Attempts to justify slaveryPeople defended slavery as natural or beneficial ©
Attempts to justify slavery
Virtually everyone agrees that slavery is inhumane and degrading and wrong, but since for much of history many people defended it, it's important to demonstrate why it's wrong.
Trying to justify slavery
A number of arguments have been put forward to try and justify slavery. None of them would find much favour today, but at various times in history many people found some of these arguments entirely reasonable.
It's natural that some people are slaves
This argument says that some people are slaves as part of the natural order of the universe, or as part of God's plan, and it is wrong to interfere with this by abolishing slavery - nobody nowadays regards slavery as a natural thing.
But if this argument was to be used then there would have to be some certain way of distinguishing natural slaves from those who should not be enslaved - without such a method injustice is sure to occur. No such test is possible, although past cultures thought there could be such tests.
Slaves are inferior beings
This argument says that even if slavery is cruel and degrading, slaves are not fully human and so their suffering is as ethically important or unimportant as the suffering of domestic animals and they do not have any rights that would justify the abolition of slavery.
Some people take the argument further and say that slaves are beings who are so inferior that they deserve to be enslaved.
This argument has often developed into racism to justify the enslavement of certain population groups - some of the defenders of the Atlantic slave trade argued that slavery was the proper place for people of African descent.
These arguments have been used in very recent times to justify enslaving particular racial groups.
This group of arguments is nowadays regarded as completely misguided.
Slavery is good for slaves
This argument teaches that slaves lack the ability to run their own lives and are therefore better-off and happier in a system where their lives are run by others.
Modern society is unenthusiastic about such 'paternalistic' arguments.
Slavery would be too difficult to abolish
This probably is the reason why some cultures chose to tolerate slavery while trying to eradicate many of the more cruel practices - but it is not a justification for slavery.
Slaves are essential to certain industries
A number of past industries have depended on slave labour, and the employers claimed that abolishing slavery would be economically disastrous.
This argument isn't an ethical one and isn't backed up by examples.
There is also a strong counter-argument that the use of slave labour can force non-slave workers and businesses that don't use slavery out of business or into serious hardship.
Slavery is acceptable in this culture
Slavery was generally accepted by the majority in some societies - if ethics is a matter of public opinion (Cultural Ethical Relativism) then some would say that slavery was ethically OK in those societies where it was the cultural norm.
This sort of argument is a key reason why many people oppose CER.
Slavery is a useful form of punishment
Some cultures have used enslavement as a punishment.
Even if this were an acceptable argument, it would only cover a tiny fraction of cases and would not justify slavery in general.
Slavery is legal
This is no argument at all - things can be legal and unethical at the same time.
Abolishing slavery would threaten the structure of society
This argument was popular at some periods - but it was perhaps an argument that a particular society was ethically flawed and needed reorganisation.
Since no modern society is based on slavery it has no application.
Living in slavery is better than starving to death
In circumstances of extreme poverty, living in slavery may be the least bad available option.
While slavery may be the least bad option for an individual, this doesn't justify slavery, but indicates that action should be taken to provide other better options to individuals.
Free men should be able to become slaves if they want to
It can be argued that this sort of slavery isn't real slavery until some form of coercion is involved.
Since it would only apply to a tiny proportion of cases of 'slavery' it is not a justification for slavery itself.
By and large people aren't concerned about the ethics of voluntary slavery; what concerns them is the situation where people are forced to become slaves, or where people who have chosen to be slaves are prevented from regaining their freedom.
We also need to be alert to cases where people are conditioned to find slavery acceptable, and where it can be argued that their choice is not a free one.
Finally, if free people choose to become slaves they may weaken the general prohibition against slavery, and this would be a bad thing.
Arguments For Slavery Essay
Just as ardently as abolitionists fought the institution of slavery, many citizens of the United States argued the advantages of owning human beings and keeping them in servitude as a piece of property. Slavery was not America’s finest hour, but the anti-abolitionists saw nothing wrong with the practice, arguing three key beliefs why slavery should be sanctioned: economic, religious and legal.
The American South became increasingly dependent on the lucrative cotton industry. The wealth and status associated with cotton prompted the expansion of plantations westward (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.438, para. 2). Large plantations needed a huge labor force to harvest crops, and African slaves were cheaper and more readily available than indentured laborers from Europe. “They could more easily be bought from traders on the West African coast and were more immune to European diseases than indigenous Americans or imported white slaves” (Nash, A., n.d.). To free the slaves, proponents of slavery argued, would have a profound economic impact on the South, where reliance on slave labor was imperative to their success and survival. In addition, releasing four million slaves in to the general population would create competition for jobs and resources.
The religious argument defending slavery referred to biblical passages and claims that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible. Clergymen of all denominations joined in the dispute. “Had not the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible held bondsmen? Had not Saint Paul advised servants to obey their masters and told a fugitive servant to return to his master? And had not Jesus remained silent on the subject, at least insofar as the Gospels reported his words?” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p.436, para.4). Slaveholders viewed themselves as charitable and righteous, giving food, shelter and comfortable surroundings to those they viewed as property, not people, and they felt they were giving slaves something much more than they had or could ever attain on their own. John C. Calhoun, a prominent U.S. politician, told the Senate that slavery was not evil, but was “good – a great good” (Tindall & Shi, 2010, p. 436, para. 3) and spoke of the greatness of bringing Christianity to the heathens from across the ocean. This argument was particularly effective because it exploited the basic principles of the one area the majority of people believed in – Christianity and the Bible.
Supporters of slavery also rationalized the legality of slavery, pointing to the United...
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