Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Morality Through Friendship

Gillian Chanko

Jafar Mahallati

Friendship: Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics & Art

15 March, 2019

Morality Through Friendship

Although many people will argue that everyone needs quality and meaningful friendships in their life, there are differing perspectives regarding the morality of human beings. Because the majority of human beings have both friends and a moral code, it is not surprising that the relationship between the two has been studied throughout many academic communities. A few particular scholars have written fascinating findings regarding friendship and morality. Paul Wadell, a professor of religion and theology, wrote a book in 1989 entitled “Friendship and the Moral Life” while James Schall, a professor, and priest, wrote “At the Limits of Political Philosophy: From “Brilliant Errors” to Things of Uncommon Importance.” Michael Mitias, who wrote “Friendship: A Central Moral Value” in 2011, discusses the evolution of friendship through paradigm shifts in Hellenic and Hellenistic Cultures. Through the examination of these works, this paper will analyze concepts of morality through a framework of friendship, and what the defines both of these terms. Following this, the works of Aristotle and the Hellenic societies will be studied to gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of philosophical thought regarding friendship. To know the shift within various societies throughout different periods, a moral paradigm must be understood, specifically in terms of culture. This response will finish with an emphasis on why it is critical to study and understand the relationship between morality and friendship.

As described by Etienne Gilson, “morals is the science of how man is to conduct himself so that the story of his life may have a happy ending, to bring his own humanity to the very peak of achievement.” Morality is often interpreted by different people, with various identities, socioeconomic classes, and locations. Usually, it is the foundations of one’s belief system that guides how they act in society. There are multiple avenues to look at morality and ethics, yet in one’s day to day life, there is usually a negative approach to using one’s moral compass. Usually, we exhibit morals when in times of a crisis or within messy situations, having strong opinions on negative aspects of social life. Many individuals execute morality in terms of quandary ethics, which usually is associated with crisis control ethics. This approach to ethics focuses mainly on acting morally when difficult decisions arise, rather than entering life with an ethical attitude in general. The virtue ethics approach focuses more on who one should be as a human being- what their principles are, how they act, and what they believe to be the right thing. The framework of friendship allows an approach to life that is more tailored according to virtue ethics. It is often believed that one cannot be moral without friends, as most of our ethical choices are encompassed and based on those around us. Friendship is critical in terms of living within morals and in an ethical fashion since it helps us to “see that ethics is not a solution we seek to a problem we wish we could avoid, but is our life lived in a certain way” (Lecture 3/7). The main focus of scholarly evidence regarding friendship that will be examined throughout this piece is the work and ideologies associated with Ancient Greece. Aristotle once said that “friendships are not only enjoyable; they are also highly morally formative” (Waddell xiii). It may seem like a minimal connection between the two, many philosophers believed that “The central concern of the moral life is the formation of a good and worthy character, the development of virtues that will help guide us to authentic human flourishing” (Waddell xiii). After all, one’s moral code and ethical lifestyle are continued by the “remaking of persons through a shared love” (Lecture 3/7).

Ancient Greek societies, often described as Hellenic, focused on many aspects of philosophy and morality. Friendship was often a focus of many Greek philosophers’ works, such as Aristotle, Plato, and Laelius. As time went on and the culture developed, there was a shift

Originally, much of Hellenic culture focused on the “metaphysical, teleological, and humanistic” (Lecture 3/12), yet the Hellenistic period, which was roughly around 323 BC to the rise of Octavian in 31 BC, began to focus on ration. There was a shift from natural desires, emotions, and conformism with the law of polis to reasoning out what was right and wrong. Despite these differences, all of Greek history in terms of the spread of scholarly ideas focused on friendship. Aristotle mentioned that intellectual virtues, mainly wisdom, science and principles, made it “possible that peculiar unity of the mind’s own search for truth and the exchange of the search in the friendship” (Schall 229). A particular faction that I found interesting was the fact that both cultures strongly believed that the experience of suffering was of an extremely high moral value, and that it would give you the best experience in the after life. Because there is always a particular vision of what it truly means to be of high moral good, this vision helps to serve as the basis for a moral paradigm, which will be discussed in the following section. One thing that many Greek scholars did agree on was the need for friendship in search for morals, and vice versa. As we look for the sole truth, or as Aristotle put it as a “meditation on beauty” (Schall 229), this allows us to find friendship in those around us.

One concept often discussed in terms of morality is that of a paradigm, which Michael Mitias describes as “a general way or pattern of behaving that is of thinking to feeling and acting in a domain of human experiences such as art religion politics business society morality education or science” (Mitias). A paradigm, which can often be described both in terms of institutional and cultural models, usually is viewed in terms of a conceptual framework that is “rooted in the hearts, minds, and souls or a people and functions as the actuating principle of their behavior, in all domains of life.” (Lecture 3/12). Morality is often included within a paradigm, as it helps guide one in terms of how they should act, interact, and socialize with the world around them. In the past, when paradigms of culture were explored, they were often viewed in terms of a group of people’s integrity, identity, and dynamism, yet many scholars left out the value of friendship. Friendship was heavily dismissed from studies of morality and cultural paradigms during medieval, modern, and contemporary periods, yet why? Friendship is such an essential aspect of all individuals’ human experience, and it is a concept and framework that has been used since humans began to gather. As described by Schall, “Friendship, like justice, takes its highest meaning from right order in human relationships and from a right understanding of man’s place in the world” (Schall 219). It is critical that friendship should be included when viewing morality in terms of a paradigm, as it is a basic human need that everyone experiences and grows from.

Despite the fact that there has long been an emphasis on moral studies, friendship must be focused on more within various scholarly fields. Every person has morals, and every person has some form of friendship with another, so it is vital that the two be studied together, along with their relationships and dependence on one another. Because “friendship arises directly from the conditions of human living together” (Schall 221), those around us help us to shape our ethics and values, and we leave an imprint on others as well. We would not be able to act morally on a day to day basis without people in our lives. Yes, we can be moral in terms of our consumption, treatment of the environment and animals, as well as not committing crimes such as stealing or hurting property. Yet our daily actions speak more to our moral code rather than how we act in difficult situations, and most of these day to day activities involve those whom we surround ourselves with. Morals help to shape our thoughts into seeds and words into flowers, which in turn impacts how we treat one another — knowing how morality and friendship coexist is not only vital within the academic field, but also in one’s understanding of human behavior and how to lie a moral life.  A quote that I once saw that specifically stood out to me stated “Goodness is about character- integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people” (Dennis Prager). Our morals influence the way we treat other people, and the way we treat other people is how we preserve the friendship. This link proves the vital necessity to understand morality in the framework of friendship.



“Amity Update: The Academic Debate on Friendship and Politics,” Heather Devere, in Amity, Journal of Friendship Studies, First Issue, 2013

“Friendship and Political Philosophy,” James Schall.

Mitias, Michael H. 2012. Friendship: A Central Moral Value. Amsterdam: New York: Rodopi.

“Why a New Model for the Moral Life is Needed,” in Waddell, Paul J.Friendship and the Moral Life


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