31 August 2010

Aristotle on friendship and Plato on love

Examining almost any philosophy subject begins with either Aristotle or Plato. Aristotle tells us there are three types of friends. First there are friends with benefits. Aristotle did not mean the modern usage--those would fall into category two. Friends with benefits are people who help you move, let you borrow their truck, sell you their childrens' fund-raising candy bars. You do me a favor. I'll do you a favor. That is Aristotle's meaning of friend, benefits.

Secondly there are friends with whom you share pleasures. Friends you go to coffee with. Drink beers. Dance. &c. Friends, pleasure. Your modern friend with benefits would be a friend, pleasure.

Aristotle's third and highest form of friendship is based upon virtue. The rare person is such a fine example of a human being and your relationship with them is such that they inspire you to be your best.

Many, if not most, misunderstandings between friends begin with category errors. One or the other folks involved in the friendship thinks it is of Aristotle type I, when it really is type II. Aristotle's definitive discussion of friendship is in the Eudemian Ethics, Book VII.

Phaedrus is my favorite dialog on the subject of love and lust. It is not a simple subject. There are three features which Plato points out that are unforgettable. The first is his description of love as a form of divine madness, the person's soul being captured by the god Eros. He has a delightful term, sophrosone, which can be conceived of as a clarity of mind attained on return to full sanity after an excursion into the world of madness. He draws a parallel to the poet's state of inspiration from his muse. It is very similar to the world of Rumi:

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!

The second unforgettable point in Phaedrus is the analogy of the chariot driver and two horses: one well-behaved and the other almost out of control. The horse which is almost wild must be reined in to the point where the rider pulling on the bit has the poor beast cut and bleeding on the inside of its mouth and sometimes pulled to the ground. These first two Platonic love aspects are both appropriate to love and lust. This is not the case for our last lesson from Plato.

Plato's third unforgettable lesson on love is a comparison of love to divine rapture. He writes that the closest we come on this earth to experience of the realm of the gods is when we look into the eyes of the person we are passionately in love with, alone together.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.