When Philosophers Met Friendship



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When Philosophers Met Friendship

  • prepared by VA Ricks
  • (Dept of Philosophy, Guilford College)
  • for
  • INLS 490 “Technologies of Friendship” (Fred Stutzman, Instructor)
  • Monday 06 October 2008

Theoretical and Conceptual Questions

  • What is friendship?
  • Are there different types of friendship?
  • What, if anything, makes friendships valuable?
  • Do we have to believe that our friends are good people?
  • Do we have special duties to our friends, because they’re our friends, that we do not have to others?
  • Is it possible to befriend everyone?
  • Is it possible to befriend anyone?
  • Is it possible to think – let alone talk – in coherent ways about answers to such questions?

Overview of the Presentation

  • The trouble with friendship
  • Aristotle’s philia: a philosopher looks at friendship “from the outside”
  • Montaigne’s elegy: a philosopher looks at friendship “from the inside”
  • Three areas of debate in contemporary (Anglo-American) philosophy of friendship
  • Speculations about the future of the philosophy of friendship

The Trouble with Friendship

  • First trouble: friendship readily lends itself to “obscurantism”
    • Worries about theorizing about friendship in general
        • e.g., Max Jacob (“Friendship is inexplicable. It shouldn’t be explained if one doesn’t want to kill it.”)
    • Worries about “overanalyzing” my friendships!
    • (Is this a worry only about “philosophizing” about friendship(s)? What about other disciplines/approaches?)

The Trouble with Friendship

  • Second trouble: friendship readily lends itself to multiple (often contradictory) characterizations
  • Friendships between men and women are desirable bridges to greater gender equality (JS Mill)
  • Friendships between men and women are impossible (Montaigne; millions of others)
  • “We hate it when our friends become successful” (Morrissey)
  • “Nothing can mean so much to us” as friendship (Cicero)
  • People could lead a happy life without friends (Emerson)
  • A happy life requires friends (Aristotle)
  • Our love for our friends is really just a form of self-love (Kierkegaard)
  • We love our friends disinterestedly and for their own sakes (Neera Badhwar)

Preliminary responses and strategies

  • Ambiguity of the term “explanation” (reductive v non-reductive)
    • If friendship is “inexplicable”, then how can we be sure that we have friendships at all? Why care about friendship?
    • Do “explanation” and investigation inevitably mutate or leach away significance, value, and mystery?
  • “No two are alike” v “no two are anything alike”
  • Humility (and limited scope)
  • Reflective equilibrium

Reflective Equilibrium

  • see John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, esp. sections 7 - 10
  • RE is (the outcome of) a process of mutual adjustment between a general framework and specific, considered judgments (“intuitions”)
    • Test our conceptions of friendships against those relationships that are described (by the people in them!) as being friendships
    • Test the accuracy/limits of descriptions of friendships against the conceptual framework
    • Adjust either or both (repeating steps 1 and 2), until we have an “equilibrium” -- a conceptual framework that fits the widest range of things that we, in our considered judgments, call “friendships”
  • “Oh, come on! A friendship is whatever you say it is!”

Aristotle: He Who Cannot Be Escaped

  • Nicomachaean Ethics, Bks 8 and 9
  • focused on philia (v agape, eros, stergein)
  • characterological
  • typological
  • a constitutive good, not merely an instrumental one (“for no one would choose to be without friends, even if he had all the other goods”)

Aristotelian Friendship I: philia

  • philia (more-or-less, “friendship”)
    • “personal friends”
    • family members
    • business partners/associates
    • citizens
  • A relationship of mutually-recognized, reciprocated liking, goodwill, well-wishing, and shared activities

Aristotelian Friendship II: character and the types of friendship

  • A relationship of mutually-recognized, reciprocated liking, goodwill, well-wishing, and shared activities
  • What are the grounds of the liking and well-wishing?
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s pleasant/entertaining.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s useful.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s good.

Aristotelian Friendship II: character and the types of friendship

  • A relationship of mutually-recognized, reciprocated liking, goodwill, well-wishing, and shared activities
  • What are the grounds of the liking and well-wishing?
  • These are “incidental” (hence inconstant) features of her:
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s pleasant/entertaining.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s useful.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s good.

Aristotelian Friendship II: character friendship

  • A relationship of mutually-recognized, reciprocated liking, goodwill, well-wishing, and shared activities
  • What are the grounds of the liking and well-wishing?
  • This is an “essential” (hence stable) feature of her:
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s pleasant/entertaining.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s useful.
  • I like her (primarily) because she’s good.

Aristotelian Friendship II: character and the types of friendship

  • What makes “character friendships” possible?
    • Making a positive judgment about (or response to) the friend’s “good character”
    • Wishing good things to the friend for the friend’s sake, not (primarily) for your own sake
    • Relative equality of goodness of character (friend as “another self”)
    • Relative equality of other traits (e.g., wealth)
    • Being of the right ages (not “young people” or “older people”) and temperaments (not “sour”)
    • Time (see 1 above)
    • “Living together” -- a jointly-constructed life; a “shared journey”; agreement about the Good (see 1 and 3)
    • Selectivity – we can’t have a large number of this type of friendship (see 1 and 7)

Aristotelian Friendship III: lingering questions

  • What does it mean to like someone “for themselves”?
  • Can’t “bad people” be good friends?
  • What if my previously good friend goes bad?
  • Is Aristotle confusing “why I like you” and “how I like you”?
  • If friendship is a necessary part of a good life, then aren’t all my friendships motivated by a form of self-interest?
  • Can people who never/rarely meet face to face have a “shared life”?

Montaigne: A Paean to a Treasured Friend

  • Essais (Essay 28, “Of Friendship”)
  • Focused on a “true and perfect” friendship between him and the recently deceased Etienne de La Boétie
  • Voluntaristic
  • But also accidental (“because it was he; because it was I”)
  • A prescriptive account masquerading as a memoir of a sui generis connection?

Montaigne: How Our Friendship Felt I:

  • “The very discourses that antiquity has left us on this subject seem to me weak compared with the feelings I have.”
  • It “seized my whole will, led it to plunge and lose itself in his; which, having seized his whole will, led it to plunge and lose itself in mine, with equal hunger, equal rivalry. I say lose, in truth, for neither of us reserved anything for himself, nor was anything either his or mine”.
  • “For this perfect friendship I speak of is indivisible: each one gives himself so wholly to his friend that he has nothing left to distribute elsewhere; on the contrary, he is sorry that he is not double, triple, or quadruple, and that he has not several souls and several wills, to confer them all on this one object.”
  • “In friendship it is a general and universal warmth, moderate and even, besides, a constant and settled warmth, all gentleness and smoothness, with nothing bitter and stinging about it.”

Montaigne: How Our Friendship Felt II:

  • contrast to familial, romantic, and/or erotic sentiments
  • “harmony” v “complete fusion”
  • friendship with another, friendship with oneself

Montaigne: lingering questions:

  • How is your friendship related to “common” friendships?
  • Is the ideal of fusion compatible with recognizing my friends’ distinctiveness from me?

Three contemporary philosophical questions about friendship

  • Are there particular obligations that we have to our friends (and they to us)?
  • Does friendship license, or justify, certain kinds of partiality (e.g., epistemic or moral) on the friends’ parts?
  • Is friendship a semi-public good? (And if so, then what follows?)

Friendship and Obligation

  • (reference reading: Michael E. Meyer, “Rights Between Friends?” The Journal of Philosophy 89, No. 9 (Sept 1992))
  • What are the “norms” of friendships?
  • Do any of those norms give rise to actual obligations?
  • Are they internal to the friendship relationship itself, or are they simply particular instances of more general obligations?
  • When we talk about obligations between friends, then aren’t we adopting a fundamentally “calculating” stance?
  • Even worse: when we talk about obligations between friends, then aren’t we adopting a fundamentally adversarial, atomistic, individualistic stance that will make it impossible for us to have genuine friendships, let alone to enjoy them?
      • (cf. Michael Sandel’s criticism)

Friendship and Partiality

  • (reference reading: Sarah Stroud, “Epistemic Partiality and Friendship” Ethics 116 (Apr 2006))
  • The general “problem”: personal relationships seem both to justify and to require partial treatment. But our best epistemic theories, and our best moral theories, look askance at partiality.
  • In the epistemic case: It is a legitimate demand of our friends that we form (and examine) our beliefs about them differently than we form (and examine) beliefs about non-friends?
    • (e.g., when presented with unflattering information about a friend, how should we, as friends, respond?)

Friendship as a Semi-Public Good

  • (reference authors: Marilyn Friedman, Ferdinand Schoeman)
  • If we acknowledge that friendships are generally good things, then is “society” obligated to design or promote policies that encourage and strengthen (the possibility for) friendships? What are the dangers of having “society” involved in what is often seen as a purely “private” relationship?
  • Friendship, marginalized groups, and political empowerment
  • Friendship and testimonial privilege
  • State-recognized friendships?

Speculations about the future of the philosophy of friendship

  • Further connections between questions of epistemic partiality and questions of behavioral partiality
  • More “archaeological”/historicized philosophizing about friendships
  • Further connections between friendship and Friendship -- what can philosophers contribute to and learn from a course such as this one?

I’m finished talking. Thanks for sitting still! What are your questions?



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