Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Dystopian Friendship

Santiago Roman

Friendship and Peacemaking

Professor Mahallati

5 April 2019

On Dystopian Friendship

Michael H. Mitias, an Emeritus Professor in the philosophy department of Millsaps College writes extensively on the rise and fall of friendship in various cultures in his book Friendship A Central Moral Value. He states his purpose to be a “critical, systematic, and comprehensive analysis of the concept of friendship as a central moral value in life.” In his attempt to be thorough, Professor Mitias succeeded greatly. He dedicates a chapter to explaining a “moral paradigm shift” which lays the foundation of his description and contextualization of Hellenic, Hellenistic, Medieval, Modern, and Contemporary moral theory, which each have their own respective chapters. Since the original holistic conversation of friendship was started by Aristotle and Plato and met its eventual decline with the fall of the Hellenistic Polis after the death Alexander the Great the discussion and writing on friendship, according to Mitias, has been lacking. This 1600 year period presents the focus of Mitias’ examination. My goal for this response is to discuss briefly the authors thoughts on friendship in these periods followed by an examination of a modern implementation or institutionalization of the ethics, virtues, and values of Greek friendship.

A chief concern of post polis philosophical thought has been the comparison and analysis of agape, otherwise known as Christian love, to philia. Mitias states that this is not sufficient. This love, explicitly, means the love of God for humans and the love of humans for God. This particular context leaves little room for a profound discussion of a more human relationship. This refocusing of philosophical thought led to what Mitias describes as a “Moral Paradigm Shift” which excludes friendship from discussions on morality due to a change in how philosophers perceived morality. This occured in three stages. The first, a religious shift during the middle ages that changed how the task of moral theory was viewed from a theological perspective. Second, ethically. The modern period brought with it a development in how philosophers thought moral theory. Finally, a third wave of metaphilosophical transitioning within the contemporary period in which philosophers remolded how they viewed philosophy entirely.

Michael Mitias describes these permutations of philosophical thought as a Moral Paradigm Shift which is “a general way, or pattern, of behaving that is of thinking, feeling, and acting in a domain of human experience.” He believes that the fall of hellenic culture marginalized core beliefs and value systems in a way that humans, and our political systems have yet to recover from. A sort of deinstitutionalization of friendship occurred which, according to Aristotle and Plato, is the underpinnings of democratic government. They go as far to say that “Any political system that is not grounded in ethical principles is bankrupt, and any ethical system that does not pave the way to a political system based on moral principles is bankrupt.” Of course, in this context, moral principles and ethics are based profoundly in friendship.

Why friendship? Mitias does us the honor of answering this critical question for us.  There are two main points that he makes. The first is that friends are there for us when we are in need. “A person in need is a friend indeed.” Essentially, our friends are our support systems and we are never not in need of each other’s support. The second, and perhaps more critical pillar is that friendship is a key ingredient in happiness. Without friends we are not complete and to be solitary is to go against human nature. When we find someone who is a true friend, it is like finding our other self. It is also important for growth. “True friendship is active productive relation.”

The contemporaries mentioned by Mitias attempt to manifest these ideologies in their own respective fields of interest. Waddell speaks toward the dangers of absolute freedom and when it becomes “more important than goodness and independent of goodness.” The fetishization of friendship in twenty-first century United States is indicative of this danger. Above all else we value freedom, but not freedom in the sense of rights, freedom to dominate others, to amass unethical amounts of wealth, and to have access to weapons of mass slaughter. As Professor Mahallati stated in a class lecture on freedom “friendship requires a touch of tyranny.”   James Schall reintroduces Aristotle’s critique of justice, describing it as a “harsh” and “blind,” virtue.” In doing so, making reference to the personification of justice as a blindfolded woman holding a scale. Friendship is a critical ingredient to justice. It is “softened and deepened” by friendship.

I wish to conclude by emphasizing the importance how the institutionalization of friendship is executed. If not done correctly I fear the future presented to us by some notable dystopian authors such as the medically induced “happiness” in Brave New World or controlling pills in The Giver. Friendship cannot be forced it must be done progressively and naturally which is why religion and careful education was so conducive to it. If we have the desire to implement it in our very structure of democracy and government it must be done with these warnings in mind.



Works Cited

Oord, Thomas Jay. “The Love Racket: Defining Love And Agapefor The Love-And-Science Research Program.” Zygon, vol. 40, no. 4, 2005, pp. 919–938., doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2005.00717.x.


Professor Mahallati: Class Lecture and Notes


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


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


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