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Ancient Slavery, Usury and Property Regimes

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  1. Ancient Slavery, Usury and Property Regimes PHIL 2011 2006-07

  2. In Athens Debated and codified Personal dependence Essential element of oikos (household) Manumission rare & contracts offered few advantages Closed system—did not offer passage to citizenship. Elsewhere Slavery included dependent communities E.g. Spartan Helots Different from personal servitude; communities had their own identities, customs, gods, etc. Romans used manumission strategically to create patron-client networks. Elaboration on ancient slavery

  3. Uniform characteristics of ancient slavery • No rights or privileges • Could not marry • Could not attain citizenship • At disposal of master • Had no kin, no family gods (had to worship those of master’s family) • Owner gives him/her his/her name.

  4. Manumisssion, to manumit • Latin: man mittere < man , ablative singular of manus the power of a father or master (lit. ‘hand’: cf. MANUSn.1 2) + mittere to release, send (see MISSIONn.); man • 1.trans.a. To release (a person) from slavery, bondage, or servitude; to set free. Also intr.: to obtain one's release from slavery, etc. Oxford English Dictionary online.

  5. Manumission Contracts • “…Sophrona…hands over to the Pythian Apollo to be free the female house-born slave named Onasiphoron, priced at three silver minae, and has received the whole price…if anyone touches Onasiphoron in order to enslave her, then she who has sold her and the guarantor together are to ensure that the sale to the god is valid…” • “…many of these contracts survive, inscribed on…public buildings at Delphi and similar religious centres” (Thomas Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery, p. 46-7).

  6. Manumission, cont. • But, • “Onasiphoron is to remain with Sophrona for the whole period of the latter’s life, doing whatever she is ordered to do without giving cause for complaint. If she does not do so, then Sophrona is to have the power to punish her in whatever way she wishes to. And Onasiphoron is to give Sophrona a child” (quoted in Wiedemann, pp. 46-7). • The slave might have to remain with the master’s heirs as well!

  7. Questions? Comments?

  8. Unnatural Acquisition: usury • Barter between persons (natural); • Coinage enabled retail and international trade (starting to be unnatural); • Banking/usury (lending money at interest): “the most hated sort [of wealth-getting]..which makes gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it.” • Forbidden by the medieval Church; • Usury today means to exceed a certain rate of interest and is still a crime; • What is the usury rate in HK?

  9. The case of Islamic Finance • Koran (the source of Islamic law and practice) forbids riba, or interest; • Like Aristotle, Koran rejects money as commodity; also forbids gambling; • Koran sees money as store of value. Does Aristotle? • HSBC, Deutsche Bank offer special investment vehicles for Islamic investors: “equity financing, not debt”; See: Financial Times, 24 Sept. 2006, pp. W5-6.

  10. Unnatural Trade 1.9 • Example of unnatural use of an object: • A shoe is made for wear, not for exchange; • “Hence, we may infer that retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth; had it been so, men would have ceased to exchange when they had enough”; • How would Aristotle define ‘enough’? • How would we? Do we accept this notion? • Cf. idea of ‘limits to growth’ put forward by environmentalists.

  11. Why not stockpile money (1.9)? • Some assume riches = large quantity of coin; • Others say coin = convention (recall slavery argument), and hence nothing; • Example of Midas: “how can that be wealth of which a man may have a great abundance and yet perish with hunger…?” • These are “riches of the spurious [false] kind.”

  12. Other objections to wealth-getting (1.9) • Object of life: To lead a good life (not just ANY life); • This is also the purpose of the household; “…some persons are led to believe [by confusion over means] that getting wealth is the object of household management, and the whole idea of their lives is that they ought either to increase their money without limit, or at any rate not to lose it. The origin of this disposition in men is that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living well….”

  13. Legitimate wealth-getting (1.11) • Tillage of soil; • Animal Husbandry; which animals yield best, and in which environments; • Treatises of Chares, Apollodorus; • Natural resources: timber, mining • Thales of Miletus, whose knowledge of meteorology enabled him to predict the olive harvest, hire presses and create a monopoly; • Thales “showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, but that their ambition is of another sort”!

  14. Today’s Question • On page 25, Aristotle calls usury, "the most hated sort [of] wealth-getting" and describes it as unnatural. Is this a valid and sound argument? His writing focuses on practical points regarding the state and household, and money is practically useful in easing transactions, as person A and person B may both not need what the other has at the same time. Would honour and desire for the good life be enough to ensure repayment of borrowed money (which may be necessary, for example, for a farmer during a drought), or is interest necessary to motivate those who borrow money to pay it back? Would usury then be natural since it arises from human nature?

  15. Political Philosophy and the Institution of Property • Plato (4th century BCE) • Guardians should have common property so that they will all regard the same things as their own, thereby unifying the state. • Aristotle (4th century BCE) • Property should not be common because of free-riding, and other social and moral problems, but its fruits can be. • John Locke (17th century CE) • Private property is the basis of the state, and the reason for the state to exist.

  16. Property Regime Options

  17. Today’s Question: • Plato believes that common property creates citizens that are more co-operative and kinder to their fellow citizens. The concept of common property has in recent history held much greater sway in mainlaind China than in Hong Kong. With this in mind, do you believe the attitudes of Hong Kongers and Mainlanders differ with regard to their relationship with close family and friends, and also with that of other fellow citizens? If so, is the cause political [property-related]?