Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Unwise Replacements of Friendship

When doing extensive reading on friendship over the course of many historical periods, it becomes clear that, no matter what the attitude about it is at the time, there will always be advocates for friendship (even if it is more of a minority than we would like). Michael Mitias is one of these advocates; he believes that friendship is a basic human need that must not be continued to be ignored from our moral theory and he writes extensively to defend his position. Luckily for Mitias, there are many other modern theologians-philosophers that share similar views or at least share the appreciation for friendship that he can look to for support with their ideas. For the most part, these modern philosophers recognize the challenge they face if they are to successfully enhance the active participation friendship policies will play in social, political, religious, and other spheres of their societies.

It is very tempting to make a connection between these modern philosophers like Mitias and the earlier Saint Thomas Aquinas, who we discussed more closely a few weeks ago in class. Aquinas, who was born in the thirteenth century, was a much older example of yet another advocate for the power of friendship and increased inclusion into public life. Living in a much more religious time than Mitias and of course being a Saint, Aquinas dedicated much of his work to reestablishing a more important role for friendship in Christianity. In fact, it was Aquinas that “even argued that the universe itself was established in mercy, not justice” because “the existence of the universe, creation, was not ‘owed’ or ‘due’ to anyone, [and] something more than justice seemed to regulate its ultimate order” (Schall, 225-226). This is considered a huge foundation point in theology philosophy that many other friendship advocates after Aquinas will use to build their arguments upon.

Because there were times in our history that certain well functioning societies existed with high importance placed on friendship, many of these modern philosophers find it important to look at what other concepts replaced friendship in most societies as the most valued as well as the most influential. One of these main ideas that has very successfully replaced friendship as a core value in many societies today, and most certainly in the United States, is individualism. One point in history where you can see this is around the seventh to fourth centuries BC with the Hellenic and Hellenistic societies that we discussed in great length on March 12th. Both the Hellenic and Hellenistic societies were centralized around the appreciation of friendship. Over time, however, there began to be a shift from the natural desires, emotions, and conformity with the law of polis that the societies so respected and valued to truth based on reason and self-development. This was specifically the case even more so with the Hellenistic than the Hellenic and so we can see the beginning of a rationalistic and individualistic society through them.

Closely related to the rise in value for individualism is the rise in value of freedom. The arguably near blind love for freedom that is so extremely obvious in the United States is also very common and influential in many other cultures. The development of this value of freedom can sometimes be described as a side effect of the individualism epidemic mentioned above because there is a strong element of freedom that comes with being decidedly self sufficient; after all, if we have no one we must rely on, we are free to do whatever we want and make whatever choice we desire to make. However, something that many of these freedom and individuality based societies fail to address is the “terrible loneliness in this freedom” (Wadell, 14). Wadell points out how being so dedicated to not needing people forces us to ignore our need for people. This is precisely why countries in their current freedom valuing states need specific forced programs and positions to force more social well being between people. Britain’s recent appointment of a minister for loneliness is just one example.

Although there are many shifting values in societies throughout our history that you could easily examine, perhaps one of the last most important ones is the current shift in our modern philosophy to more readily accept war. In fact, many of the anti-war thinkers like Lambert and Deluze believe that the modern philosophy is now supporting the creation of a permanent war mindset where we are constantly searching for the unidentified others that we so often label as alien, stranger, emigrant, refugee, and other to oppose. This way of thinking of our many neighbors on earth as so different from and dangerous to us is so ingrained in our society today that it is even very prevalent in movies and media. Perhaps the scariest part about this is how normalized these ideas are. The idea of violence between opposing groups, most often started because differences between them, is so normal (to the arguable point of encouragement) that it is often completely acceptable to show to children and young teenagers; “PG-13 films, the study’s authors found, feature more gun violence per hour than R films, with guns occurring more than twice an hour on average” (Psychology Today).

Many modern theology philosophers believe that the replacement of friendship with these other core values in societies like freedom and individuality are the cause of “the overturning of an earlier philosophical idealism that invoked friendship as the destination of the political and in its place the emergence of what I will call a nonphilosophical understanding that has determined conflict or war… as the ultimate ground from which any future thinking of the political must now depart (Lambert, 18). In other words, the historical replacement of friendship in many cultures, that is still very effective today, has shifted the goals of the political from the desire to find friendship amongst others to the desire to find justice and therefore push for the support of war policies. This is the contextual issue for which Mitias is fighting to fix.

It is important to note that Mitias did not just declare that friendship is important and should be valued more in society again but that it should come back specifically as a moral paradigm. This is significant because, as he explains, this would ensure that friendship would be rooted in all ways of life. By reading the thoughts of Mitias and other thinkers like him, it becomes clear that most of the replacements of friendship as core values in society support war and hostility between others and this is one of the main reasons friendship must begin to be valued more again. If it is true that we can only understand love and friendship through its absence, then luckily we already have seen many examples of what a society missing the value of friendship looks like, let’s use that understanding to now foster and appreciate it.


Works Cited

Lambert, Greg. “Introduction,” Philosophy after Friendship.

Schall, James. “Friendship and Political Philosophy.”

“Violence in Movies: More, Bigger-Worse.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,

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


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