Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.08.11

Lorraine Smith Pangle, Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2002.  Pp. 225.  ISBN 0-521-81745-5.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Clifford Angell Bates, Jr., Institute of the Americas and Europe, Uniwersytet Warszawski (
Word count: 2406 words

As the title says, Lorraine Smith Pangle's [hereafter LSP] Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship deals with the philosophic issue of friendship in Aristotle's political thought. Yet LSP does not only deal with Aristotle and his treatment of the theme. In order to tackle Aristotle's treatment of friendship fully she also turns to Plato's Lysis, Cicero's Laelius, Montaigne's "On Friendship" and also Bacon's "Of Friendship" so the reader will have some perspective on various treatments of friendship, both Ancient and Modern. The bringing in such other thinker's view on friendship is by comparison to help us to get a better understanding of the presentation of friendship Aristotle is drawing for us. She brings in other thinkers' views on friendship in order to draw comparisons that will improve our understanding of Aristotle's teaching on the subject.

LSP opens her book by showing the importance of the theme of friendship to classical political thought and classical thought per se. She argues that although the rise of Christianity brought about an "eclipse" in the concern with friendship (2), the real demise of the importance of friendship in philosophical thought does not completely transpire until the triumph of modern philosophy in the wake of Hobbes, etc. (3-4). After setting up the Ancient-Modern difference regarding the importance of friendship, LSP spends the rest of the introduction setting the stage for her exploration of why Aristotle thinks friendship is so important that it takes up twenty percent of his Nicomachean Ethics. The issues she tackles in the remaining part of the introduction also address the 'character' of the NE, the audience of the NE, how the treatment of friendship in the NE differs from the EE, and finally, the centrality of friendship to concerns of politics and justice. Here she addresses the scholarship of Franz Susemihl, Richard Bodeus, John Burnet, as well as Aristide Tessitorie.1

The latter part of the introduction serves as the launching point for her exploration of Plato's Lysis for, "[t]he path of inquiry that Aristotle closes off here is precisely the one pursued in Plato's Lysis, and Aristotle's references at 1155a32-b8 to sayings of Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Heraclitus, and Empedocles are echos of Lysis. Aristotle suggests that a comprehensive study of friendship would require precisely confronting and thinking through the possibility, explored in the Lysis, that even the noblest-seeming love is rooted in need; and thus, Aristotle's discussion of friendship, read in isolation from the Lysis, would be incomplete or misleading" (19). In confronting the Lysis, LSP also addresses the interpretation of it by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Gregory Vlastos, Laszlo Versenyi, and David Bolitin.2

Aside from an introduction, Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship is divided into 10 chapters. The chapters follow in structure of presentation of the various questions and themes that arise in NE 8 & 9. Following the Introduction, she starts with an examination of Plato's Lysis. The comparison to Plato's treatment of friendship is important, in that LSP makes the case that Aristotle's treatment of friendship takes off from the problem found in the Lysis. In the Lysis, friendship is said to fundamentally based upon 'need' and, being based in need, makes problematic any connection of friendship to human excellence.

In the first chapter, LSP conducts a close reading of the dialogue, spelling out the Socratic treatment of friendship as based in need and arguing that Plato's treatment of the issue "leaves it to Aristotle to provide the most explicit discussion of these aspects of friendship, and to show what strength the mutual cherishing of two excellent souls might have, when shorn of the fervency that our defectiveness, acknowledged or unacknowledged, ordinarily brings to human love" (36).

Next in "The Three Kinds of Friendship", LSP fleshes out Aristotle's treatment of the various types of friendship: utility, pleasure and good character. It is through the explication of 'perfect friendship', friendship founded in shared good character, that LSP compares Aristotle and Francis Bacon on the issue of the utility of such 'perfect friendship (see 51-52). The comparison with Bacon is interesting since Bacon's view that nature is "to be conquered for the betterment of man's estate" and the implication which such a view has regarding the natural sociability of humans puts him at odds with Aristotle's view of nature and the nature of man. LSP finishes up her treatment of 'perfect friendship' in the second chapter with a discussion of the role pleasure plays in such friendships (53-56).

Whereas the second chapter offered a comparison between Bacon and Aristotle, the third chapter is a fuller comparison between Montaigne and Aristotle. Why is Montaigne important here, one might ask? The answer seems to be that like Bacon, he is one of those early modern philosophers who value friendship as important to the best way of life or, how one would live finely. Montaigne's treatment of friendship appears to be a bridge between ancient political thought's concern with this topic and modern political thought's lack of concern with it. Indeed, it seems that the difference between the ancient and the modern is reducible to their differing opinions on the attainability of self-sufficient happiness in this life. Though Aristotle says such happiness is "attainable in the philosophic life," Montaigne is less optimistic about the likelihood that philosophy allows such a possibility (76-78).

In chapter four LSP turns to the role of friendship in politics and the family. Interestingly enough, although she relies upon -- and refers to -- Wayne Ambler's mistaken view that the polis in Aristotle cannot ultimately be natural (86), she appears to move slowly away from that position as her exposition proceeds.3 This move seems to occur due to her focus on the character of the family, especially the relationship between husbands and wives (86-89).

Undoubtedly, when she tackles the very significant issue of "Marriage and Justice" (89-97) she distances herself (although not explicitly) from Ambler's view on the problematic character of the naturalness of political community. Given that marriage is the foundation of the family, the basis for the joining of man and woman indicates ways to understand the naturalness of human sociability. LSP's fidelity to Aristotle's argument leads her to a more political reading of friendship than that of such interpreters as Ambler and David Bolotin.4

It is through the political character of the conjugal friendship that the opening to friendship in political life is made. She focuses on how Aristotle understands friendships to be affected by the various types of regimes (99-104). Unfortunately, LSP seems unable to answer the question why, given the problematic issue of friendship in ruling relations (especially in monarchy), good men would choose to rule. She suggests that Aristotle must be exaggerating the issue (102). A better explanation may be that Aristotle is pointing to the reality that sometimes good men choose to rule not because they want to but because they have to -- that necessity and a sense of duty to one's fellow might compel them to rule, whereas if they were concerned only with their own happiness they might (or would) opt not to rule. This sense of obligation or duty comes from one's shared humanity or more concretely one's shared experience in a given political community and the attachment to (or friendship towards) that community and those who live in it.

LSP's treatment of political friendship leads her to turn to Cicero's Laelius as an example of political friendship at its best. In chapter five LSP argues that Cicero's treatment of the friendship between Laelius and Scipio is a good example of the character of political friendship and thus offers a useful example that one can compare to Aristotle's treatment of such political friendships. LSP makes the case that Cicero's understanding of the origins of friendship is based upon the natural sociability of man. Cicero's expanded treatment of this issue is to be found in his On Duties (106). If, however, the peak of political friendship is the example of Laelius, then such friendship is problematic for any view of friendship's philosophic character. In the Laelius, LSP argues, Laelius "prefers a noble-minded trust to penetrating questioning" and, as such, has less of the philosophic spirit than does his friend Scipio (121). Perhaps LSP misses something by her uncritical acceptance of the depiction of the philosophic life held by her fellow Straussians. For Cicero, friendship is based upon human sociability, which is what makes man human. The example of Socrates, however, points out that his preference for that way of life leads to an a-sociability, one typified by his choice to die rather than alter his way of life and remain with his friends. And one must remember that in his On Duties Cicero pointed to the injustice inherent in Socrates' view of justice as "minding one's own business and doing no evil" as something which precludes acting to prevent evil acts done to other. Cicero's criticism of Socrates makes sense only if man has obligations to his fellows out one's shared humanity that is expressed particularly in a shared fellowship in given communities.

In chapter six LSP deals with the various quarrels, conflicting claims, and the dissolutions that often confront human friendships. There she deals with a close reading of chapters 13 & 14 of NE 8. Here, following the discussion of quarrels she brings up the emergence of philosophy in the discussion presented in those chapters (132-135). She argues that the introduction of philosophy "marks ... a crucial new beginning. In Book 9, Aristotle will provide not only a deeper examination of friendship that lays bare its ultimate roots, but also a revisiting of certain themes to show how a philosophic soul who has worked through one's own confusions about virtue, selflessness, and desert may come to regard one's friendship and the place of friendship in one's own life" (133). The talk about the philosopher leads to the example of Socrates who is summoned and also compared to Protagoras (134). LSP teases us here insofar as she mentions Socrates, but her treatment of the issue is abortive and she moves on to the issue of conflicting claims which are made upon friendship.

In chapter seven, LSP elucidates what is meant by Aristotle's famous line that a friend is 'another self'. This section is an examination of NE 8.7 to 9.3, which deals with the issue of equality in friendship. She fleshes out the five elements that Aristotle considers to be the components that underlie friendship (142-152), and this leads her to conclude the chapter with an examination of Aristotle's famous formulation of friends as "another self" made at 1166a31-32. Following what underlies friendship, in chapter eight, LSP expounds upon the role of goodwill, concord and love of benefactors in Aristotle's treatment of friendship. These three issues seem to reinforce a view of human sociability grounded in particular relations, especially the issue of concord, where justice, which has no necessary place among friends, is expressed in friendship. LSP rightly notes the connection between concord and political friendship and also points to why the wise would seek public office (157-159). LSP argues that Aristotle in the chapters following chapter 5 of NE 9 goes from goodwill to concord to the love of benefactors for beneficiaries and finally to a concern with the noble.

In chapter nine, LSP deals with the issue of self-love and noble sacrifice in friendship. The examination of these two themes seem contradictory, yet LSP makes the case that they are not and that they are tied to each other to a greater extent than simplistic logic would suggest. LSP concludes chapter nine by saying "But if the very best friends will not see their sacrifices for one another as either the peak of nobility or the core of their friendship, what will the focus of the friendship be? Precisely at the same point at which Aristotle shows the self-contraction of competing for the noble, he introduces the concern that can lead to the truest common good: the love of reason (1169a2-6). In wisdom there is a nobility that is rare but not scarce. Thoughts can be truly shared, unlike money and honors and power and all the bodily goods, which can only be divided. From this point on, then Aristotle, will bring philosophy increasingly to the fore as a focus for the best friendships and the best life" (182).

Turning to the last chapter, LSP takes on the issue of what role friendship has in "the happy life". By doing so she ties the structure of her argument to the structure of the NE. In NE 10 Aristotle returns to the issue of happiness and its role in the best life. LSP makes the case that friendship is essential for the 'happy life' through articulating Aristotle's six arguments for friendship (184-191). In the exposition of the arguments for friendship she also deals with the issue of 'how many friends are best' (192-193) and the role of fortune in friendship (193-195). The book concludes with an examination of NE 9.12 on the issue of friendship and philosophy. There she argues that "[f]riendship is important for Aristotle for much the same reason that virtue and philosophy are: Each in a different way is a perfection of man's potential as a rational being. In contrast, because most modern philosophers reject the idea that human beings are naturally directed to any specific fulfillment, they regard friendship, like philosophy, as a matter of individual taste, rather than as an essential part of the naturally best life" (196).

At the conclusion of the book at the end of chapter 10, LSP returns to Aristotle's disagreement with Plato about the character of friendship. She argues that the disagreement is much smaller than often is supposed and results from a difference in emphasis (196). In the last few pages, she makes her case for this reading. But she ignores the evidence of the Phaedo and what it says about Socrates' choice to die and leave his friends, thereby remaining true to his real love, philosophy. Does not the Phaedo shows a side of the Socratic way of life that perhaps values the worth of human sociability and human community (and thus friendship) less than loving wisdom? Perhaps there is something inhuman in the example of Socrates and his way of life that vindicates the Athenians' charge of impiety towards him? Unfortunately LSP does not address this issue. The tone of her conclusion, however, clearly echoes that of her school of political philosophy.


1.   See Franz Susemihl, Arisotelis Ethica Nicomachea (Leipzig: Teubner, 1880); Richard Bodeus, The Political Demensions of Aristotle's Ethics, (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993) ; John Burnet, The Ethics of Aristotle, (London: Methuen and Co., 1900); as well as Aristide Tessitorie, "Making the City Safe for Philosophy: Nicomachean Ethics Book 10" in American Political Science Review 84,4 (December 1990): 1251-62; Reading Aristotle's Ethics, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).
2.   Hans-Georg Gadamer, Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato, (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1980); Gregory Vlastos, Platonic Studies, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973); Laszlo Versenyi, "Plato's Lysis," Phronesis 20 (1975): 193-228; and David Bolitin, Plato's Dialogue on Friendship (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).
3.   See Wayne Ambler, "Aristotle's Understanding of the Naturalness of the City." Review of Politics 47, 2 (April 1985): 163-85.
4.   See Bolotin, Plato's Dialogue on Friendship and Ambler's "Aristotle's Understanding of the Naturalness of the City."

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