Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship’s Role in Developing Morality

Ella Donnelly-Wright

RELG 274

Response Paper #3

Michael Mitias’s Friendship: A Central Moral Value outlines his major outlooks on friendship as a “paradigm,” which he defines as, “A general way, or pattern, of behaving…of thinking, feeling, and acting in a domain of human experience, such as art, religion, politics, business, society, morality, education, or science” (7). He argues that friendship aids in the development of a to “central moral value” and is therefore necessary in order for humans to have a moral compass. This is not the first time morality and friendship have been discussed, as can be shown in the works of scholars such as Paul J. Wadell, James Schall, and Werner Jeanrond. The works of these scholars bolster Mitias’s promotion of friendship as a means of achieving a higher understanding of one’s own morality. Each scholar presents their own paradigm that aligns with Mitias’s core beliefs, and thus support his argument that friendship is necessary to conduct a moral life. They also expand upon the differences between modern and ancient conceptions of friendship in society and how such perceptions have transformed over time.
Wadell’s Friendship and the Moral Life provides a personal anecdote of the experience of developing friendship through the participation in a spiritual group. This group, called Passionists was located in Warrington, Missouri and focused greatly on the formation of human relationships as a method to better understanding morality. Wadell utilizes this group to better understand humanity’s relationship with friendship in the modern era (15th-16th century onwards), and proposes a new model for morality. He asserts a compelling point, that “What confounds us about morality today is that too often it fails to address the very questions about which we should be most concerned” (13). He points to the significant lacking of friendship being associated with morality in Medieval times, and how human relationships have transformed gradually to become a core part of life. Wadell presents a paradigm in his work through the community that developed a very close relationship with in Missouri, and thus he presents one embodiment of Mitias’s theorizations. He also puts forth a modern example of how friendship has transformed today into being a necessity for many religious groups to strengthen one’s own faith.
Schall’s Friendship and Political Philosophy uses the words of Aristotle to compare and contrast modern and ancient perspectives of friendship. He also attributes the development of morality with human relationships, stating that “Loyalty to what is requires that we notice all the answers posed to these enigmas of the tractates on friendship” (237). He specifically discusses the paradox of God not having any friends and holding the highest moral value. There is also a fascinating discussion exploring the question of whether people are friends with God or rather God’s subjects. He also brings the topic of justice in to the conversation, as justice is used within communities to maintain a sense of order and fairness. Schall argues that friendship requires a type of justice, and that the harshness of justice is softened by friendship (sometimes for the better and sometimes for worse). Like Mitias, Schall also points to old conceptions of friendship being seen as a sign of weakness and challenges this notion through re-framing community relationships with friendship and spirituality.
Jeanrond’s Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious Hermeneutics of Love outlines a distinct but similar argument about the importance of friendship, which also included conversations surrounding friendship’s link to spiritualism. He argues that religious truth requires more participation rather than belonging, and more praxis rather than practice. This will help to pursue communities search for truth, which can only be achieved through love for one another and tangible praxis. Jeanrond’s uses the paradigm of Christianity to develop the argument: “I should like to propose that we begin seeking theological knowledge of the religious other and the religious self through the praxis of love.” (183) He argues that through developing morality by means of human relationships, one is better able to critique the social institutions such as the Church. This points to Mitias’s consideration of friendship as a tool to better understand morality, but is framed more specifically towards spiritual inclination.
Modern theorizations friendship in political philosophy have transformed the emphasis of friendship in our daily lives. Mitas’s Friendship: A Central Moral Value provides an essential framework in order to understand modern discussions of friendship. He outlines friendship as a paradigm for human morality, and various modern scholars contribute to this argument by presenting their own paradigms through which friendship can be understood. Wadell, Schall, and Jeanrond each provide compelling examples of various paradigms that exemplify the importance of friendship if developing morality. They also each provide unique comparisons of old and new perceptions of friendship, with them all agreeing on the necessity of friendship in modern society. Through formulating various unique paradigms that have united human beings throughout history, Mitias, Wadell, Schall, and Jeanrond all contribute to the argument that friendship is necessary to develop one’s own morality.

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