Necessity

Since the time of ancient Greece, necessity has been envisioned as the opposite of freedom. Those who had to fulfil the necessary were women and slaves; male citizens of the polis (ancient Greek for „city,” „community”) were considered full humans. 

By delegating the sphere of necessity to others and thus separating it from their own lives, those „free” citizens were able to engage in politics (as described by Aristotle in his Metaphysics). In truth, politics were structurally and fundamentally dependent on households. Still, this dependency was not acknowledged, described and reflected upon, but the comforts provided by the households were taken for granted.

The fact that the essentials of life were taken care of built the foundation of a good life in the polis, but it was not valued as such. Even until today, unpaid housework and care activities are not being included in the calculation of economic wealth—for example the gross national product.

Like all other traditions, this is not unalterable, but can be modified by reflection upon the value of what counts as necessary. By „abstracting” household from the purely private sphere, the necessary becomes publicly visible too. Doing necessary things can be seen as a part of a good life itself, not as something that just forms the basis for it. 

A person doing necessary things, like taking care of a crying baby, is not unfree. In fact, necessity is an essential part of a good life and hints at the fundamental dependency of everyone on everyone and everything. Attending to necessity is not only compatible with freedom, but they both ultimately converge. 

Hannah Arendt: The human condition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1998 (orig. 1958)

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