Essay: Aristotle’s Highest Friendship: A Modern Reality?

In Ancient Greece, there were key differences in how friendships were viewed and valued. Being an active participant in the city is part of what it meant to be a citizen. It is a way one built social standing in the community, and forging friendships aided this endeavor. It is important to note that these citizens were men, and a small minority of them, so friendships among them were even more essential. Vernon writes: “one of the reasons why an image of friendship resonated so strongly with the Athenian taste for freedom was that the experience of being a citizen was closely interwoven with the experience of being a friend” (Vernon, p. 158).

In this environment, public displays of loyalty were common and necessary. “Gold can be put to the proof by fire, but goodwill among friends is tested by circumstance” was one of the common aphorisms at the time (p. 159). It is in this era that Aristotle proposed his three types of friendship, discussed in Module 1. He parallels these three types of friendship to three types of government. He writes about how the kind of community one builds is reflected in the kinds of friendships one builds. Aristotle believes it is important that we feel collective pride when our citizens make notable achievements, or feel collective shame when they engage in unethical behavior. The Olympics provide a great example of this reflection in a culture’s unity and ethos.

The Symposium best represents the interplay of citizenry and friendship during this time. The Symposium, meaning “drinking together,” is our version of a dinner party (p. 161). Guests were invited into a private home to drink and bond, engage in deep and quality conversations. The room was intimately arranged with facing couches, and a shared drinking cup, known as the “cup of friendship” (p. 161). Songs of friendship were even sung, with lyrics such as: “He who does not betray a man who is his friend has great honour among mortals and gods” (p. 161). In sum, it was an opportunity for forging both alliances and friendships. Vernon notes that it provided a “bridge” between public and private arenas (p. 161).

This kind of “civic affection” advocated by philosophers like Aristotle is not as present in our world today. Vernon writes, “Our relationships as citizens are mediated between by impersonal institutions, like the law, possibly with detrimental effects on our affections for one another as a result” (p. 162). This raises the obvious ethical dilemma around the nature of our institutions and whether they are morally in line with our deepest desires for strong human connection and interaction. Vernon cautions us, though, that friendship in previous times is not necessarily friendlier. He writes:

In fact, if more friendship-friendly times did exist in ages gone by, we would expect them to be characterized by outbreaks of animosity too, such are the ambiguities of friendship: to claim someone as a friend is not much different from declaring someone else as an enemy (2010, p. 155).

Indeed, other philosophers at the time of Aristotle raised criticisms and concerns about the strength of politics and friendship.  Plato expressed similar concerns, revealing ambivalence towards friendship in politics. In some of his writings, he supports it; in others he cautions against it.  The philosopher Epicurus, living at a time when Alexander the Great had come to power and the polis (Links to an external site.) was weakening, was skeptical of the nature of such friendships, believing politics to be more corrosive to true friendship. Vernon observes:

Individuals like Epicurus tended to regard themselves as citizens of the world, though with perhaps no place they could call home, and few compatriots they might call friends. The situation was more like our own (p. 163).

Please compose an essay which responds to the following prompt:

Based on what you learned thus far in this course, please share your perspective on whether or not you believe Aristotle’s three levels of friendship still apply today, and if the highest level of friendship is attainable in our modern world. Be sure to identify the criteria needed to attain this level of friendship, if you do believe it is possible. If you do not believe it is possible, please describe in detail the conditions which prevent such a friendship from developing. Also, please be sure to refer to your own experiences with friendship, and whether or not you have experienced this highest level of soul friendship. Be sure to provide examples to support your position, but please remember not include names or identifying information of others.

The essay item responses should be documented by citing at least one or more credible sources such as the textbook, a newspaper, a biographic article, book, or website. Wikipedia and any similar online reference sites where the content may be authored by anyone are not considered credible sources for scholarly writing.

The essay item response should be 750-1,000 words in length, single spaced, and in APA format. 

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