Mary Farrow writes on Alasdair MacIntyre’s narrow Aristotelian view of friendship:
For Aristotle, the definition of perfect friendship was so narrow that precious few could achieve it.
In order to have a perfect friendship between two people, Aristotle said that both must be models of goodness and virtue, willing the good of the other and loving each other for their own sake.
He also thought these levels of virtue and goodness could only be achieved by a narrow slice of the population: namely, the Greek male elite. Women, non-Greeks, productive workers, and slaves were, in Aristotle’s mind, unable to achieve the levels of virtue and goodness necessary for such friendships.
Such people could have other kinds of friendships, Aristotle said – friendships of utility or pleasure – but they could never have perfect friendship.
It was this view of friendship with which moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre took issue in his Nov. 8 address at the di Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 20th annual conference, which this year had the theme of friendship.
“For (perfect) friendships, so Aristotle tells us, we have to be good in ways and to a degree that…if we’re honest, many of us know that we’re not,” MacIntyre said.
“Aristotle allows that…we can, without being good, participate in friendships of mutual utility or of shared pleasure, but even this should be depressing for many of us,” he added, “for what we need on the most important occasions when we need friendship…are friendships sustained by a good deal more than the possibility of mutual utility or of shared pleasure.”
MacIntyre pointed to other still unsatisfactory definitions of friendship, such as that from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
But what Carnegie suggests will not help one have real friends, MacIntyre said, but will manufacture “a certain kind of superficial sociability, a sociability which no one of integrity could confuse with friendship.” Such friendships, he added, might be compared to someone who is a Facebook friend and nothing more. …
“Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity,” MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.
“An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being,” he said.
I didn’t see/hear MacIntyre’s talk at Notre Dame, but it was streamed:
Philip D. Halfacre’s Genuine Friendship is a great place to start out if you’re considering what true friendship, of the Aristotelian sort, looks like.