Thursday, July 25, 2019

Evening Note for Thursday, July 25

Thought for the Evening: Friendliness as a Civic Virtue

I was discussing Aristotle's virtue ethics today and mentioned the importance of the virtue of friendliness for Aristotle's view. Aristotle doesn't spend a lot of time talking directly about it, but it is structurally important for his entire account in the Nicomachean Ethics. We tend to think of it as just a nice trait, but Aristotle takes friendship to be essential to civilized life, so he regards it as a civic virtue. (This is actually quite easy to prove: Aristotle gives it as one of the major virtues; all of Aristotle's major virtues are civic virtues, because the reason he selects them out as important is that they each play an important role in life in a Greek city state; therefore etc.) The virtue of friendliness, philia, amicitia, affabilitas is, roughly, the virtue of being the sort of person open to friendship of the sort that binds society together.

Aristotle says that the Greek of his day had no name for the virtue. (One of the less-appreciated, but immensely important, implications of the Doctrine of the Mean is that we can discover virtues and vices for which we have no name.) It concerns general pleasantness toward others (NE II.7.13) but is like friendship (NE IV.6.4), which is no doubt why he calls it by the name philia in II.7.13. It's not the same as friendship in the proper sense, but the person who has the virtue is the sort of person we would tend to say is a good friend, except that in itself it does not involve the actual bond of affection that is required for an actual friendship. The person who is friendly acts in a pleasant way even to strangers, although not indiscriminately. He will please where it can be done honorably and appropriately, and will refrain from pleasing where it cannot, adapting his behavior to each context. The virtue is a mean between obsequiousness and flattery on one side (the difference being that the obsequious are overeager to please for pleasure's sake and the flatterers are overeager to please for what they can get out of it) and what is usually translated as surliness on the other (in English, we would certainly usually just call this vice unfriendliness). Aquinas's terms for the vices are adulatio (fawning, we might say) and litigium (quarrelsomeness).

Aquinas gives a nice summation of why friendliness needs to be seen as a civic virtue by drawing an analogy with truthfulness (ST 2-2.114.2ad1):

...because man is a social animal he owes his fellow-man, in equity, the manifestation of truth without which human society could not last. Now as man could not live in society without truth, so likewise, not without joy, because, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii), no one could abide a day with the sad nor with the joyless. Therefore, a certain natural equity obliges a man to live agreeably with his fellow-men; unless some reason should oblige him to sadden them for their good.

As he notes, it maintains fitting and orderly relations among human beings. (It is often overlooked that when Aquinas discusses natural law, one of the precepts he explicitly gives for natural law as it concerns goods of reason is "to avoid offending those among whom one has to live" [ST 2-1.94.2], which is exactly the obligation to which he is appealing here in his discussion of friendliness.)

That seems basic enough. But it is a severe test. Argument, and remonstrance, and sometimes rebuke, are all things that can be done in a way consistent with friendship; but how many of our political arguments do we pursue in a way that still leaves open friendly relations with the people with whom we are arguing? In how many cases are we starting -- not reluctantly being forced to accept in the end, but starting -- with a stance of enmity and opposition. To live agreeably with the people with whom you happen to have been cast, to the extent honestly and genuinely possible, is not the only obligation we have to consider, but it is always an obligation. And when we do not at least attempt to comply with it -- if we do not at least recognize it as a valuable thing and, even if sometimes we fail in the spirit, at least grit our teeth and try -- that is a very corrosive thing. Nothing will eat through social bonds more quickly than that acid. And what corrodes our social bonds is both never good for our characters and absolutely toxic for civilized life.

Various Links of Interest

* Conimbricenses is a resource site for information on early modern philosophy associated with the University of Coimbra -- Suarez, Portuguese Aristotelianism, and the like. It's still slowly building, but already there's quite a bit that's of interest.

* The Loyalist side of the American Revolution

* The U.S. State Department recently honored Imam Abubakar Abdullahi for having saved 262 Christians from massacre in Nigeria, even at one point begging the would-be killers to take his life instead of theirs.

* Mark Pulliam discusses the various false stories that have sprung up about the Scopes trial.

* Armin Rosen discusses the recent surges of reported anti-Jewish crimes in New York City. It's a good discussion of just how difficult it can be to pin down the causes of something like this.

* Carol Goodman, A Home of Her Own – How Jane Austen Found the Space to Write

* The Unicorn Tapestries, at "Public Domain Review"

* Keith Sciberras argues that Caravaggio's famous painting of Judith beheading Holofernes might not be by Caravaggio.

* Victor Mair discusses the little we know about the historical Mulan.

Currently Reading

Maria Edgeworth, Belinda
G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History
John Skalko, Disordered Desires
Augustine, The Trinity

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