Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Justice and Freedom: Can they exist alongside friendship?

Rachel Wolchok

Professor Mahallati

RELG 274

March 16, 2019


Moral Paradigm Shifts for a more Friendship-centered World


In his book Friendship: A Central Moral Value, Michael Mitias explores the ideals crucial to societies in the Medieval, Renaissance, and Modern times in the context of friendship. This analysis illustrates the gradual shift away from friendship within religion, politics, and social circles. This gradual shift is what Mitias calls as a moral paradigm shift. Moral paradigms influence acting, feeling, and thinking and arise from the unity of values that lie in a culture. Thus, moral paradigm shifts are evolutionary processes that change the inherent morals, values, and worldviews of a culture through institutionalization. Culture, according to Mitias, is the collective paradigm of understanding the world. Friendship was important to the culture and was considered a moral paradigm of of the Renaissance and Middle Ages, and even before exemplified by the writings of Aristotle and Cicero. In the age of modernity, global society has witnessed the slow omission of friendship from moral paradigms and cultures. Mitias calls for the return of friendship to the human experience integrating it back through moral paradigm shifts. In his examination of the Middle Ages and modernity, Mitias argues for many paradigm shifts to institutionalize friendship; here, I will explore Mitias’ calls for shifts away from our current paradigms of justice and freedom.

Freedom and friendship have a complicated relationship in philosophical discussions. For many philosophers, friendship is the antithesis as it requires time, commitment, and dedication to another person and their life. Freedom also extends to government, especially as it functions as the main tenet of democracy. Greek government in the Hellenic era emphasized the need for freedom in the polis. Law is obeyed out of respect for the government and legislation, as the public has a voice in the functioning of the rulership. Thus, society’s freedom is determined by how willingly people follow and obey the laws. This is an interesting concept, as I would view rules as restricting freedom, yet simultaneously, the act of participating in government is freedom in and of itself. Before comparing freedom in governance to personal life, it is important to distinguish the existence of these two concepts. Democracy relies on freedom, yet we must question if freedom is quintessential to one’s life as it is to democracy.  Here is the tension: being totally free in relationships translates to no friendships and a lonely life, whereas total freedom in the political sphere gives self-expression and creativity in a city-state. In modernity, Luther and Calvin are quite critical of friendship in religious and social life. Calvin states that friendship is prescribed by duty, which is the opposite of freedom. Kant provides a variation on this view, “The striving for perfect friendship is a duty imposed by reason… Yet it is easy to see that [perfect] friendship is a mere idea.”1 Kant and Calvin’s portrayal of friendship as a duty transforms it into the antithesis of freedom, especially as Kant says that the perfect friendship is unattainable. Conversely, Wadell believes that freedom is not key to the moral life. Freedom, to Wadell, is the discovery of the moral life alone. Friendship is crucial to becoming a moral and good person, and taking this journey alone is lonely without the help and accompaniment of friends. Freedom in politics in the Hellenic and Hellenistic eras promoted friendship, yet as seen in modernity, freedom in social life poses friendship as a duty and paints the search for morality as an individual journey.

Justice is another component of politics and religion that is highly debated in its importance to friendship. Aristotle famously writes that friendship replaces one’s need for justice because friendship is the most just relationship and is intrinsically just in a proper friendship. In the Hellenic and Hellenistic eras, friendships were cherished for bringing one to the highest good. A friendship requires an obligation to be just, among other virtues. Mitias also writes of the importance of happiness as the moral good, relating to friendship in saying that friendship is vital to happiness. The central moral value of the Middle Ages is happiness, where friendship, which is still believed to be inherently just, is critical to achieving the highest good. The cultural shift away from humanism and reason towards realism and idealism marks the transition to modernity. Modernity signifies the contemporary time with bleak international relationships that lack the tenets of friendship. Professor Mahallati cited his belief that too much punitive justice was exercised at the end of the first world war, which contributed to the onset of WWII. After discussing Kant, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, we returned to the present day in which Mahallati stated, “Justice is so absolute that anything that infringes on it, including friendship, is problematic.” Mitias’ account of the Hellenic era contrasts this, “It is to appeal the highest moral law that reveals the essence of justice.”1 The dichotomy between these views is striking; whereas the society of Hellenic and Hellenistic Greece saw justice as a product of the highest moral law, also incorporating friendship, theorists of modernity viewed friendship as a threat to justice’s existence. Justice and friendship evolved from a symbiotic relationship to one of prey and predator. In another comparison, Aristotle wrote of politics, “the best city will be one in which the citizens become friends, depend not alone on the bonds of justice and law.”2 This again shows the basis of governance as friendship, and the friendship between the citizens ideally lies beyond the justice and law instituted by the government. Hobbes, in accordance with his Social Contract Theory, writes of international relations, “There is no justice among nations, only exchange of benefits and hostilities.”1 Benefits and hostilities imply utility and hate, neither of which are part of the classic definitions of friendship. Here, the cynical view sees no justice and no friendship between countries, nor should there be. Throughout the evolution of society from Hellenic era to contemporary times, justice is no longer seen as an integral nor an integrated part of friendship, and neither are attainable in politics.

Throughout the discussion of friendship, justice, and freedom, there has been a vague theme of individualism that began in the Hellenistic era with more emphasis on self-development until today with political theories that claim the need for isolationism. This was first evident in the shift towards suffering as religious dedication, especially popular in female mystics. It continued to the Protestant Reformation in which Luther defined faith as entirely individual and viewed friendship as opposite to faith since it requires partiality. Hobbes also views friendship as a means for last resort in conflict and also contrasts self worth, as “A man is worth as much as he can do without relyon in someone else.”1 Freedom empowers individualism, as the power to choose fuels one’s ability to act alone. Similarly, the paradigm shift in justice is centered around the individual, in the weakening of the relationship between justice and friendship and the lack of justice between parties. Iris Murdoch states, “We need to return from self-centered concept of sincerity to the other-centered concept of truth,”1 which reflects Mitias’ view of the paradigm shift needed to return friendship to the center of our global culture. Throughout his book, Mitias meticulously analyzes the progression of art, religion, politics, and society with and alongside friendship; he calls for paradigm shifts in the importance of individualism, freedom, and justice in order to return friendship to central moral values. Currently, friendship is on the periphery, yet with restructuring our view of justice in international relations, redefining freedom, and questioning the importance of individualism, friendship can return to its place as moral paradigm.



  1. Quotes from Professor Mahallati or presentation in class
  2. Mitias, Michael H. Friendship: a Central Moral Value. Rodopi, Amsterdam. 2012.


Works Cited


Holzer, Jenny. “Inflammatory Essays.” 1979-1983. The Allen Museum of Art. Web. 15 Marhc 2019.


Mitias, Michael H. Friendship: a Central Moral Value. Rodopi, Amsterdam. 2012.


I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.


Leave a Reply