Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Possibilites for the Return of Friendship

RP # 3 – 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. In light of your recent readings and class discussions, what are your core arguments for or against the return of friendship as a defining paradigm in post-modern life?

If in my Applied Morals class at Oberlin someone were to propose friendship as a significant moral paradigm and essential aspect of ethical consideration, I am sure their proposition would be met with scoffs and laughter. So how did we end up at a point in society where friendship is not taken into moral consideration if some of the most important Hellenic minds were so adamant about its importance? I would argue that friendship must return to post-modern life as a tool of improvement to our society, without stripping friendship of its inherent purity. Friendship is an ontological need for humans but also an overlooked political device and possibly the only solution to the many social issues in our current Trumpian era. As Nicgorski says “friendship is the last hope for securing and sustaining a leadership that might protect and develop the Republic.” (Class notes).

In post-modernity we seem to have inherited the gaps in all previous periods’ philosophers view of friendship, and morphed those gaps into one confused definition of what friendship is meant to be. “The medieval philosophers were limited by religious reasons, the modern philosopher by socio-political reasons, and the contemporary philosophers by philosophical reasons.” (Mitias 216). As friendship stands in post-modern society, it is stifled by all the same limitations to which each of these era’s philosophers was limited. The resurrection of friendship must take into consideration the types of friendships and the usefulness of each of them. I think, for us to get the most out of friendship as a moral paradigm, we must radically redefine how friendship can work for us. The word morals often brings to mind words like code, or rules, or standards, and if friendship is to be an essential part of our morality again, we must approach it as something to be followed, used, and upheld.

Mitias was right to say friendship is an ontological need of human beings. Even philosophers like Kant who don’t believe friendship is a specific component of the moral life he believes that “it remains a moral relation, mainly because the promotion of happiness is a moral duty,” (Mitias 201). Besides friendship being necessary in private life, as it is an ontological need, I believe there is a place for friendship in sociopolitical life. “Medieval people didn’t read Aristotle,” (class notes), and because of this, their friendship was skewed to their society emphasizing on religion and social hierarchy. Arguably, much of this distorted view of friendship is still effecting post-modern view and usage of friendship. We need a radical shift in how we view friendship.

Friendship should be re-established in the post-modern paradigm not only as a staple in human happiness but also as an instrument for the betterment of sociopolitical relationships.  In post-modernity there is a necessity for utilitarian friendships and genuine friendships, so long as we can differentiate the time and place for each of these. Aristotle argues that utilitarian friendship is based on advantage meaning that “advantage is its reason for being” (Mitias 203). Although some philosophers we have discussed see no crossover between the two types of friendship, I think utilitarian friendship has many valid functions. “Both friendships of utility and friendships of pleasure are capable of leading to friendships of the highest sort.” (Schall 227). If we are more open to embarking on utilitarian, advantage based friendships within the political sphere, those friendships are likely to turn into something more pure and beneficial to all those that said politics would effect.

True friendship in post-modernity is already at the moral forefront of peoples minds whether we know it or not. We all have friends, we all understand to some degree what those true friendships mean to us, but we rarely extend friendship into a place that isn’t purely pleasurable for us. The return of friendship could include friendships that may be more laborious but serve the greater social good. It is unrealistic to expect real, pure friendships to happen more often than they already do. Not working hard to develop friendships would be a fatal flaw to the possible benefits of the re-introduction of friendship. “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to encounter people whose characters are in principle harmonious and congenial.” (Mitias 211). We can’t force true friendship, but we can embark on purposefully utilitarian friendships with the open approach to discovering something less advantageous.“Friendships of the highest sort will include aspects of utility and pleasure as a part of the wholeness of the persons involved in them.” (Schall 227).

We also can use friendship to broaden the scope of political conversations. Mitias places too much importance on the sharing the same ideals in a friendship. However, he says, “it only implies that they uphold the same basic principles implied in these ideas.” (Mitias 213). This exclusivity of only being able to befriend people of similar ideals is analogous to the exclusivity around friendship in medieval and modern friendships. In post-modernity, we must approach friendship entirely with inclusivity, especially in reference to political friendships.

In modern-day justice practices, friendship certainly has a large and positive role to play. “The relationship of justice is softened and deepened by friendship, even when the primary exchange remains one of justice.” (Schall 226). Justice in post-modern society is a rigid and extremely flawed system. Utilitarian friendship and true friendship can serve to ‘soften’ both post-modern politics and justice into more amicable and productive elements of society. Friendship might be the perfect glue in the crumbling social systems we can’t seem to fix, as Aristotle says, “cities are safest and most bound together because of their friendships, even utilitarian and political ones.” (Schall 227). Friendship creates security, even advantage based friendships.

Vernon explains that “In Athenian and Roman society friendship of various sorts… assumed a prominent role in public life simply because friends inevitable found themselves engaged in it together.” (Devere 11). Politics and friendship intermingling holds so much stigma in post-modern friendship practices. We are discouraged from bringing up politics at the dinner table or amongst friends for fear of disagreement. This needs to change. I love talking about politics with my friends and have made many true, pure friendships through political engagement and the sharing of ideas, even if those political ideals differ from one another. “For Greeks, practices of friendship were what first informed their practice of politics” (class notes). With the re-emphasis on friendship as a moral paradigm, we need to find the healthy middle ground between political engagement among friends because there is a place to “use the notion of friendship in politics to point out the tensions between friendship in politics… and the necessary striving for political friendship.” (Zweerde 147).

Without a doubt, friendship should return to the moral paradigm in our post-modern world. It can aid in post-modern political issues, our justice system, and the general happiness and peace among all humans. This is clear. The question now is how we approach this reintroduction. I have argued for a return of friendship as a tool in peacemaking, but there are many places to start in the re-introduction as long as we keep friendliness at the forefront of the conversation.

I have adhered to the honor code on this assignment.


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

Modernity. London; Portland, Oregon: F. Cass.

Mitias, Michael H. 2012. Friendship: A Central Moral Value. Amsterdam: New York: Rodopi.

Vernon, Mark. 2010. The Meaning ofFriendship. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Von Heyking, John and Avramenko, Richard, eds. 2008. Friendship and Politics,

Essays in Political Philosophy. Norte Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Schall, James V. At the Limits of Political Philosophy : From Brilliant Errors to Things of Uncommon Importance. Washington, US: Catholic University of America Press, 1998. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 May 2017. Catholic University of America Press.

Class Notes

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