Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship As a Moral Paradigm


In Michael Mitias’s book, “Friendship: A Central Moral Value”, evaluates the ways in which paradigm shifts over time introduce new modes or forms of friendship, particular through Hellenic and Hellenistic time periods. Using Mitias’s work alongside works by Paul Wadell (“Friendship and Moral Life”), , and Werner G. Jeanrond (“Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious Hermeneutics of Love”) the main arguments of Mitias’s Friendship will be discussed, as well as its relation to the works of theologian-philosophers such as Paul Wadell, and Werner G. Jeanrond.

In “Friendship: A Central Moral Value”, Mitias describes a paradigm as “a general way, or pattern, of behaving that is of thinking, feeling, and acting in a domain of human experience, such as art, religion, politics, business, society, morality, education, or science” (Mitias 7). Under this definition, it makes absolute sense to more carefully consider the impact of friendship as a moral paradigm. Furthermore, Mitias states that “paradigmatic quality emerges from the unity and dominance of beliefs and values in their behavior” (Mitias 8), helping us further position of friendship as a moral paradigm; for what is friendship if not the unity of beliefs and values?

Mitias continues to posit that the reason friendship should be included within the spectrum of moral values is because it is a basic human need. As a human necessity, it is imperative we recognize the place of friendship as a moral paradigm. Another reason friendship must be considered as a moral theory is because any attempt to formulate moral principles without grounding it in a community’s moral sense would constitute “sentimental utilitarianism, hence rendering the principle irrelevant of the community” (quote from class).

In Jeanrond’s “Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious Hermeneutics of Love”, he proposes “that we begin seeking theological knowledge of the religious other and the religious self through the praxis of love” . Friendship, as a facet of this praxis of love, can greatly aid this search for theological knowledge. Similarly, Jeanrond states that “the pursuit of theological truth through the complex and dynamic praxis of love will lead to a critical view of all existing religious and interreligious institutions” (Jeanrond 221). Through this quote, Jeanrond highlights the power of “the praxis of love” which can also be viewed as paradigms of friendship, describing the ways in which this practice of friendship can lead to amazing theological and personal discoveries.

By further examining Aristotle and Aquinas, Jeanrond states that “friendship takes its dignity from the truth and the good existing in reality” (Jeanrond 224), again bringing up friendship’s relationship to morality and the good. He goes on to compare friendship to justice, stating that Aristotle thought that cultures depended more intensely on their friendships than their justice. Justice, Jeanrond says, is a harsh virtue, while friendship is one of kindness. Where friendship is personal, justice is more impersonal, and according to Jeanrond, justice is “deepened and softened by friendship”(Jeanrond 226).

Wadell’s “Friendship and Moral Life” posits that morality is only possible because there are others, and that friendship puts goodness within our reach, contributing to Mitias’s repositioning of friendship as a moral paradigm. Speaking on morality as friendship, Wadell wrote that “the moral life is the formation of people in the good in relationships with people who are good” (Wadell 10), pointing to the works of Aristotle and Aquinas (who are also mentioned by both Jeanrond and Mitias) on the subject of the pursuit of friendship as the moral life. Wadell discusses how a transformation of oneself to the good can be achieved through friendship, as friendship allows space for people to access the good. In this same vein, Wadell writes that “what confounds us about morality today is that too often it fails to address the very questions about which we should be most concerned” (Wadell 13). While morality often fails to address questions of much importance, friendship oftens creates space to fall upon the answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

Friendship is widely regarded by many theologian-philosophers as an incredible virtue, persistent human necessity, and a moral paradigm. By acknowledging the praxis and influence of friendship across various cultures and time periods, we are able to better understand the sheer power and brilliance of friendship historically, politically, religiously, and spiritually – as well as the ways that friendship relates to themes of loyalty, justice, happiness, and fulfillment. By regarding friendship as a moral paradigm, we recognize the ways it influences domains of human experience, and how integral it is to so many of these human experiences. As Seneca said, “friendship creates a community of interests between us in everything. you should live for the other person if you wish to live for yourself.”


Jeanrond, Werner G. (1998). “Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious

Hermeneutics of Love”


Mitias, Michael H. (ed.) (2012). Friendship: A Central Moral Value. Editions Rodopi.


Wadell, Paul. (1989). Friendship and Moral Life

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