Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship and “Important Issues”

In her paper “Amity Update: The Academic Debate on Friendship” Devere promotes the concept of friendship as a model fro social and political interaction, emphasizing the idea that invoking friendship as a model might illuminate issues related to communication, citizenship, international relations, ethnic and cultural identity, peace and conflict.  She begins her paper saying, “Studies of friendship range from the interpersonal to the international, form the practical to the theoretical.” (Devere, 1.) It is interesting to me that, according to Michael Mitias, a professor of philosophy and author of the book Friendship: A Central Moral Value (Ethical Theory and Practice), with the end of the Hellenic and Hellenistic ages came the end of the significance of friendship as a defining paradigm. If friendship can so readily help us with all these important issues that Devere claims that it can, why have we been moving toward a more individualistic way of living? Now more than ever it seems independence and self-sufficiency is something to strive to do/become, and although I do of course value self-autonomy, I believe we must continue to strive towards building communities and friendships if we want to move forward politically, and gain purpose and value in our social and private lives.

Michael Mitias holds that even though in Hellenic and Hellenistic periods, friendship was considered as a significant paradigm in private, social and political life, it has lost its paradigmatic status since the medieval era. For Luther, friendship, good government, health, neighbors and peace are like bread; even the wicked can have friends. Our acts of friendship are from feeling or from divine command, not an estimation of virtue. Although Luther believed that friendship has no positive role in the realm of politics, I think applying Luther’s thought that friendship is like bread could and should be applied to modern politics. I remember hearing as a child, before I knew very much about politics at all, phrases on the news such as, “Bush is a good friend to Israel” or “America needs to form a stronger friendship with China.” I wondered how countries could be friends with each other- to be honest it seemed like an unintelligent thing to say! When I would watch the news with my parents, I was so used to hearing words I didn’t understand or listening to concepts be explained that didn’t make any sense, so the idea that a country either was or wasn’t friends with another country seemed way too simple and arbitrary. Friendship is a concept that children understand at a very young age, and that they carry with them throughout their entire life. It was such a normal concept to me, and one that I had a very clear idea about (meaning, I thought I knew exactly what friendship meant), that friendship in politics seemed unfeasible and silly.

Of course I now understand that friendships between countries are much more complicated than are they or aren’t they friends, but it still hummers and intrigues me to this day that countries CAN be friends with another, and that many are. Friendships between countries can be good or bad depending on a variety of things of course (political opinions, where you live, etc.), but generally, I think the idea of countries forming friendships is beneficial and practical in politics. Friendship between countries could benefit America, especially now, during a time where other countries seem to want nothing to do with us. This is partly because of America’s treatment of other countries and words from our president/government, but also looking at the current state of American individualism in terms of Buber’s theory, it seems as though American relationships tend more towards the “I-It” than the “I-Thou.” Buber identifies “I-It” relationships as less authentic, non-mutual and non-reciprocated. America is indeed quite focused on itself and its own prosperity. I think forming interpersonal relationships and connections in politics are advantageous in positive relations being established, and consideration, honor, and favor becoming key concepts applied to politics.

One concept that seems to impede friendship is the idea of justice. Aristotle used Philia to assert his own opinions on justice. Philia seems to be both an enabling or necessary condition for justice, and at the same time a commitment that points beyond justice; “Where there is friendship there is no need for justice.” As justice is based on the balance between good and evil, it implies the idea that when there is bad in the world, punishment must be done unto the cause of the badness in order to evoke goodness. In the story of Adam and Eve, as in many other Biblical stories, the idea of retribution and a punishment of sin is heavily alluded to and discussed. In his confessions, St. Augustine writes “O God, hear me. Alas for the sins of humankind! A human it is who here bewails them, and you treat him mercifully because you made him, though the sin that is in him is not of your making. Who is there to remind me of the sin of my infancy…” Indeed, St. Augustine asks that God punish him for his youthful sins, and asserts the idea that babies are born sinful and that it is because of our original sin and our sinning actions that we should seek retribution from God. It seems as though this idea of justice, especially in the way that St. Augustine talks about, is a very isolating and personal issue. Seeking forgiveness is a very personal journey, and creates divisiveness between peoples. As St. Augustine claims that we are all born sinners, justice propagates isolation and the idea that retribution is a process every single person must go through.

To improve our lives both in terms of the personal and political, we must acknowledge the importance of friendship. It is integral to our happiness, our communities, and a well-functioning, beneficial government. Not only personally, but socially and politically does friendship deeply benefit. Without friendship, we will live in a world based off fear and imploring justice.

Sources:

Blosser, Philip, and Marshell Carl Bradley, editors. “Either/or,” Soren Kierkegaard. Philosophic Reflections on Perennial Concerns, 2nd ed., University Press of America.

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

Devere, Heather and King, Preston, eds. 2000. The Challenge to Friendship.

St. Augustine. “Confessions” Book I.

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