Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Response Paper #1-Mary Brody-Need for Friendship Academia

The only way to successfully use friendship as a function of peacemaking is attempting to grasp the elements of actual philia entirely, and it’s role over time, through many philosophical lenses. The academic studies of friendship are not that useful if the objective of the academia is to simply understand the complexities and definitions friendship (which is extremely difficult on its own) but to apply that knowledge to make an impact socially, politically, and religiously. There is a real necessity for studies of friendship that incorporate an analysis of ancient friendship philosophy for the same reason politicians and change-makers study history; to use an abstract idea like friendship it is necessary to understand how that concept has been viewed and developed over time. Much of ancient philosophy on friendship can seem overly complicated and too far away from something like the basic concept of friendship that seems so apparent in post-modernity. The assumption that everyone understands friendship because we all have had some exposure to it is not correct. Everyone on earth has most likely had some experience that felt close to a type of friendship, but that feeling of friendship that we all can sort of grasp is not necessarily the most useful or correct way of using philia in the modern world. For help with this dilemma, we revisit great philosopher’s takes on friendship like Plato and Aristotle.

Plato’s view of friendship is more complicated to the modern reader than that of Aristotle’s, but still a critical perspective to form a thorough understanding of friendship in post-modern academia. When Brian Carr takes apart Plato’s Lysis, he has a lot of things to say about what is wrong with it. Plato’s philia is much more hard cut than what we are used to thinking of it as today. We like Aristotle’s aporetic approach much more, it’s easier and more inquisitive. Plato’s ancient friendship philosophy is still so important for us to revisit despite its difficulty and confusing nature. Brian Carr disagrees with much of Plato’s Lysis and puts forth four significant points of true philia missing from Lysis: non-transitiveness, symmetry reciprocity, and the idea of friendship not being a utility relation. Carr’s beliefs about friendship differ from Plato’s significantly yet he still sees the value in publishing this piece and studying Plato’s reasoning. Carr approaches Lysis in the forward way a lot of modern students of friendship do, which is ripping it apart with his post-modern claws. James Rhodes takes a different approach of placing Plato’s Lysis in the time it was written politically and deriving what we can about politics and friendship a the time that would have shaped the drama of Lysis. A symbiosis of these two approaches is where some crucial post-modern friendship work can be done. We should question old thoughts on friendship like Carr, but also consider how they were once applied and would apply in similar worldly situations today, like Rhodes.

If we move away from Plato and the hard work that comes along with analyzing his view of philia and begin to focus on Aristotle’s view of friendship and the way Stephen Salkever leaves room for Aristotle’s aporia we start to reach what post-modern friendship studies might look like one day. Salkever does not crush, over-analyze or prop up Aristotle’s claims about friendship; he simply leaves room for them to sit and be. Salkever’s approach to Aristotle is excellent, but accepting aporia from something you are studying for answers is possibly more difficult than navigating the waters of Plato’s philia. We expect solutions, especially in 2018. If I read a science book or a history book or The Kite Runner, I can give answers. Aristotle’s view of friendship asks you to come up with the solutions while he raises impossible but necessary questions.

The difficulty I am personally having with the questioning nature of Aristotle’s writing is the confusion that could arrive from that. I am only viewing this class right now as somewhere to question things about friendship, reach those answers, and use them to build camaraderie and mend social injustices with philia. This approach to the class becomes hard when reading Aristotle. If I sift through the aporetic writing and come up with my answers for the qualifications of true philia and then someone else did and had very different criteria both based on the writing of Aristotle, where does that leave us? How do we reach a common friendship ground and reap the benefits of that new friendship if we all view it as entirely different things? The only pseudo-definition Aristotle provides is that there are three kinds of friendship: the good, the pleasant, and the useful. This definition does not set any boundaries, and maybe that is the key to cementing work done in post-modern friendship academia, but it is also a tricky position to be in.

We need post-modern friendship academia and to pursue that we must revisit ancient philosophy despite how far off something like Lysis may seem. The question I am raising in this essay, which has become quite aporetic in and of itself, is which way do we analyze those ancient philosophies. It feels obvious to me to a certain degree why we need to study friendship, it is vital to peacemaking and is missing from most of our lives. Like we discussed in class people are getting lonelier, the political arena is looking darker and darker, and tolerance (ground zero of peacemaking) feels like its lurching toward an all-time low. So we know why we need friendship. We also understand why we need to study ancient philosophy on friendship; if we want to fully grasp such a large, intimidating, and abstract concept and bend it to make a change, we need to understand every step of how our current idea of philia was constructed. So, we certainly should do these things but, to let out my inner Aristotelian aporia, how exactly should we?


I affirm that I have adhered to the honor code on this assignment


“‘Friendship in Plato’s Lysis.’” FRIENDSHIP EAST AND WEST: Philosophical Perspectives, by Brian Carr, TAYLOR & FRANCIS, 2016, pp. 13–32.

Salkever, Stephen. “Taking Friendship Seriously: Aristotle on the Place(s) of Philia in Human Life.” In Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought,  53-83. University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

Rhodes, James M. “Platonic Philia and Political Order.” In Friendship & Politics: Essays in Political Thought, 21-52. University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

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