Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Mitias on the Modern Moral Paradigm Crisis

Throughout the modern time friendship was considered either sub- or super- ethics. Either way friendship became not a central issue of philosophers. While in the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods one could argue friendship was a central moral paradigm, there was a change in medieval times decentralizing it to the periphery where it remains today. One of the arguments that seemed to push is to the periphery was the thought that perfect friendship is not possible. While it was considered a nice goal to many modern philosophers it was seen as not attainable. This argument allowed for the de-centering of friendship as a moral paradigm. Michael Mitias in his work Friendship: A Central Moral Value[i] argues the need for friendship re-becoming a moral paradigm, moving the value of friendship back from the periphery to the center again.

Throughout his book Mitias agrues that for the past sixteen hundred years, western philosophy has been a bad mirror of human nature because it has failed to reflect, and reflect upon, this enduring component of selfhood. Michael Mitias proposes that friendship should come back as a social moral paradigm. To Mitias a moral paradigm emerges from unity and dominance of belief and values in a societies behavior. These moral paradigms effect out patterns of behavior- like thinking, feeling and acting- through the human experiences of art, religion, politics, business, society, morality, education, and science.

I will outline the argument that Mitaias creates to demand for making friendship a central moral paradigm in three parts: 1) the task of moral philosophy is to theorize about what makes a good human life 2) the essence of the good life consists of meeting basic human needs and 3) friendship is a basic human need.

Lambert addresses the first point of Mitias that the task of moral philosophy is to theorize about what makes a good human life. He claims that modern philosophy has become confused due to identity-based divisions. This extends this confusion to who is considered a friend or enemy.  He explains that modern democracies target a new class of ‘strangers’ who were only created by the last war. This leads to a politics that now creates artificial identities and strangers for a “permanent war”[ii]. This permanent war is therefore destructive to friendship as it creates unbridgeable divides. State sovereignty also opens up opportunities for abuse similar to the concept of the sacred. Both claims for extreme sovereignty and in the name of ‘the sacred’ are paradoxes that create collective and individual self-isolation. Indeed, he goes on to claim that both are also anti-friendship platforms. He argues that this undermining of friendship has created a situation of endless war leading to a lawless field of battle that can be falsely founded on any universal right in the name of humanity or the prophet.


Deleuze adds to the issues with modern philosophic values. He theorizes that modern philosophy lost its emphasis on friendship by stopping its element in friendship in the form of dialogue/discourse. Politics, a branch off of philosophy also has started to focus on division and otherness. He cites this de-friendship of society as stemming from friendship no longer being viewed as ‘Greek’ and thus no longer friendly.  The increase in war has manifested in the creation of a “unspecific enemy.” We see this manifesting today through racism and religious fundamentalism. He argues that post-friendship philosophy has contributed to international rivalry. In hopes for a better future Deleuze argues for the creation of a postwar philosophy that necessitates friendship.


Schall touches upon the second point of Mitias that the essence of the good life consists of meeting basic human needs. Schall argues that the universe was established in mercy rather than justice. He explains how the foundation of the universes creation was not ‘owed’ to anyone but extends beyond justice. This conclusion undermines the prioritization of justice over friendship, re-centering friendship as central to the meaning of life. He expands this understanding that friendship is anti-dictatorship and even in commerce “friendship that unites a seller and buyer or worker and owner in bond of more than simple justice.”[iii] He adds that in a perfectly just world we would be intrinsically lonely and would deal only with relationships and not people. Ultimately to Schall friendship exists so we are not lonely, which is the essence of a good life- or in other words meets the basic human needs Mitias argues is essential for the good life.


Addressing the last point of Mitias’, the modern theologian-philosopher Wendell would agree that friendship is a basic need. Indeed, Wendell says friendship ‘is an indispensable condition for human growth and development; and it is so basic that we cannot be truly fulfilled without meeting its demands.’[iv] Wendell clearly argues that morality is only possible because there are others to befriend. He goes on to say the need for friendship as it completes our moral formation and makes us whole through their capacity to teach us. Without friendship we cannot attain the wholeness of humanity. Mitias adds to this by speaking to the ‘basic stuff – emotional, intellectual, and biological’ of human identity ‘has practically remained constant’ [v].


To understand why Mitais sees there is a need for a re-centering of friendship I will give the arguments of some influential modern era modern philosophers that have discredited friendship and led to the value system we have today. I believe that these attacks all can be ultimately traced back to a lack of trust in human goodness. John Calvin and Martin Luther both argue against friendship as it is seen as non-essential to a virtuous life and in fact contradicts one by having preferential love. Hobbes argues for a fear and selfish based model of human behavior, arguing that friendship only exists in the offensive and that peace does not require friendship but war does.


Ultimately Mitias augment for the re-establishment of friendship as a moral paradigm is supported by some modern philosophers. These philosophers point to the destructions that have arisen from the devaluing of friendship pointing to the sense of a perpetual war as a result of placing the virtue of justice above friendship. While modern philosophers argue that moral virtue can be gained alone, Mitias and his above mentioned counter-parts argue for the opposite- pointing to the horrors that have arisen due to this individualistic value system.


[i] Mitias, Michael H. 2012. Friendship: A Central Moral Value. Amsterdam: p. 198. New York: Rodopi.

[ii] Lambert, Gregg. Philosophy after Friendship: Deleuze’s Conceptual Personae. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

[iii] “Schall, James V. 1996. Friendship and Political Philosophy. p. 226

[iv] Wadell, Paul .J., 1994. Friendship and the moral life. University of Notre Dame Pess. . P. 198.

[v] Mitias, Michael H. 2012. Friendship: A Central Moral Value. Amsterdam: p. 198. New York: Rodopi.

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