Aristotle's Philia and Moral Development

Philosophical Inquiry 37 (1-2):49-65 (2013)

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Abstract
Several scholars argue that Aristotle's character friendship occurs only between completely virtuous moral agents. Oppositely, others seem to be more skeptical about such an interpretation. Especially John Cooper (1980) has given to us an original and creative understanding of the matter at hand. Particularly, he argues that not only the completely virtuous agents can engage in virtuous friendship; less morally developed agents can do so as well. The key advantage of Cooper’s account is that it allows agents of unequal moral development to take part in character friendship. That is, if an agent A has advanced high in the levels of moral excellence, this does not mean that he necessarily has to find someone with the same level of moral excellence to befriend. I will argue that this agent can also be friends with a less morally developed agent. I will call this relationship: character friendship between unequally developed moral agents. In fact, I will not only follow Cooper’s argument, but I will also try to extend it. Specifically, I will argue that the most significant upshot of his argument is that Aristotle has found a way for the less morally developed agents to improve in moral excellence, throughout the help of their friends of higher moral status. I will suggest then, that this interpretation of character friendship, can not only give an answer to scholars that support the ‘completely virtuous agents’ presupposition; and especially those who reject character friendships between unequally developed agents (Cocking & Kennett, 1998). Cooper’s interpretation can be the stepping stone in understanding character friendship as a mechanism in Aristotle’s hands for his less morally developed agents to further advance in virtue. If we accept the ‘completely virtuous agents’ argument about character friendship then the circumstance just mentioned is impossible. In order for Cooper’s argument to work, however, we have to give a solution to what I will call the Reciprocity Problem. Unfortunately, he does not discuss this matter. I will suggest though, that Aristotle covers this potential gap of Cooper’s theory in his discussion based on superiority. In this manner we can have a less problematic version of the extended view of character friendship. I will thus deploy this paper in the subsequent order. I will first explore the ‘completely virtuous agents’ view of character friendship. I will argue there that despite the merits of such an interpretation, Aristotle seems to offer a more extended view of character friendship. My next task will be to demonstrate why Cooper’s position covers this extended view. Before I move one, I will give a solution to the Reciprocity Problem. After that, I will try to show that Cooper’s view can be extended, so as to explain the prospect of less morally developed agents to advance in the sphere of virtue, by participating in character friendship between unequally developed moral agents. Lastly, I will try to show how the extended view of character friendship can work as an anti-luck shield against the vulnerability of the human character.
Keywords friendship, moral development, reciprocity,Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
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DOI 10.5840/philinquiry2013371/211
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