Nature, Culture, and the Boundaries of the Human Community

Daniel S. Richter

in Cosmopolis

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199772681
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895083 | DOI:
Nature, Culture, and the Boundaries of the Human Community

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The idea that biology somehow influences the nature of the individual has deep roots in ancient Greek thought. What is the nature of human difference? Are acquired traits heritable? Are there peoples who ought to rule by nature and those who ought to be ruled? What sort of connection ought to properly exist between the land and its inhabitants? In the first half of the fourth century BCE, Athenian intellectuals engaged with the political, ethnic, and cultural aspects of these questions with a new urgency. What are the implications for the validity of an aristocratic form of government if birth does indeed determine the value of the individual? If there is an intimate connection between the land and its people, how strenuously ought the “earth-born” Athenians maintain the “purity of the turf?” Does the presence of outsiders within the classical polis threaten to dilute the city’s cultural integrity? This chapter suggests that the fifth century democratic critique of aristocratic birth provided the conceptual tools for those who would challenge the idea of the meaning of autochthonous birth in the fourth century. It also argues that the rejection of the meaning of autochthony opened the door for the ultimate dismantling of the antithesis of Greek and barbarian.

Keywords: Plato; Aristotle; natural slavery; The Polis

Chapter.  18426 words. 

Subjects: Classical Philosophy

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