Some points in this article are worth considering.
By Adib Rashad
It is not my intention to associate ethnic bias with the Greeks, but I do think it is very important to show that the Greeks were definitely responsible for the Western world's cultural, political, and racial traditions.
The Greeks, despite their non-ethnic bias, or racism did classify peoples of darker hue (Africans). Ancient classical writers, such as Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Aeschylus, and Appollonius used the word Ethiopia in their writings. Also, in the area of prose, Ethiopia and Ethiopians were used interchangeably. Both words were constantly mentioned by the historians, Herodotus, Diodorus, Josephus, and Dion Cassius; the words were also used by the geographers, Hecataeus, Ephorus, Eratosthenes, Strabo and Agatharchides. Also, Pliny the Elder used the word rather frequently in his writings.
Theories pertaining to the etymological development of the word Ethiopia vary among different writers and historians. Pliny stated that it was derived from Aethiops, son of Vulcan, the God of metalworking and fire, and who was, it should be pointed out, a sort of Greek counterpart of the Ethiopian God BES. Other writers have stated that "Aethiops" meant the glowing or the Black, and that word was the surname of Zeus, who was worshipped on the island of Chios.
The historical consensus is that the word was derived from the Greek for burnt, which was "Ethios," and the word for face was "Ops." In other words, Ethios plus Ops became Ethiopian. The Greeks reasoned that these people developed their dark complexion because they were closer to the sun than were the lighter inhabitants of Europe. This climatic explanation for dark and light complexions did not, at the time, transfer itself into a biological or racial classification. In fact, the Greeks used the word barbarian to distinguish between Greeks and non-Greeks.
It was Pliny who postulated that heat was responsible for the scorched complexion, curly beards and hair, and tall stature of the Ethiopians, and the mutability of climate explained their source of knowledge. For Pliny, moisture in the opposite region of the world accounted for the tall men of the North with their white frosty skin and straight, yellow hair. Their fierceness resulted from the frigid climate. These fairer skinned people were called Scythians. Scythians included Germans, Thracians, and Gauls.
Classical literature reveals that for a significant period of time, Scythians and Ethiopians were cited as identifiable examples of racial extremes that differed from the Greeks and later the Romans. In later periods, the Gauls and what is today called the Germans were substituted for Scythians, or added to the traditional contrast. The climatic designation became a color symbolism that was encased in a form of metaphysics. The Greeks and the Romans associated white with light, the day, and with Olympus. It also meant good character and good omens. Dark or Black, on the other hand, was associated with night and darkness, with the underworld, death, and bad character, and ill omens.
Relevant studies pertaining to this subject point out that both colors were prominent in the areas of human experience concerned with religion and the supernatural. In keeping with the metaphysical explanation of color, it certainly must be pointed out that Asians, Africans, as well as Europeans referred to black as evil, unpleasantness, and disaster. Night time was associated with black, and that time of day evoked strong dependence on sight. It was at that time that men were most helpless and in the greatest danger. White was the color of light which emanated from the sun, it was the source of life and warmth. The night was dark, cold and a threat to life. Therefore, the antithesis of dark became purity, goodness, and life in essence.
Again, although the Greeks and the Romans associated the color black with evil, death and helplessness, the origin of this symbolism had nothing to do with skin color. However, within a certain period of time, this concept would be taken out of context and placed in a biologically demeaning category.
Contacts with non-Greeks accentuated the Greeks awareness of their physical similarities, as opposed, or contrasted with the diversity of non-Greeks who presented an obvious physical and cultural difference. Some non-Greeks were regarded with contempt, and considered culturally inferior, or barbarians. On the other hand, there were some Greeks who admired non-Greek peoples and even so far as to idolize these peoples and their culture. History demonstrates that the Egyptians received this honor before other non-Greek people.
The belief in the superiority of their culture and institutions established a political hierarchy for the Greeks. Even though this hierarchy was based on cultural division, it later evolved into social divisions and an immobile political structure.
The Sophists, who were itinerant teachers, and referred to by the German philosopher, Hegel, as subjective-idealists, argued for the elimination of cultural divisions between Greeks and non-Greeks, and for a community of all men despite ethnic and cultural differences. It was Sophist, Antiphon, who had insisted that the Greek practice of honoring those of noble birth and of looking down upon those lowly, or of humble birth was itself barbarous. For Antiphon, barbarian and Greek were by nature born alike.
In all Plato continued this dualistic approach in his advocacy of war against the barbarian. For against the barbarian, Plato reasoned, there is a war that exists by nature. Socrates assumed a position less dramatic than Plato; he suggested that intellect rather than culture should be applied to those sharing or assimilating Greek culture rather than in the ancestry of the Greeks.
Erathosthenes, remained reticent about those who divided mankind into two groups, Greeks and barbarians, but added later that it would be better to make such distinctions according to virtue and vice. He pointed out that not only were many of the Greeks bad, but many of the barbarians were refined. It is clear that despite pronouncements of this kind, Aristotle and Plato would establish a philosophical premise that would give institutional and cultural design to the western world.
Careful scrutiny of Western philosophy reveals a continuous dualist element, despite the fact that the early Greek philosophers (Milesians) gave philosophical structure to dialectics, and Heraclitus, according to Hegel, was the originator of the laws of dialectics. The Milesians were materialists who were guided by their economic interest in commercial shipping; therefore, it was imperative that they study mathematics, meteorology, astronomy, and geography.
According to legend, Thales, the founder of the Milesian school, was an astute businessman. The conditions which bred the philosophical materialists are to be found in the economic activities which induced the Milesians to give close and constant attention to the problems of science and technology. Moreover, class interest stimulated their energies and fostered a keen sense of individualism and civic liberty.
The idealists, on the other hand, were reflecting a view of the world in a society where exchange relations arose out of slave production. Idealism manifested the conditions of the slave system more than the superstructure of market relations. It was the ideological expression of the slave holding aristocracy in its defensive battle for supremacy against the democratizing tendencies emanating from the mercantile and plebeian forces in the Greek city-states.
It is important to note that the idealists were the first philosophers to rationalize religion, and the first to justify the interests of a slave holding oligarchy. They also gave ideological substance to the concept of class society and its forms of rule in the Western world. Again, this is expressed in their defense of slavery as ordained by nature, and in their advocacy of the caste system against democracy and of the aristocracy against the claims and aggressions of the people.
Plato and Aristotle systematized the dualistic element in Western philosophical thinking. Plato argued for the essential perfection of the soul (mind) and the essential evil of the body. According to Plato, the mind which remains aloof from the evil body with its evil emotions will pass through higher and higher states until it achieves immortal reunion with God. The mind which allows itself to "reel" like a drunkard under the influence of the body will pass into lower and lower forms. It is here that the mind-body duality is solidified. And it is here that we can detect that Plato's philosophy is a kind of religion for intellectuals. Equally important, the idealists, by way of Plato, introduced sharp divisions into reality. They elevated reason above practice, the mind above the senses, and appetites and the soul above the body. Through the use of logic they elevated and sanctioned masters above slaves and the masses, and evolved theories that which also sanctioned social inequality in its basest form.
For example, the subordination of slaves to owners, non-citizens to citizens, women to men, and barbarians to Greeks. Their philosophy subserved theology and both served the political aims of and material interest of the slave holders. Therefore, the foundation of philosophical idealism corresponded in essentials with the hierarchical structure of the slave system. The master-slave relationship dominated their views of nature, and society. Its influence is marked not only in ethics and politics, but in their psychology, physiology, and physical theories.
There exists in Plato's Republic the idea that all power, all will, and all intelligence are concentrated in the aristocracy (Golden Men), the enlightened master class, while the "lowly breed" who are made of baser metal is congenitally incapable of reason, command, or self-rule. This class stratification concept continues by triumvirating the soul into three parts: the spirit, reason, and the appetites. Reason corresponds to the aristocracy, or the rulers, spirit corresponds to the guardians, and the appetites corresponds to the masses, or the slaves. The body is conceived on the same threefold pattern. The head is separated from the trunk by the neck because of the divine part of the soul, located in the head, it must be saved from pollution by the menial part lower down. Mind and matter are opposed to each other like master and slave. Matter is inherently disorderly and unruly, and whatever regularity and beauty exists in nature comes from mind which imposes order upon it.
David Brion Davis, a noted historian on slavery, points out that Plato's position on slavery was based in the Greek outlook on ruler versus ruled, and Hellene (Greek) versus barbarian in contemporary political science terminology. Davis enhances our knowledge of this subject by conveying to us these important points: "For Plato a slave might hold a true belief but could never know the truth of his belief, since he was inherently deficient in reason. While Plato thought that a similar deficiency was shared by many free subjects, and would have allowed certain barbarians an opportunity to acquire civic virtues, he nevertheless supplied the elements for a theory of intellectual inferiority as the natural basis for slavery."
Plato's views of slavery was related to his general philosophy in certain ways that were of importance for the future. By the fifth century B. C. many Greeks had come to believe that the inferiority of barbarians and slaves could be seen in their willingness to submit to despotic and absolutist rulers.
Davis continues by stating the following: "Plato also saw the relation of slave to master as a kind of microcosm of the hierarchical pattern that pervaded society and the entire universe. This is not to say that Plato derived his cosmology or political theory from the model of slavery; yet his reference to the body as the slave of the soul was meant as a serious philosophic truth. The relations of body and soul, of sovereign and subjects, of master and slave Plato subsumed under a single theory of authority and obedience. Moreover, in his cosmology he perceived a similar dualism of primary cause, which was intelligent and divine, and mechanical or slave cause, which was irrational, disorderly, and lacking in both freedom and conscious purpose." "Like a wise master, the demiurge guided the elements of the material universe toward the good. It is of the utmost significance that Plato associated slavery with both the unruly multitude and the chaotic material world devoid of Logos. In effect, he rationalized the contradiction of slavery within a vast cosmic scheme in which irrational nature was ordered and controlled by divine, intelligent authority."
From the above information, it is clear how slavery could be seen not only as exemplifying a cosmic principle of authority and subordination, but as having a necessary place in the ordered structure of being. It is also clear why future apologists for slavery were perhaps indebted to Plato for linking the authority of masters to the cosmic principle order. Like Plato, Aristotle associated slavery with an ideal of intelligent and virtuous authority ruling the irrational forces of the world. He was somewhat disturbed by the unjust manner in which slaves were acquired; therefore, he searched for an answer in the assumed inferiority of barbarians. He wholeheartedly supported increasing the division between slaves and freemen; he said at one point that he would explain why it was expedient to hold out liberty as an ultimate reward for service. This is a promise he failed to keep. What is very important to note is that Aristotle held that a slave was actually part of his masters physical being.
Aristotle was attracted by the idea of a social relationship founded on natural differences, analogous to the subordination of body to soul, or of animals to men. Aristotle saw slavery as a necessary means of supplying the wants of life. He indicated that if the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, "chief workingmen would not want servants, nor masters." This was meant to show the complex nature of the slave as both an instrument of action and a conscious agent who must obey and anticipate his master's will. Furthermore, Aristotle said that the slave life had three elements: work, punishment, and food. A careful examination of Greek literature provides evidence enough that slaves were beaten and tortured. The slave could be punished physically--sometimes resulting in death--for minor misdeeds, but not the free man. Fifty blows was the customary penalty in Athens.
Aristotle wrote the most popular known treatise on slavery in the ancient world. In his "Politics," he argued against those who said that slavery was contrary to nature. He said the following: "From the hour of their birth some are marked out for subjection, others for rule." His main points were in agreement with his teacher, Plato, who reasoned in defense of slavery. Aristotle maintained that slavery was good for both slave and master. It was better for the slave to be ruled by someone else's reason than not be ruled by reason at all. Left to his own devices, the slave could not rule himself; he would be ruled by his appetites. The lack of reason rested on the slave's natural inferiority. The master was born with better mental and moral abilities than the slave.
In light of that accepted belief, the master was guided by the thought that he was doing good when he compelled the slave's unthinking strength to do useful work. The main function of the slave was physical, and he was a tool to be directed and used by the master. The inferior person was only suited to be a slave. When he was made a slave, the justifiable argument stated that it was a blessing and a benefit to function as such. His interests and his masters were identical. It was the privilege and the duty of the Greeks to enslave such inferior, slavish minded barbarians.
This slave holding bias was evident in Plato's doctrine of the soul that man is subject to God and the body to the soul as the slave is to his master. Such is the eternal nature of things which it is the highest wisdom to acknowledge in theory and obey in practical life. The elements of this idealist philosophy is shaped and stigmatized by this elitist-class relation of domination and subservience which is supposedly ordained by nature and divinely decreed.
Philosophical idealism, from this standpoint, is marred by an incurable, irreconcilable dualism. Its two opposing strands never meet in a realistic compromise. To this day, there remains an impassable gulf between perishable phenomena and timeless forms; the gulf continues to exist between body and soul, between theory and practice, between God and man, between supervisor and worker, and between man and woman. These are to be kept strictly apart because they belong to totally separate realms. To mix them up or to try to place them in a compromising position will only lead to confusion, disorder, and subsequent anarchy.
Idealism was developmentally predicated on the social, and economic evolution of the ruling aristocracy. Slavery had been a part of Greek life for many centuries, and the emerging belief in democracy and freedom did not change that belief.
Undoubtedly, the Greek (Plato and Aristotle) way of thinking, and the traditional Western way of thinking, that is by placing intellectual, theoretical knowledge above the immediately experienced, esthetic experience, and physical sensation in a realm that bespeaks the antidemocratic social structure of Western societies. Objective examination will show that Plato and Aristotle did not believe that a truly just society could be democratic. The problem we face today that we bequeathed from the Greeks is the need to replace the inadequate Platonic theory of knowledge with an adequate pragmatic concept that will create a non-racist, egalitarian concept of society. A solution to the problem will not occur simply by reversing the platonic hierarchy with a body over mind dualism, or by casting out the social value of theoretical reason and legal systems. The solution--in part-- will come by way of painstaking, systematic, objective, research of ancient philosophical schools of thought, and a reassessment of the value system bequeathed to us by social, political, historical, and philosophical forces.
In conclusion, Michael Bradley, in his book, "The Iceman Inheritance," stated in a very thought provoking manner what Western philosophy actually represented: "There is nothing inherently bad about Western philosophy, but there is certainly nothing inherently good about it either. At best, Western philosophy is a rough and ready modus vivendi for uniquely Caucasoid psychology. At worst, it can be the justification for unleashing conflicts of dualistic intolerance among who were previously innocent of them. Generally, when such conflicts have been induced in men of other races they have borrowed some tenets of Western philosophy, that we Caucasoids are trying to impose on them.
Western philosophy is inapplicable, irrelevant and unsatisfying to non- Caucasoids. It was developed to cope with our unique dualistic intellectual conflicts and it doesn't even do that well. We've prescribed a dubious tonic for people who don't even share our disorder." Western philosophy has been sustained by "Ivory Tower Intellectual" who have refused, for the most part, to engage in philosophical scrutiny as to the authenticity of philosophy and its relationship to the issue of human interaction. It is precisely this lack of interest that has led to the academic and human malaise in Western societies. It is now apparent that Western philosophy was(is) predicated on economic, political, and cultural necessities that evolved according to nation-state prerequisites.