Leisure in Classical Greek Philosophy

  • Thanassis Samaras


The concept of leisure plays a significant part in the ethical and political thinking of the Greek philosophers of the classical era. For both Plato and Aristotle leisure, in the sense not of inactivity but of freedom from the need to work in order to secure the necessities of life, is a prerequisite for the achievement of the highest form of human flourishing, eudaimonia. But what kind of leisure is necessary for eudaimonia, and which social groups may possibly attain it, is a question to which Plato gives, generally speaking, two different answers in his career. The first one, proposed in the Republic, represents a more demanding and elitist idea of human perfection, according to which involvement in any productive economic activity, including farming, makes it impossible for a human being to achieve virtue and eudaimonia. The second one, found in the late dialogue called Laws, allows for a lowest kind of virtue and flourishing which is achievable by practising farmers, though not by anyone engaging in craftsmanship or commerce. Aristotle appears to be closer to the earliest Platonic concept of the connection between leisure on the one hand and virtue and eudaimonia on the other, although some passages may suggest that citizens who are in some way engaged in farming may become virtuous. This understanding of leisure involves revisiting the ideal of the Homeric hero so that activities like fighting in war and hunting remain compatible with virtue, while at the same time promoting a notion of virtue that fits the framework of the classical polis. It also involves the repudiation of an alternative ethos which emphasizes the moral value of physical labour. This ethos is expressed in the poems of the major archaic Greek poet Hesiod and is adopted by the “middling” class, a class that rejects the aristocratic standpoint and, in the fifth and fourth century BC, becomes the social bedrock of classical Greek democracy.


Plato Aristotle Hesiod Middling ideology Slavery Prometheus Protagoras Pericles 


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Thanassis Samaras
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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