The Fate of Friendship

The Fate of Friendship
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Topic: The Fate of Friendship

In your own understanding of the ethics of friendship, to what extent do you personally value the ability to learn about the limitations of your beliefs, the flaws in your character, and the vulnerabilities in your temperament? Do you consider this an obligation of the friend? What is your own understanding of the “ability to live life without certainty, but with an expectant open-heartedness” in terms of friendship and do you concur that it is the ethical approach to cultivating true friendship? If not, based on what you learned in this course, what is?
In our reading we learned more about some of the philosophers’ perspectives on how to cultivate that fertile ground for engaging in meaningful friendships. Many philosophers seem to agree that friendship is not about being knowledgeable or following a specific prescription for being a true friend. Vernon’s summary of Socrates’ position entails the following:
Then the individuals have the opportunity not only to learn about the limitations of the beliefs that they hold true but also about the flaws in their character and the vulnerabilities of their temperaments. These are, after all, far deeper sources of delusion than mere rational confusion (p. 255).
In a similar vein, Vernon interprets soul friendship in the light of John Keats “negative capability” as the “ability to live life without certainty, but with an expectant open-heartedness” (p. 254).

In at least 250 to 350 words total, please answer each of the following, drawing upon your reading materials and your personal insight:

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Topic: The Fate of Friendship
In your own understanding of the ethics of friendship, to what extent do you personally value the ability to learn about the limitations of your beliefs, the flaws in your character, and the vulnerabilities in your temperament? Do you consider this an obligation of the friend? What is your own understanding of the “ability to live life without certainty, but with an expectant open-heartedness” in terms of friendship and do you concur that it is the ethical approach to cultivating true friendship? If not, based on what you learned in this course, what is?
• NOTES BELOW


• Lesson in Friendship: First Grader Shaves His Head for Classmate with Cancer. Who has the capacity for true friendship? This clip suggests it can be cultivated from a young age. [Video File, 3 minutes 27 seconds] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr7b_rlEElY
• In this course, we had the opportunity to explore the nature of friendship through an ethical lens. We began by defining friendship and uncovering the moral challenges of dissimulation that arise in our connections with others. We asked difficult questions, such as: Does being a true friend always mean telling the truth? How does feigning help to nurture a closer connection at times? We learned that “even virtuous individuals find blunt honesty too harsh all of the time… dissimulation can give way to honesty, given the right circumstances, time and care. Candid friendships can transform a life with truthfulness” (Vernon, 2010, p. 253).
• At the same time, we learned from some of the great, ancient philosophers, like Cicero, that we should indeed choose friends who are “frank” and who offer and receive advice freely, “for in friendship the authority of friends who give good counsel may be of the greatest value” (On Friendship, p. 13). Indeed, truth can be hurtful, especially if it is not coming from a loving place, but “much more offensive is complacency, when in its indulgence for wrong doing it suffers a friend to go headlong to ruin” (p. 24).
• We continued our exploration of the inherent ambiguities in friendship by identifying some of the ethical challenges of our changing and unclear perceptions of friendship in comparison to romantic relationships. We discovered that the highest form of friendship, where a common passion is shared by the two individuals, is the goal to creating a sustainable friendship; indeed, it is not distinguishable among friends or lovers.
• We also looked at the ethical dimensions of the impact of the Internet on friendship, reviewing its benefits and challenges and the research surrounding its contemporary expressions. We learned that although many shallow bonds form in this medium, there is an opportunity for genuine connection, as long as we remember that “…screens screen, that friending is not the same as befriending, and that it is quite possible to seek a crowd and feel lonely, not loved” (Vernon, p. 253).
• We had the chance to dive deeply into some of the more common barriers and challenges to friendship, which may show up in different abilities, class, race, and sexual preferences. We learned how the role of friendship can actually serve to undermine oppressive and conventional structures. Similarly, we examined the intersection of religion and friendship and the “spiritual” dimensions of friendship, specifically following Montaigne and Emerson. We expanded our understandings of “soul” or “divine” friendship and how we can cultivate it, if at all, and what contributes to its uniqueness.
• We also researched an ethical framework for the experience of friendship within the workplace. We examined the inherent obstacles that come with forming genuine friendships in a work environment and how friendships are often confined to being instrumental. We analyzed friendship through the utility lens of our modern culture and the inherent ethical dilemmas around viewing friends as commodities. We explored how many of our friendships in the modern world meet Aristotle’s criteria for friendships of utility. We asked if genuine friendship can exist in the workplace and discovered it is possible, with a true consciousness and ethical awareness around the value we place on others outside of their roles in the work environment.
• Interwoven in our many discussions on the various factors that impact friendship, we had the opportunity to review some of the prominent periods in history where friendship enjoyed an elevated status; namely, Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages. We looked at the influence of politics and religion on collective perceptions and the development of friendship within a society. The Roman philosopher Cicero offered us specific guidelines when it comes to friendship, proving as useful to us today as in ancient Rome. He was concerned that we do not give enough attention to our friendships, caring more about “all other matters” (On Friendship, 2014, p. 17). Like the other philosophers we studied, Cicero believed that attaining a deep and abiding friendship is rare, mostly because we often wish our friends to be what we ourselves are not, and we expect of them things we are not willing to offer in return (p. 22).
• He encourages us to be selective in our friends and take a lot of caution in forming our friendships. He warns us to cultivate any judgment towards a friend before the love develops, not the other way around. Ultimately, “firm, steadfast, self-consistent men are to be chosen as friends, and of this kind of men there is a great dearth”(On Friendship, p. 17). Therefore, it is wise to monitor our affections and kindness, preferring a gradual build. Indeed, we should be mindful of “excessive fondness,” which can interfere with the proper functioning of a friendship (p. 20). Importantly, we can look to those who are virtuous to learn about examples of friendship. Virtue consists of “consistency of conduct and character” (p. 27).
• Indeed, most of the philosophers we explored agreed on a similar prescription for cultivating a meaningful friendship. It begins with knowing oneself, first and foremost. For Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, the goal was to know oneself intimately in order to lead a good life. Indeed, Vernon contends that pursuing philosophy and pursuing friendship are the same pursuit for Socrates, who saw friendship as requiring the “roughest courage” (p. 255). Vernon explains:
• Socrates thought that friends should not primarily hope for happiness in one another, though that might come, but should seek together to live fuller, truer lives. This happens, he believed, when individuals become wise to their ignorance; the wisdom gained when one understands the limits of one’s capabilities is of supreme value. It is best gained in discoursing with others, particularly when the exchange is marked by the kind of honesty that can exist between the closest of friends. Then the individuals have the opportunity not only to learn about the limitations of the beliefs that they hold true but also about the flaws in their character and the vulnerabilities of their temperaments. These are, after all, far deeper sources of delusion than mere rational confusion (p. 255).
• Clearly, for most of these philosophers, virtue is the key to friendship success, and one should start by being a “good” person. Indeed, being a virtuous person is cultivating the optimal foundation for building a true friendship and makes one a better friend. Likewise, friendship itself helps us to be more virtuous. One will quickly learn which friends are indeed virtuous when some crisis arises to test the bond. Without friends, our own virtue might not reach “the summit of excellence,” but expressed and united in friendship, “it might reach that eminence” (On Friendship, p. 22). Indeed, friendship can lead us to the highest good. Therefore, we should be constantly vigilant and take it seriously.
• This applies to those times when the need arises to dissolve friendship ties. Even among close friends, sometimes ending a friendship is unavoidable, and Cicero was of the belief that we should generally foster a more gradual dissolution rather than a harsh break, unless there was some serious offense. It should be “unstitched rather than cut asunder” (On Friendship, p. 21). He adds that great care must be taken so that the friendship does not lapse into “quarrels, slanders, insults” (p. 21). Again, to prevent these occurrences is to ensure that attachments are not formed too soon, as Cicero advises: “I exhort you that you so give the foremost place to virtue without which friendship cannot be, that with the sole exception of virtue, you may think nothing to be preferred to friendship” (On Friendship, p. 27).

• In this module, we learn that in our modern society, when people want to explore the nature of friendship, instead of turning to the rich wisdom of philosophy, they often consult self-help literature (Vernon, 2010, p. 242). Some philosophers, like Vernon, believe that the self-help industry does friendship a disservice by placing the individual at “the centre of the universe” (p. 242). Subsequently, it ‘”treats everyone else in the universe as bit players in the story of your life” (p. 243). Rather than encouraging us to love others for their own inherent worth, the self-help industry tends to follow the capitalist, post-industrial model and encourages us to explore what we “get” from our friends, or how they serve our needs. We might come to see some friends as shopping friends or others as hobby friends. In this way, friends become merely “service providers” (p. 243). This speaks to our discussion in Module 4 of friendships of utility, a lesser type of friendship, in which a friend’s usefulness, or what they may bring to us, is the focus and impetus. But this is rife with problems, not the least of which is an important ethical consideration about valuing others vs. using them for our own rewards and purposes. As Cicero reminds us, “for it is not so much benefit obtained through a friend as it is the very love of the friend that gives delight” (p. 21). He further shares:
• Thus they lack that most beautiful and most natural friendship, which is to be sought in itself and for its own sake, nor can they know from experience what and how great is the power of such friendship (p. 21).
• Indeed, such friendships of utility are often not long-lasting, as Vernon suggests: “And as everyone knows, the minute your friends start to feel used, for all that they may otherwise be happy to be useful, is the minute your friendship starts to fall apart” (p. 243).
• Indeed, the self-help industry may be destroying friendships in its focus on a self-centered, rather than other-centered, philosophy. It mirrors our modern Western society of individualism, where our worlds revolve around our personal interests, not community support and connection. Additionally, as Vernon suggests, as one becomes more focused on oneself, there is a cost-benefit analysis, a weighing up of benefits, and this opposes the idea of altruistic friendship (p. 248). The idea is that if you do for me, then I will do for you. In today’s society, when each individual is looking out for his/her own interests and friendships are not reciprocal in terms of giving and receiving, can friendship be sustained? Can true friendship be cultivated and exist in the less self-interested way that philosophers propose?
• When we treat friends as a means to an end, can we truly consider them friends in a philosophical sense? Ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle and Cicero, would say no. Cicero shares: “and to love is nothing else than to cherish affection for him whom you love, with no felt need of his service, with no quest of benefit to be obtained from him” (On Friendship, 27).
• Indeed, Cicero warns us against using friends for pleasure’s sake, and he is especially concerned about needing to follow some “rule of equality” where one calculates who gives what (On Friendship, p. 16). He shares:
• To me friendship seems more affluent and generous and not disposed to keep strict watch lest it may give more than it receives and to fear that a part of its due may be spilled over or suffered to leak out or that it may heap up its own measure over full in return (On Friendship, p. 16).
• Vernon contends that what we need is “compassion,” not ”calculation” (p. 252). From a biological perspective, Darwin believed that we are inherently altruistic, as we are social beings, and aim to cooperate naturally. Altruism is not something we do to get something back. According to Darwin, our “moral sense is fundamentally identical with the social instincts” (Vernon, p. 249).
• Various religious traditions encourage us to be more selfless. Further, Vernon summarizes Aristotle as believing that the pursuit of a good life is the attempt to “live for others in life” (p. 243). Cicero similarly held:
• One loves himself, not in order to exact from himself any wages for such love, but because he is in himself dear to himself. Now, unless this same property be transferred to friendship, a true friend will never be found, for such a friend is, as it were, another self (On Friendship, p. 21).
• Philosopher John Stuart Mill also felt that true happiness is found outside of oneself. He suffered from a massive breakdown early in his life, only to realize that he was mistaken in focusing on his own happiness. He soon realized he had to focus beyond himself. He wrote: “Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some other project than their own happiness” (Vernon, p. 245).
• Similarly, psychologist Eric Fromm writes quite a bit about the difference of standing in love and falling in love, even in friendships (Vernon, p. 246). Falling in love is often not lasting because it is fueled by the simple excitement of knowing a new person. Once the newness wears off, often anxiety arises about the waning of the initial exhilaration, and then boredom sets in. One can easily experience falling out of love as quickly as one experiences falling in love (Vernon, p. 246). Vernon describes this paradox in detail:
• The passion associated with falling in love is not actually a measure of true love, but rather is a measure of the speed with which you collapsed into the arms of a stranger. At best, falling in love is just one element of love. At worst, it has little to do with love at all—as the notion of “falling” might suggest. The danger is that individuals become addicted to the thrill of falling in love, much as they might to the heights induced by drugs. Such an individual has a series of relationships in succession or concurrently, and finds it hard to hold a relationship down. They are living a life of self-centered love affairs, where the determining factor is the pleasure or security of companionship their lover delivers to them (p. 246-247).
• In contrast, standing in love is more about loving someone for who they are, not for who they might be or who you hope they might be. It is to love a person because “they are as well known to you as you are to yourself” (p. 247). While falling in love creates an excitement around the unknown, standing in love is the joy of the known—knowing another and being known by them (p. 247).
• Vernon explains how it is easy to tell the difference between the couples who have fallen in love and those who are standing in love. The falling in love couples are often “annoying” to be around, so absorbed in one another that the rest of the world does not seem to exist (p. 248). It is unpleasant to be around their obsessive preoccupation with one another, and one will often feel lonely in their presence. Indeed, they are often possessive of one another’s affections, and they demand faithfulness based on insecurity rather than cultivating a faithfulness born from implicit trust (p. 248).
• In contrast, the standing in love couple is delightful to be around, and they share their love with the rest of the world. Vernon explains:
• The nicest people to know are those who are in love with each other and who make you feel part of their love. Standing in love bids you welcome too. Such lovers have learnt the art of love with each other and it results in generating a care and concern for others (p. 247).
• Indeed, friendship is not about being knowledgeable or following a specific prescription for being a true friend. Summarizing Keats, Vernon holds that it is the “ability to live life without certainty, but with an expectant open-heartedness” (p. 254). It is about having a passion for wisdom and honesty, beginning with one’s own self-awareness (p. 256). Vernon shares:
• Philosophy is not, therefore, just illuminating of friendship. The very possibility of friendship lies at the heart of philosophy. They come together partly because as Aristotle commented, “we are better able to observe our friends than ourselves and their actions than our own.” But more so because to truly befriend others is to stare life’s uncertainties, limits and ambiguities in the face. To seek friendship is to seek wisdom (p. 256).
• References:
• Cicero (2014). De Amicitia – On Friendship. Retrieved from http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_cic_friendship.htm

• Vernon, M. (2010). The Meaning of Friendship. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
• In the following discussion, M8D1: Redefining Relationships, we explore how our views of ourselves can impact our capacity for true and meaningful friendship.