Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Neither Beasts nor Gods

What are the main arguments of Michael Mitias proposing that friendship must come back to social life as a moral paradigm and given impediments he enumerates, how modern theologians-philosophers such as Wadell, Schall, Jeanrond and Deleuze can help the realization of Mitias’ proposal?


“[Whoever] is delighted in solitude is either a beast or a god.”1


In his book Friendship: a Central Moral Value, retired professor of philosophy Michael Mitias argues that friendship as a value has been lost from moral theory, and must make a return. Since the “golden era” of friendship in both politics and daily life in Hellenic Times, the value of friendship has fallen by the wayside in cultures around the world, especially in Western Europe. While seen as unnecessary in Medieval Times, such as in Christian philosophy – in early modern times friendship was viewed as antithetical to being a powerful nation or important figure. Scholars such as Hobbes saw friendship as a weakness. Just look at Jesus or Caesar, for example. Hobbes viewed friendship between nations as at best non-existent, and at worst detrimental to their well-being and safety. “There is no justice among nations, only the exchange of benefits and hostilities”.2

To Mitias, this thousand-year precedent of friendship being absent is unsustainable. “…No moral theory can be adequate if it does not treat friendship as a central moral value or if it does not acknowledge it as a an essential ingredient of the good life. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to see how a human being can achieve this kind of life, or seek goals worthy of our humanity, without cultivating and enjoying the fruits of a genuine friendship.”3 Friendship is imperative to a good existence, to such an extent that when it is not considered in theory or philosophy there is a gaping hole in its absence. Something that helped our ancestors to build great civilizations was seen as an obstacle to religiosity by Saint Augustine, a utilitarian duty by Calvin, and as a weakness by Machiavelli.

Friendship is important to Mitias for several reasons. Firstly and most simply, it’s just a source of happiness and pleasure. Having friends makes you feel good, and feeling good is important to growth and development. The sort of “richness” that Aristotle talked about in Nicomachean Ethics — even if you have money, or material wealth, or power, it is useless without friends to share it with.

Secondly, it helps people grow. “ It is one of its elements the way eyes and ears are parts of the human body. Accordingly, people cannot grow and develop as human individuals if they do not meet this need the way the body cannot grow and function properly if it is deprived of its eyes and ears…it is so basic we cannot be truly fulfilled without meetings its demands.”4 Paul Wadell would agree wholeheartedly with Mitias: “friendship is not just a good for the moral life, is it indispensable; there simply is no other way to come in touch with the goods that make us whole than through relationships with those who share them.”5 Anything other than openness is closing yourself off to the good in others, like a constant negative peace with everyone around you.

In Wadell’s book Friendship and the Moral Life, he begins with a personal anecdote from his past about traveling to a high school seminary in Warrenton, Missouri. “Warrenton was a school of friendship. That was its most remarkable achievement, its enduring legacy.”6 The experience Wadell had in Warrenton is one that many high schoolers and college students can only dream of having at their respective institutions, and the way with which he speaks about his time there shows how profoundly he was changed by the atmosphere there. The discovery of love and friendship with other young boys surrounded by faith was a powerful one, and these friendships propelled Wadell and his colleagues to success. “Friendships come to be through goals that are shared…but those very goals that entice us come only to be through the friendships they create.”7 A true self-fulfilling prophecy.

Werner Jeanrond also has words on living both a religious life and a friendship-filled life. In Theological Truth from the Perspective of an Interreligious Hermeneutics of Love, he argues that Christianity needs a “thoroughly rehabilitated and critical notion of love.” The dynamic nature of religion is one of its powers: even from the same religious text, seven people could ascertain seven different meanings, and at seven different periods in time the same chapter or reading meant seven different things. As moral theories and systems develop over time, religions develop side by side. “Religion, thus considered, cannot be static, but must be dynamic—possibly even interruptive or anarchical at times with respect to institutional forms and structures of religion that have deteriorated into ideologies…”8 Love is a virtue given to us by God, says Jeanrond, and we must treat it as such. The direct contrast of Jeanrond’s view to those of Martin Luther, Augustine, and Calvin, who said that friendship was unnecessary to religious practices, is a ray of hope, and strong support to Mitias’s claim. “Love ought not to be understood as a possible result of interreligious encounter but as the starting point of all interreligious hermeneutics.”9

The current global political climate is so unsustainable it might seem as if it is built on sand. Deterrence only works when nobody wants to blink, but we are soon approaching a time where this staring contest is coming to a close. A moral philosophy built on Hobbes will only grow into a system based on him — it cannot hope to become anything else. The absence of war is not peace just as much as the absence of a chair is not a table. The changes proposed by Mitias and supported by Wadell and Jeanrond are much needed to remove the stain of animosity and grey areas in international and domestic politics. Through Warrenton, Wadell shows us that friendships are essential to realizing our dreams and goals, and through religion, Jeanrond shows us that we need love to understand the world around us.

Finally, through Mitias, we see the hypocrisy in belief systems that do not support friendship. As De Montaigne said, we are neither beasts nor gods — isolation is the opposite of human. Friendship is not just a human activity, it makes us more human, more connected, more spiritual, more complete. Any renunciation of the power of friendship is a renunciation of the beauty of connection.



  1. De Montaigne, Michel. On Friendship. New York: Penguin Books. 2002. Page 67.
  2. Friendship: Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics, and Art. Lectures. Mahallati, M. Jafar.
  3. Mitias, Michael H. Friendship : A Central Moral Value. BRILL. 2012. Page 2.
  4. Mitias, Michael H. Page 198.
  5. Wadell, Paul J. Friendship and the Moral Life. Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press. 1994. Page 5.
  6. Wadell, Paul J. Page 2.
  7. Wadell, Paul J. Page 5.
  8. Jeanrond, Werner. Theological Hermeneutics. London: SCM Press. 2002. Page 185.
  9. Jeanrond, Werner. Page 193.

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