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[1261a] [1] But is it better for a city that is to be well ordered to have community in everything which can possibly be made common property, or is it better to have some things in common and others not? For example, it is possible for the citizens to have children, wives and possessions in common with each other, as in Plato's Republic, in which Socrates says that there must be community of children, women and possessions. Well then, which is preferable, the system that now obtains, or one conforming with the regulation described in the Republic1?

Now for all the citizens to have their wives in common involves a variety of difficulties; in particular,2 (1) the object which Socrates advances as the reason why this enactment should be made clearly does not follow from his arguments; also (2) as a means to the end which he asserts should be the fundamental object of the city, the scheme as actually set forth in the dialogue is not practicable; yet (3) how it is to be further worked out has been nowhere definitely stated. I refer to the ideal of the fullest possible unity of the entire state, which Socrates takes as his fundamental principle.

Yet it is clear that if the process of unification advances beyond a certain point, the city will not be a city at all for a state essentially consists of a multitude of persons, and if its unification is carried beyond a certain point, city will be reduced to family and family to individual, [20] for we should pronounce the family to be a more complete unity than the city, and the single person than the family; so that even if any lawgiver were able to unify the state, he must not do so, for he will destroy it in the process. And not only does a city consist of a multitude of human beings, it consists of human beings differing in kind. A collection of persons all alike does not constitute a state. For a city is not the same thing as a league; a league is of value by its quantity, even though it is art the same in kind (since the essential object of the league is military strength), just as a weight would be worth more if it weighed more, whereas3 components which are to make up a unity must differ in kind (and it is by this characteristic that a city will also surpass a tribe of which the population is not scattered among villages but organized like the Arcadians). Hence reciprocal equality4 is the preservative of states, as has been said before in the Ethics. For even among the free and equal this principle must necessarily obtain, since all cannot govern at once: they must hold office for a year at a time or by some other arrangement or period; and in this manner it does actually come about that all govern, just as all shoemakers would be also carpenters if the shoemakers and the carpenters kept on changing trades instead of the same persons being shoemakers and carpenters always. But since such permanence of function is better for the political community also, it is clear that it is better for the same persons to govern always, if possible; and among peoples where it is impossible because all the citizens are equal in their nature,

1 On the following criticisms see Grote, Plato, 3, pp. 211-233.

2 (1) 1.3-7; (2) 1.8-2.11; (3) 2.11-13; also (4) other objections 2.15-16.

3 In the mss. of the Greek ‘whereas—kind’ comes below after ‘ Arcadian.’

4 As the best state consists of different classes, its unity is secured by each citizen giving services to society and receiving in return benefits proportionate to his service. Probably τὸ ἴσον is an interpolation (though Newman explains it as 'the reciprocal rendering of an equal amount of dissimilar things'): omitting τὸ ἴσον, we render ‘reciprocity’ and not ‘reciprocal equality’; cf. Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1132b 33, ‘In the interchange of services Justice in the form of Reciprocity is the bond that maintains the association: reciprocity, that is, on the basis of proportion, not on the basis of equality.’

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hide References (2 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Trachiniae, 1151
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1132b
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