love and friendship

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Greek philosophers place love and friendship within a structure of eudaimonism: an agent's own happiness (eudaimonia) is the final goal of all his deliberate actions.

Plato discusses friendship (philia) most fully as an aspect of erotic desire (erōs). In his Symposium, Plato extends the Socratic psychology by making the ultimate goal of all desire not just being happy, but being happy for ever. Within this world, this may be achieved in a manner through passing on one's physical life to a child, or one's mental life to a beloved; the happiness counts as one's own in that it is a continuation of the life one has led. The ladder of love then advances the lover's attention from persons, through practices, laws, and sciences, to the Form of Beauty, until his goal becomes to beautify his (and arguably also a beloved's) soul by the light of the Form. In Phaedrus, the lover is reminded by a beloved, congenial as well as beautiful, of the Forms he knew before birth, and of the kind of companionship that determined the manner in which he knew them; he then wishes them to re‐create that companionship in a shared life, ideally of philosophy, that will restore to them after death the happiness they lost at birth. In Republic, the pederastic ideal (see homosexuality, Pederasty) applies between the sexes (viewed as naturally equal, and equally fit for public life), and yet erotic love is marginalized; the goal of a philosophical polity is a friendship that unites all the citizens, despite their differences of role, so that they identify with one another, applying the term ‘mine’ (‘Mine has fared well’ or ‘badly’) to each other's successes and sufferings.

Aristotle defines friendship and classifies friendships, applying the term philos (in extension even of Greek idiom) far more widely than our ‘friend’. Friends wish well to one another according to the manner in which they are friends: friends in utility (such as business partners) wish each other to be useful; in pleasure (such as lovers), to be pleasant; in goodness or virtue, to be good. Since, of these, only being good is intrinsic, and inherently beneficial, to the friend himself, only virtue‐friendship can embody that goodwill (loving another for himself, and wishing him well for his own sake) which is definitive of philia in its strict sense. Happiness consists in activity, and is not a state of mind; through beneficence and co‐operation, A acts upon and within B's life, making possible actions by B that are owed to A and count as A's also, so that their lives come to overlap. Friends pursue together the activities that they most value; even philosophy can be practised more continuously in company. Each may be improved by the other, taking from him the impression of the characteristics that please them. Aristotle lacks Plato's enthusiasm for pederasty, but concedes that, if the familiarity between a man and a boy produces a similarity of character, it may engender an enduring friendship. Though he views men and women as naturally unequal, he allows a kind of virtue‐friendship to link man and wife, each delighting in the proper virtue of the other. Cities are founded for living, but come to serve living well (see polis); through civic co‐operation, the motive of self‐interest is enriched by goodwill, as each citizen comes to wish every other to be good for his own sake. Women are to contribute to civic friendship not directly (as in Plato's utopias), but indirectly through the influence of the household on its menfolk.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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