Friendship and Self-Love in Aristotle's Ethics

Dissertation, Northwestern University (1989)

David H. Calhoun
Gonzaga University
The key to Aristotle's ethical theory is likely to be found in his theory of friendship, for Aristotle asserts that friendship plays an essential role in ethical development, the structure of the city-state, and pursuit of the common good. Yet one of the central features of Aristotle's account, the claim that friendships with others somehow arise from self-love, issues in an interpretive problem: a friend is conceived to be one who aims at the good of others, while self-love, by definition, concerns focus upon one's own good. Does Aristotle mean to emphasize both of these aims, or to stress one over the other? Or is his account an incoherent attempt to harmonize both? Commentators have tended to assess Aristotle's view in terms of one of the two extremes, arguing that Aristotelian friendship can be described as either basic recognition of the goods of others or masked self-interest. ;The best procedure for addressing this puzzle is through a careful survey of three sources: the Homeric notion of friendship, the account of friendship developed in Plato's Lysis, and Aristotle's own treatment of friendship. Attention to these sources reveals that Aristotle does not reduce ethical relations to a conflict between pursuit of one's own interest and pursuit of the interests of others: Aristotelian friendship is devoted to neither one's own good nor the good of others in isolation. Aristotle's emphasis is on the development of character, in which one's relations with others are critical, and in pursuit of which there is a need for interdependence with others. The issue of one's good is inextricably tied up with those with whom one intimately shares one's life, and also with those with whom one shares one's life as fellow citizen. On Aristotle's view, the relation of friendship articulates the common pursuit of good found in both ethics, the science of activity in accord with virtue, and politics, the "authoritative and ruling art" that studies the good of the state. ;An appendix surveys and critically discusses the contemporary effort to explain Aristotle's theory of friendship in terms of egoism and altruism
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