Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Phenomenology of Friendship

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Phenomenology of Friendship

Article excerpt

C'est la haine qui est mal, jamais l'amour. Ester Rota Gasperoni, Orage sur le lac

IN THIS ESSAY, WE WILL USE ARISTOTLE to bring out some important features of friendship and of moral action in general; we will show that friendship is the highest kind of moral excellence. (1) We will then make use of phenomenology to determine the kinds of intelligence that provide the substance of both moral conduct and friendship. Moral action and friendship are defined by special kinds of rational form, and it will be our goal to describe these forms.


Aristotle's description of the moral virtues in the Nicomachean Ethics is developed in a logical progression. His analysis, as it moves along, reaches three successive summits or crests, each higher than the previous one. (1) The first crest is the treatment of the virtue of pride or magnanimity, megalopsychia, in book 4 chapter 3. Magnanimity is the completion of what we could call our "internal" or "individual" virtues, such as courage, temperance, and generosity. It is moral virtue brought to self-awareness, the confidence that comes to us when we have achieved virtuous dispositions and know that we are able to act in a noble manner. Magnanimity consolidates the possession we take of our own emotions, our desires, aversions, and fears.

(2) The second high point in Aristotle's treatment of moral virtue is found in the discussion of justice in book 5. Justice goes beyond the virtues treated in the earlier books because it deals with our relationships with other people and not just the control we have over ourselves and our impulses. What Aristotle calls particular justice, the subject of most of book 5, deals with the things we can exchange with other people, things that can be transferred from one person to another and that can be possessed in a greater or lesser amount. Such justice does not deal, say, with intelligence or with physical beauty, because these things cannot be transported from one person to another, but it does deal with wealth, money, honors, and offices, as well as with public burdens and obligations. "Distributive" justice deals with the allotment of benefits and burdens to various members of a community, while "corrective" justice deals with remedies that must be imposed when one person has been injured and hence deprived of some goods; corrective justice deals with the restitution that must be made in order to bring back the original and just condition. Distributive justice is proportional, corrective justice is arithmetical.

(3) We might think that the treatment of justice is the culmination of Aristotle's discussion of moral excellence. Justice seems to be the highest moral virtue, and the classical listing of virtues, the "cardinal" virtues, comprised temperance, courage, prudence, and justice. But there is still another crest to be reached beyond justice in the study of moral virtue. It is reached in books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics, which discuss friendship. Friendship should not be taken as a mere appendix to ethics; it completes justice and the other moral virtues.

Aristotle distinguishes between pleasant, useful, and perfect friendships, with the latter being the paradigm of human agency. In perfect friendships the friends must be virtuous and capable of working together to accomplish things in common. They wish the good of each other as their own good. The activity of each of the friends is intensified and made more perfect precisely because they are engaged in a corporate effort; each of the friends is "another self" to the others. The practice of friendship in its highest sense is a form of moral activity and the capacity to be a true friend is a virtue. It is an excellence of the soul that enables us to act in keeping with our nature. It perfects us as human beings, as rational animals, and it is the finest way in which we exercise practical reason. …

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