Noble Leisure First Mention

Early in his Politics, Aristotle argues that self-sufficiency (autarkeia) is essential to the city (understood as any political community). “A city tends to come about [be a city] as soon as a community’s population is large enough to be self-sufficient (Politics, 1261b12). Autarkeia is applied here to political communities, but can also be understood as applying to the individual. Simply stated, autarkeia is that condition whereby a city or an individual can acquire everything, and be in need of nothing, that is necessary to live (1326b4) or to live well (1326b8). Among the requirements for the city’s or the individual’s self-sufficiency are external goods (e.g., wealth); goods of the body (e.g., health); and, goods of the soul (e.g., moral virtue, 1323a24 – 27; cf., Nicomachean Ethics, 1098b12). For the city to be self-sufficient it must be neither too large nor too small (i.e, it must be moderate in size); its population must be diverse; it must be comprised of working individuals with expertise (i.e., excellence) in political and business affairs (1297b37 – 1298a3; 1258b20 – 1258b27).


But to be truly self-sufficient, the city must possess leisure (scholê). There are numerous advantages to having a great deal of leisure in the city: it allows more time to be spent on political activity and deliberation (1300a3); it leads to the trust and knowledge amongst citizens necessary for good government (1313b2); it leads to scientific discovery (Metaphysics, 981b13) and every kind of learning (1341a28); it promotes moral virtue and makes the highest activities possible (passim, 1323a15 – 1337a5). But leisure itself is not enough: nomads have leisure, but do not lead full human lives (1256a32); the Spartans ruined themselves because they did not put their leisure to good use (1271b5). So, it is what a city does with its leisure that is critical. Aristotle introduces the idea of correct, or noble leisure as follows:


All of life can be divided into lack of leisure [or “occupation”, ascholia] and leisure, and war and peace, and of actions, some aim at what is necessary and useful, while others aim at what is noble… War must be for the sake of peace, occupation for the sake of leisure, what is necessary and useful for the sake of what is noble… One should be able to work [i.e, be occupied] and go to war, but one should rather remain at peace and be at leisure, and one should act with a view to what is necessary and useful, but thereafter, with a view to what is noble (1333a30 – b3).


Since many necessary things must be present if the city is to have leisure, the city must possess the virtues that aim at the necessary things and those that aim at leisure. The virtues required for excellent work are courage, endurance, moderation and justice (in order to acquire necessary goods and protect them in times of war); those required for leisure are moderation, justice and wisdom (in order that we use our leisure and good fortune in a noble fashion). Noble leisure prevents us from becoming arrogant and immoderate, slaves to the abundance of goods we possess (1334a11).


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