We assume Aristarchus some combination of an aristocrat and an oligarch. In the midst of war and civil strife, relatives who have come to live with him are using up his resources rapidly. He claims he has no solution to these difficulties. When we last left the text, Socrates was arguing for Aristarchus to take what is useful more seriously and not despair over the fact his relatives were “freely educated.”
(II.7.6) [Socrates:] “Next, don’t you know that from a single one of these things, from making barley meal, Nausicydes sustains not only himself and his household servants but in addition many pigs and cows, and he makes such a surplus that he often performs public services at his own expense for the city as well; by making loaves of bread Cyrebus continually sustains his whole household and lives lavishly; while Demeas of Collytus is continually sustained by the production of mantles, and Menon by the making of wool, and most of the Megarians by the manufacturing of vests?”
“By Zeus,” he [Aristarchus] said, “the human beings they have are barbarians whom they have bought so as to compel them to produce what is appropriate (kalos) for them to produce. The ones I have are free and my relatives.”
Comment: Aristarchus resisted any appeal to acting usefully earlier (II.7.3) by saying that those who put “many” to work sustain slaves while he sustains those free. Socrates has not told him to put his household to work. A bit later, he rejected the idea that the free should even be considered “artisans” (II.7.4). Now he dismisses those producing anything as “barbarians,” even if they produce what is appropriate. The word kalos, though, means “noble” or “beautiful.” Again, Socrates has not told him to make his household work any particular way yet.
Nausicydes’ barley meal production enables him to rule his household like Cyrus, ruling men as if they were herds. He gets to spend like the perfect gentleman of the Oeconomicus, too. Cyrebus’ bread gets both him and his household what is good. The production of clothes can sustain a nation. The useful is central to the political. What of freedom?
(II.7.7) “Then,” he [Socrates] said, “do you think that, because they are free and your relatives, they should do nothing other than eat and sleep? Among others who are free do you see those who live in this manner living better lives, and do you deem them happier than those who are attentive to whatever they understand that is useful for one’s life? Or do you perceive that idleness and inattentiveness are beneficial to human beings for learning what it is fitting to understand, for remembering what they learn, for being healthy and strong in their bodies, and for acquiring and preserving what is useful for their life, while being at work and being attentive are not useful for these?”
Comment: Now Socrates openly attacks “idleness and inattentiveness” as serious attributes of the free. This is the first of a chain of arguments that will convince Aristarchus to enslave his household.
Of importance is an implicit distinction between freedom and happiness. You can be free and lead a worse life, but happiness demands attention “to whatever they understand that is useful for one’s life.” Is happiness contingent on knowledge of the useful simply, or on thinking one knows what is useful?
A lack of work and focus destroys “learning what is fitting to understand.” Does the philosopher stick to one topic consistently? Does he work? What is “fitting to understand?” Memory and health are certainly worth work and focus, but the end of the list is about “acquiring and preserving what is useful.” The implicit question: what does it mean to be free? The philosopher’s leisure is critical. But the free can’t be stuck doing what is necessary all the time either.
I’m not saying that Socrates does not mean any of his critique, or that Aristarchus should use gaps in the argument to contradict Socrates. We know what will happen is that Aristarchus will be at leisure and happy while his female relatives do a lot of useful things for him. A notion of freedom that reconciles with happiness and extends to all is necessary. One wonders if politics means there must always be losers, always someone doing something slavish. In which case, only the philosopher is free.