soon as the notion of 'SAFETY' comes into your mind. So, if you were to stand in the middle of the unverse and ask yourself?


    Then as you move from one scale of reference to the next in your contemplation, the nightmare escalates proportionately. The paradox just gets bigger and bigger, then as you approach cosmological scale of contemplation, everything you thought you knew about safety just everporates right before your very eye! Just imagine this scenario: an evil racist king in one town is concucting a master plan to wipe out another town next door to him because he hates the people of that town on the basis of race. Then, unknown to him, beneath the underlying fabric of nature, nature at the cosmological scale is also concocting a far far superior master plan to wipe out the entire continent in which the two towns are parts. At this scale of reference who is the wisest and who is the most foolish. The bottom line is this: whether you choose to destroy or enslave those you hate, when it comes to nature, you are in the same boat as the very people you are destroying or enslaving. Your time would be more profitable and better spent, if you invested every bit of it in knowing more about nature, and above all, in mastering the 'ARTS OF SURVIVAL'.

    Well, here I rest my case and leave the rest to your intelligible imagination!
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2005
  21. Jan 5, 2005 #20
    animal slaves?

    This is one of the most important questions to there is. I find it extremely interesting and profound. Consider this interesting aspect of it:

    If we take a wild animal, say a tiger, and put her into a 6 ft. by 12 ft. by 6 ft. steel cage, I think a reasonable person would agree that we had thereby deprived her of her freedom. Is she a slave then? Of just no longer free? Is a prisoner a slave? What do you think?
  22. Jan 6, 2005 #21
    A person can't be a slave without something or someone to oppress them unjustly, but is there a just form of oppression then, or would it be better that "slavery" be any form of oppression? :confused:

    I would say the tiger is a slave and the prisioner is a slave, but as a society we decided to place the solution of imprisionment and prisioner type jobs above the wrong of slavery, and we have informed people that if they don't follow the laws they can lose some of their rights as human beings which is a bad solution for a worse problem, and somehow we rationalized that caging animals for viewing pleasure outweighs the slavery we impose on them so most people choose not to see it, what are you going to do about it even if you did think it was unjust slavery?
  23. Jan 6, 2005 #22
    Looking for a definition of 'wage slave', I found this:

    "Have you ever noticed how many of us seem to live "lives of quiet desperation", as Henry David Thoreau puts it? We feel trapped by forces beyond our control, trapped in a mindless job, for the sake of money, status or recognition. We complain that we never seem to have the time for what's really important to us, because our jobs take so much energy and focus that we hardly have anything left over. We plod along day to day; sometimes we even dread getting out of bed in the morning..."
    http://www.whywork.org/about/faq/wageslave.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  24. Jan 6, 2005 #23


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    I like this one best. There may not be a difference in freedom, but a slave is exploited for economic gain while a prisoner is someone whose freedom has been taken from them.

    The question about slavery being right or wrong is more interesting.

    Civilization couldn't have progressed to an industrial age without the civilizations built on slavery. So does the present state of Western civilization justify slavery, making it right?

    It obviously caused discomfort among slave owners as well as the slaves. Otherwise, why would civilizations choose someone of a different race to be slaves whenever possible, or at least choose people from a different nation or city if another race wasn't available?
  25. Jan 7, 2005 #24
    Even spookier is the fact that, were any of the machines in our factories and homes today were to suddenly come 'ALIVE', they would be outraged that all these years the humans who invented them have been using them as 'slaves'. What would stop these machines from taking to the streets and demanding for their 'FREEDOM'and 'HUMAN RIGHTS'. Well, some of you might take this hypothetical scenario as a joke or an empty jesture. In actual fact, this is a very serious and problemtaic philosophical question being repeatedly asked in AI and Cognitive Science disciplines. The argument is that, if we inevented 'CONSCIOUIS MACHINES', there is nothing that should stop us from giving them Equal Rights as the humans, unless we intended to enslave them. This raises another problematic question: what would stop enslaved machines from not only resisting but also from outfoxing us and enslaving the entire human race, instead?
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2005
  26. Jan 7, 2005 #25
    Dear Phil,

    It depends on how you define consciousness. Even fish have recently been found to have the capacity to feel pain (contrary to claims by K.Cobain), so I don't see how robots are going to get any more freedom than animals, as long as it is expedient for humans.

    Lots of love,

    the number 42.
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