THE MOST NECESSARY CITY
Equipped with a founding principle of human motivation (need), with a basic theory of the social organization of individuals who act on that principle, and with an account of the components of a single exchange between such autonomous actors, Socrates starts to construct a city. He begins by specifying needs: “Okay then, the first, at least, and the greatest of needs is the provision of nourishment for the sake of both being and living” (369d1-2). The second need is for the provision of a dwelling, and the third is for the provision “of clothing and these sorts of things” (369d4). To fulfill these needs requires certain means: “a farmer [will be] one [of the citizens], another a house-builder, and some other a weaver” (369d7-8), and there will be a shoemaker and perhaps “someone else of those [who are all] about the care of the body” (369d8-9). Socrates concludes their first stage of city building thus: “But the most necessary [anangkaiotate] city would be composed of four or five men.” (369d11-e1)
There are several matters worthy of note in this tiny “city.” First, Socrates has no interest, as a city founder, in making detailed prescriptions for the citizens. He is deliberately vague about the category of products similar to clothing, about what roles exactly may be needed to care for the body, and about how many producers the city will have. The reason he avoids any systematic or definite list of needs and citizens is that his concern is simply that the inhabitants’ greatest needs be provided for, whatever they happen to be, and he has already explained how the city’s inhabitants will fulfill these needs through exchange, motivated by their own awareness of their needs.19
Second, this city illuminates several features of “need” and “necessity” (anangke). The city of four or five producers is needed as the means to the ends of providing nourishment, dwellings, and clothing. These ends are also the greatest needs. This is because they are in turn the most indispensable means to the greater ends of “being and living.” A chain of means is thus formed. In “the most necessary city” we can see that “necessary” therefore has the same meaning as “needed.” The city of four or five is the most needed/necessary for providing for basic needs because providing for basic needs is in turn most needed/necessary for being and living. What is necessary/needed is that without which a certain end cannot come to be.20 Conversely, that for the sake of which something is needed is what makes the needed thing needed, what makes fulfilling it worthwhile and imperative, given certain conditions. It is only because we aim at being and living that we need the provision of nourishment—that it is necessary. Whenever we say we need something or that something is necessary, we can always ask why, for the sake of which greater end. What is necessary is always conditional on an end, never an end in itself.
In any chain of necessity, the end that justifies the whole chain is not itself something necessary. It is simply good. This is not to say that such an end is unnecessary, however, since what is unnecessary, just like what is necessary, is defined in relation to an end beyond itself. Given a certain end, what is unnecessary is whatever is not necessary for that end. We will return to the role of necessity in Socrates’s moral and economic thought in the early city below, after investigating the reasons he gives for the division of labor.