Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Daniel Weintraub: A New System of Friendship

Daniel Weintraub


There are many reasons why friendship should be at the forefront of our social life, and our moral values. Friendship is a moral paradigm; “A way of thinking, way of acting, and way of feeling” It affects, and is affected by all three, and therefore would constitute a moral paradigm. Stated more simply, friendship is a basic human need and therefore cannot be ignored from moral theory. (Mahallati 3/12/19). However, Friendship is not paramount in society, and people are told to “fend for themselves” instead. It is clear to see that the emphasis on individualistic living has eclipsed friendship. This needs to change. My argument lies in the fact that even the most noble virtues are encapsulated within friendship. In friendship-based society, essential virtues like charity and social justice will already be incorporated within the institution of friendship.

I will begin with a discussion of happiness. Friendship has a greater connection to happiness than most all other states of being. Moreover, it is clear to see the link between friendship and happiness. And while it may be a stretch to state that happiness is a synonym for friendship, this is not too far off. Surely one could not have happiness without friendship; true loneliness stands as the strongest barrier to happiness. One who is lonely can not be virtuous. To prove this point, imagine a lonely person. In lacking social interaction, what virtues can they achieve? The only person they can help is themself, and while this can indeed be virtuous, it is nowhere near the height of what one can achieve. As Wadell stated, “It is in the context of friendship that the virtues which make us whole would be learned” (Wadell 8).

Genuine happiness can only be achieved when one aspires to, and reaches the height of virtue. Virtuosity functions as self-affirmation. When an individual considers themselves virtuous, they are affirmed. But to reach the height of virtuous living, you need friends. As Schall put it, “Without denying the good or the strength of reason, we do seem to need more than ourselves even to be naturally virtuous, no one would choose a life of all the virtues or with all the wealth if it meant being without friends” (Schall 5). What good is our wealth, and what good are our virtues if we cannot be with loved ones?

Again, loneliness is pervasive. There is no monetary cure for isolation. Even the poorest person in the world can be affirmed, while the richest . When you lack love, the only cure comes in loving another. “Love is understood by its void, not by its presence (3/14/19).” How often do we see that after a wealthy person (i.e. business person, corporate lawyer, stock trader, etc.) achieves success in the professional world, they eventually grow to hate their work. But understanding does not have an expiration date, and one needs to experience a lack of love before understanding life’s true blessings. Jeanrond stated that  “Understanding is an event, something that we experience. Understanding happens to us rather than through us” (Jeanrond 188). When we speak of understanding it is in reference to the individual. However, it does not occur at the individual level. Understanding occurs through solid relationship. Friendship as a moral paradigm results in fulfillment. Fulfillment in relationship and love, and fulfillment in the heart.

Why do human beings work so hard anyway? The best answer I can give is that humans aspire to the state of happiness. Even if you were to tell me, “I do not care about happiness, I want to be rich!” Well, be that as it may, why do you want to be rich so badly? It is because you equate wealth to happiness. I may want fame, you may want money, that person over there may want to be the heavyweight champion of the world. Similarly, Wadell stated that “To be human is to have a purpose to fulfill” (Wadell 4). Only after achieving this purpose may we become our happiest selves.

The self cannot be actualized without virtue, and virtue cannot be actualized without friendship. There is no clearer way of stating the importance of friendship as a moral paradigm. I don’t mean to say that modern society lacks virtue. Wonderful, well-intentioned people do good everyday. But this is not the standard. The absence of friendship as a moral paradigm means we are nowhere near what we can be. As Wadell states, “In so many respects, morality is what happens between friends. It is not the whole of the moral life, but there can be no moral life without it.” (Wadell 7). Yes, morality exists. But moral life as the standard has been lost. And in its place, “justice” has presented itself as the predominant remedy to societal ills.

At this point one may ask “what is the problem with justice anyway?” “Justice is how we keep society functional, how would friendship be more effective than justice in mediating  society’s problems?” Schall stated that “To be just to one another, we do not need to know each other” (Schall 8). The system of justice does not look at the individual. As a result, disproportionate punishment is given to offenders. But In friendship-based society the wants and needs of each individual will be evaluated. With this we may finally look to the future for offenders, rather than forcing them to relive their past deeds, while they wear the mark of “criminal” for the rest of their life.

Friendship needs to come back as a moral paradigm. Ever since President Calvin Coolidge coined the model of “rugged individualism” in 1928, Americans have followed the “every man for themselves model.” But where has this gotten us? Are we free of the problems that plagued us in Coolidge’s day? No. If anything, the problems have become exacerbated. Loneliness, depression, mass incarceration, poverty, and unemployment are extremely present today. Philosophy of individualism needs to go, and friendship as a moral paradigm need enter the new system of justice. Friendship is fair justice, even justice, and honest justice. As a moral paradigm, friendship not only changes the way we think and act but the way we feel. This is most important. Love may only spread through feeling. With justice and punishment, there can be no love.



Mahallati, Class Lectures, 3/12/19, 3/14/19, Oberlin College

Paul J. Wadell, Friendship and the Moral Life, 1989, University of Notre Dame Press

James V. Schall, Friendship and Political Philosophy, 1996, Review of Metaphysics

Werner Jeanrond, Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious Hermeneutics of Love, 1998

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