Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship

Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship

Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship

Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship

Synopsis

This comprehensive account of the major philosophical works on friendship and its relationship to self-love emphasizes Aristotle's examination of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics. Lorraine Pangle argues that the difficulties surrounding this discussion are dispelled as soon as one understands the purpose of the Ethics as both a source of practical guidance for life and a profound, theoretical investigation into human nature. The book provides interpretations of works on friendship by Plato, Cicero, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne and Bacon.

Excerpt

Friendship was a great subject of stories and of philosophical reflection in classical antiquity. Friendship was associated in the popular mind with courage, with republicanism, and with the spirited resistance to injustice and tyranny. The Greek poets celebrated the stories of such famous pairs of friends as Heracles and Iolaus, Theseus and Pirithous, and Orestes and Pylades. Festivals were held in honor of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who were stubbornly credited in folklore with unseating the Athenian tyrant Peisistratus, despite the efforts of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle to prove that popular memory had gotten the story wrong. Most famous of all friends were of course Achilles and Patroclus, but equally revealing is the story of Damon and Phintias, who were said to have lived under the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius. Phintias had been discovered plotting against the tyrant and was condemned to death. When he asked leave to return home first to set his affairs in order, Damon offered to stand as pledge for his safe return. Dionysius consented, though he marveled at Damon's simplicity. But when in fact Phintias returned on the appointed day to take his place on the scaffold and save his friend, so moved was the tyrant by the friends' mutual constancy that he commuted the sentence and begged to be accepted as a third in their friendship. In the proud, unshakable loyalty and mutual trust of two men such as Damon and Phintias, we see classical virtue at its most impressive but also its most appealing, for it is the special charm and fascination of a great friendship that it seems at once so noble and so delightfully desirable.

The phenomenon of friendship, with its richness and complexity, its ability to support but also at times to undercut virtue, and the promise it holds out of bringing together in one happy union so much of what is highest and so much of what is sweetest in life, formed a fruitful topic of philosophic inquiry for the ancients. Plato and Cicero both wrote dialogues about friendship, and a number of others, including Plutarch and Theophrastus, wrote treatises on it, most of which have now been lost. Epicurus devoted much . . .

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