One way of looking at the parts of an article or chapters of a book, is
to ask what the author's chief purpose is. In this case one might say
that Las Casas' chief purpose is to argue against the legitimacy of the
wars of conquest and resulting enslavement of the native populations of
the Americas. In doing this he is responding to Sepulveda's arguments.
Probably the most important of Sepulveda's arguments is based on the
Aristotelian theory of natural slavery. If the native peoples fit the
characteristics of the natural slave and the Spanish the characteristics
of natural masters, then the Indians can be hunted down like wild animals
and compelled to accept Christianity. Barbarians of a certain kind are
natural slaves. So, Las Casas sets out to pinpoint exactly the nature of
the barbarians who are natural slaves. He does this be defining various
senses in which people can be called barbarians. This is why you were
asked to make the table and determine what these characteristics are.
Having stated the nature of barbarians in the strict and proper sense,
those who are properly natural slaves, he goes on to give a variety of
reasons why the Indians do not belong to this class.
In its simplest form, all details removed, Las Casas' argument might be
reconstructed like this:
P1. The Indians can be legitimately attacked and enslaved if and
only if they are barbarians in the strict and proper sense specified by
P2. They are not barbarians in the strict and proper sense specified by
|Cl. So, they cannot be legitimately attacked and enslaved.
From the point of view of logic, this is a perfectly good argument.
You can see why it becomes important to define exactly what barbarians in
the strict and proper sense are, and how important is the evidence which
shows that the Indians are not barbarians in this sense. The really
crucial parts of this argument are to be found on Pp. 32-3 where
barbarians in the strict and proper sense are defined, and the bottom of
Pg. 33 through Pg. 38 where we get the argument that barbarians of this
kind are rare (while the Indians are numerous), and Pg. 44 where Las
Casas shows that the Indians are not the kind of barbarians described on
Pp. 32-3 in that they govern themselves, partake of the arts and commerce
argument from rarity
There is an additional argument (Chapters 2 and 3) which goes to show
that it is impossible for a whole continent of people to fall into the
category of natural slaves or barbarians in the strict and proper sense.
Here is a summary of that argument. I am giving you this summary as an
example. Later you will be asked to summarize arguments in a similar way.
So, you should read the passage and examine the summary carefully.
|Summary of the Argument from
The works of nature are the works of
God, the Supreme Intellect, who is all poweful and good. So, nature, for
the most part, brings forth what is best and perfect. Thus, every creature
brings forth what is like itself, and is of the same species. God
provides for and guides a rational nature for its own sake and in a way
which is superior to other creatures, not only in regard to the species
but individuals as well. Man partakes of a rational nature, all men
recognize first principles. So, it would be impossible to find in a
rational nature, that is one that does not fit the common notion of man,
such a freak or mistake of nature, except very rarely and in far fewer
instances than other creatures. Barbarians of the third kind -- those in
the strict and proper sense -- are freaks or mistakes of nature. They are
savage, lawless and unsociable because of an evil disposition and are the
worst of men. Barbarians of this kind (or better, wild men) are rarely
found in any part of the world and are few in number when compared with
the rest of mankind. (Aristotle Ethics, Book VII). Anyone who, dares to
write that countless numbers of natives (they completly outnumber all
other men) accross the ocean are barbarous, savage, uncivilized and slow
witted, is irreverant towards God, and contemptuous of
In Chapter 3 Las Casas repeats the second argument which I just
summarized for you and then gives another argument against Aristotle's
claim that "it is lawful to hunt or catch barbarians of this type like
wild beasts so that they might be led to the right way of life." In the
activity section for this unit you will be asked to summarize this
argument and to post your piece on the Las Casas Forum. Be sure to explain
what role the Golden Rule plays in this argument.
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