Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response Paper 1: Friendship in Theory

Megan Cox

RELG 274

Friendship: Perspectives

15 February 2018


Response Paper 1: “Why do we Need Academic Studies of Friendship in Post-Modernity and how Revisiting Ancient Philosophers on Friendship Can Help these Studies?”


In completing the readings and participating in course discussion, I have become engrossed with the intricacies, relationships, and even inconsistencies between varying schools of philosophical thought on friendship. I came into this class ready to open my mind to the deep consideration of friendship as a powerful and, yes, vital instrument for and within world religions, political dealings, economic relationships, and artistic expressions. I have been challenged by the density of the philosophy we have covered; as a graduating senior now generally comfortable with the content of many of my courses, this is refreshing. Having never taken an intense philosophy or theory course, I was struck by the incongruencies that exist between the writings by and contemporary interpretations of Plato and Aristotle on the subject of friendship. Our postmodern context encourages us to take a critical eye to ideologies and processes that have previously been unquestionably accepted, but the fact that post-modernity has also seen the slippage of friendship away from the central focus of essentially all scholarship leaves a large gap for us to fill. There are two areas that have stuck out the most to me in our discussion of these ancient philosophers: 1) the discussion of friendship as a moral end rather than a utilitarian means, and 2) the juxtaposition of scholarly debates that inform the philosophical historical record encourage a sort-of enigmatic dimension to conceptualizing friendship (and the value that brings to our overall understanding and use of friendship).

As we discussed in class, Carr’s analysis of Plato drives erratically into the arena of presentism — placing contemporary value analytics onto a historical figure through a fictional play, of all things. Through critiquing another scholar, James M. Rhodes carefully dissects Plato’s drama, Lysis, in an attempt to prove that Plato’s conceptualization of friendship should not be understood as a disgrace to the philosophical community (as he is often interpreted as directly opposing well-accepted Kantian ideology), but rather an intricate and dramatic exploration into the wonders of friendship itself. Rhodes employs an aporetic approach to discovering Plato’s lessons, and continues to reinforce the value of such an approach through his insistence that Plato’s Lysis must not be interpreted at simple face-value: there is so much more to glean from an in-depth, contextualized analysis. One of Rhodes’ main points in studying this work asserts that Plato’s message of friendship as a practice denies any moral leeway to those who attempt to embark on “friendship” with a utilitarian mission. In recounting a scene from the play, Rhodes reinforces the meaning of friendship as an end rather than a means:


“[Socrates says] we shall ‘rule’ others and ‘profit’ from them. They will be ‘ours,’ like chattel. If we do not become wise, the opposites will obtain. Does Lysis agree with these assertions (which are megalomaniac and worthy of tyrants)? ‘I agree,’ he cries. Lysis is not wise or just. He wants to enslave and use other human beings for his own advantage, profit, and pleasure. This is strong evidence that his friendships fizzle because he is the selfish type of utilitarian and alienates people by trying to exploit them.” (Emphasis added).[i]


Rhodes continues to explore the futility of utility, if you will, in deciphering the value of friendship through Plato’s Lysis. He eventually summarizes his point here by stating that “one of the chief lessons of the Lysis is that friendship never can be explained in terms of the useful… Selfish utilitarianism is the biggest blinker that the aporia removes.”[ii] Through his aporatic approach, Rhodes successfully brings a succinct analysis to Plato’s drama, and thus Plato’s lesson that utility, however logical, does not constitute a sufficient basis for establishing real friendship. Friendship itself cannot serve as an end for anyone looking to add to their own personal repertoire — it can only provide a mode of life (as discussed in Thursday’s class) with limitless possibilities for moral, personal, and humanitarian growth.

Rhodes’s analysis of Plato is easily linked to Stephen Salkever’s interpretation of (and tutelage under) Aristotle. Where Rhodes reads Plato as prescriptive, Salkever fully embraces the aporetic approach in discussing Aristotle’s writing, finding it “perplexing because his lengthy discussions of friendship do not result in any clear moral or political principles.”[iii] It is precisely this point that most fascinates me in this course. I am accustomed to social science courses with clearly defined terms, concepts, and interpersonal dynamics. It is common thought, for example, that a clear line exists between the sovereignty of one state and another (the nuances of those debates irrelevant here). In our exploration of friendship within philosophy, it is quite clear that neither friendship’s definition, category, or methodology have been established with academic consensus. On one hand, friendship is viewed as a minor subject, either sub- or super-philosophic in nature. On the other, friendship forms the foundation of human relations, thus sits at the core of any credible social science. Aristotle asserts that friendship (or “philia”) can be grouped into three categories: the good (or the perfect, as he views it), the pleasant, and the useful. Though Aristotle provides this framework, Salkever emphasizes in his article, Aristotle pointedly laid out no definition of friendship, nor principle of friendship. This allows us to feel out for ourselves the boundaries and alleyways of friendship as it applies in our own context. This aporetic style (new to me in my studies) might seem intimidating to those who rely on the certainty of studied material, but I find it oddly freeing. It allows us to marvel at the complexity of human nature in all its forms, especially friendship.

As I continue to discover more about this perplexing aspect of human life, I also try to envision its universal application. We have had some discussion on cultural differences playing a part in determining the value of friendship, or the role of friendship in society. This question of if friendship is culturally-dependent can be found discussed all around the internet — in one blog article, one person with many cultural experiences ruminates on the meaning of friendship as a truly global practice.[iv] Plato and Aristotle have laid the groundwork for my philosophical understanding of the nuances inherent in such an intangible phenomenon — that is, that the enigmatic nature of friendship might be exactly what makes it so universally human.


[i] James A. Rhodes, “Platonic Philia and Political Order,” in Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought eds. John Von Heyking and Richard Avramenko (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 31.

[ii] Rhodes, “Platonic Philia and Political Order,” 42.

[iii] Stephen Salkever, “Taking Friendship Seriously: Aristotle on the Place(s) of Philia in Human Life,” in Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought eds. John Von Heyking and Richard Avramenko (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 53.

[iv] Aliya Sagandykova, “Importance of Friendship in Different Cultures,” QS Top Universities, March 23, 2015,




Rhodes, James M. “Platonic Philia and Political Order.” In Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought, edited by John Von Heyking and Richard Avramenko, 21-52. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.


Sagandykova, Aliya. “The Importance of Friendship in Different Cultures.” QS Top Universities. March 23, 2015.


Salkever, Stephen. “Taking Friendship Seriously: Aristotle on the Place(s) of Philia in Human Life.” In Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought, edited by John Von Heyking and Richard Avramenko, 53-83. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.


I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment.  x Megan Cox


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