Aristotle is known as the father of formal logic and wrote on several far reaching topics regarding philosophy from metaphysics to ethics and aesthetics. However a stain on Aristotle’s illustrious career was his belief in natural born slaves which was used centuries later to justify the enslavement of Africans. Regardless Aristotle’s On Interpretation further expounds on the functions and reasoning behind language previously explored in Categories. In On Interpretation he states that “But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs, are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies”. What might be meant by the term “mankind” here? Although mankind is read as a universal in Aristotle’s work he could have perceived mankind 1) as solely civilized peoples 2) as only men who are capable of walking 3) as only White men.
The Greeks were known for ethnocentric practices and the labeling of outsiders as barbarians since their speech was incomprehensible. Aristotle may have been no different. During Aristotle’s lifetime there was considerable violence and strife among the ethnic groups within Greece. This is shown in that Aristotle was persecuted and seen as an outsider among other Greeks because he was Macedonian. Therefore, unity and oneness among the civilized people of Greece against the barbarous outside forces would have personally benefited him. He holds that “Man is animal, biped, domesticated: these coalesce into one, whereas “white’, ‘man’ and ‘walking’ do not”.
By “domesticated” Aristotle may mean those that are within the Greek culture or ruled over by them. Furthermore, Aristotle notes that “As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men”. The unstated premise in this statement is that “all races of men” must have a written form of language. However, during this period of time on the Indian subcontinent the Bhagavad Gita and other sacred texts were passed down orally and most decentralized tribes in Africa recorded their history through word of mouth. Therefore, these particular groups don’t fit into Aristotle’s category of mankind.
Aristotle’s usage of man as a universal is very inclusive. Aristotle’s man must be able to stand upright and have two feet. Aristotle states that “But we can combine ‘animal’ and ‘biped’ and call man a two-footed animal; for these terms are not accidental”. By the phrase “these terms are not accidental” Aristotle means that all men automatically have two feet and walk on both legs. He believes these traits to be indivisible from man as a linguistic and metaphysical reality. Therefore, his universal is ableist in its lack of including those that may have been born with only one foot owing to physical deformity or lacking the ability to walk.
Aristotle’s correlates whiteness to the universal representation of mankind throughout the text. This may have been an early attempt to unify Europeans under the banner of Whiteness since Aristotle experienced ethnic discrimination within his lifetime. He even goes so far as to say that “So we cannot combine ‘white’ repeatedly with that which already contains it or call a man animal-man, for example, or two-footed man”). This implies that men are automatically White and that the term is already affixed to all men. He correlates it to “animal-man” and “two-footed man” which are two terms that Aristotle holds to be indivisible from man. Therefore, it logically holds that Aristotle’s universal mankind is White.
With these new assumptions exposed how are we to hold that Aristotle’s teachings on logic were universal? These interpretations show that Aristotle’s idea of mankind were implausible and unnecessarily restrictive. Furthermore, they shed a light on the lack of diversity in early philosophy. Aristotle’s views on man and possibly logic itself are relegated to ancient Greek men with working legs. His works make no mention of the female sex. In our modern day world it’s important not to have a limited scope in how we view mankind. As Judith Butler holds in her book Gender Troubles it’s important to see each body as an individual with it’s own drives. Therefore, the idea of a universal man with ingrained traits such as Aristotle’s may be ill received and socially irresponsible in today’s society.