« Meanderings | Main | The laughter of friends »

December 01, 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

McKenzie Wark

But for Aristotle its not Christian "virtue" that is the goal here. By going back to its classical sense one could move forward to a post-christian virtue, a singular reflectiveness informing one's actions toward the other.

Virtue is a compromised word, not only in its Christian inflection, but its masculine one as well. One would need other terms. But isn't this a problem for theory today? We lack words for "the good."


I'm rejecting Aristotle's sense of virtue here--the mean, the boring, boring mean (I taught the Nicomachean Ethics earlier this term so that's one element of the background here). The balance, the in between, the prudence of the community.

Masculine virtu in Machiavelli's sense is more interesting than either Greek or Christian virtue. The element of action, battling fortune, recognition that no matter what forture brings, there are possibilities for change, particularly for the bold--these suggest to me better possibilities than one might find in a return to the Greeks.


Isn't there a sense in which the meaning of friendship is tied to the structure of the community? That is, Aristotle's notion of friendship isn't so much "wrong" as it is impossible - there is no public virtue in which friends can mutually spur one another to achieve.


I follow you in rejecting the mean, but I also think it's worthwhile to recall that Aristotle's "virtue", arete, could also be translated as "excellence". Although Aristotle is clearly a bit of a prig, there's also something agonistic in his conception of ethics. He seems to think of the struggle to become virtuous in athletic terms, not unlike the Greek games, where the virtuous competed with one another and struggled with one another for prestige and recognition within one's community. I suspect that his conception of friendship follows these lines. Why would I want a slavish and defeated friend or lover, a friend who only sees defeat, darkness, and decay all about her, rather than a friend that is a worthy competitor whom I can respect and who challenges me? Isn't this the sort of friend Aristotle is talking about? Someone whom I respect and who is my equal, and someone who challenges me?

Bob Allen

when you reach the bottom, after the laughs subside, you look over at your friend with a glazed eye and mutter, "with friends like you, who needs enemies?"


As "he" hits the bottom? I suppose... Yes, sort of like identity in mutual mortification.


Craig--I'm not sure I think it's impossible, particularly given the extremely narrow version of the 'public' (I prefer to say community here, myself) for Aristotle--women, slaves, workers, craftspeople, all those linked to necessity, all those close to bare life, have no part of the good life. So, there can be little communities/publics--the military, churches, the university, etc, wherein friends try to instill virtue in each other.

Sinthome--my response goes along two paths, why not a competition to the bottom? or, why should we link competition with virtue today, even if A does? Why a friendship rooted in competition (I'm actually not convinced this is the notion A has in the NE, but even if he did, I'd reject it via the first path). Also, you can probably tell I'm writing about Spurious and W. here, no?


Bob--the enemy would leave. The laughing friend is still there with you. The laughter suggests many things: continued joy in the fact of friendship, a distance toward adversity and the problems of life, a distance we might associate with what Spinoza will later celebrate as hilaritus, an attitude towards life that doesn't take it too seriously.


I base my reading on NE Book I chapters 5 and 8, along with Lacan's treatment of Aristotle as an instance of the discourse of the master. Most of NE is taken up with a discussion of virtue in terms of political life or the life of *honor* (rather than the contemplative life), which implies agon or competition. This point is made explicitly in chapter 8, when Aristotle remarks that "Just as as the crown at the Olympic Games is not awarded to the most beautiful and the strongest but to the participants in the contests-- for it is among them that the victors are found --so the good and noble thing in lie are won by those who act righly" (1099 a4-a6). Following Lacan's treatment of metaphor, there is a substitution being asserted here between the Olympic games and the cultivation of character or self within the polis. This sort of conception of virtue/excellence as a sort of athleticism (rather than series of prohibitions) was not uncommon in the Greek world, as scholers like Werner Jaeger argues in his three volume of Paideia or Macintyre seems to argue in After Virtue. Consequently, the Greek athlete would be virtuous by virtue of his speed and strength, the warrior would be virtuous by virtue of his prowess and skill in battle, and the sophist would be virtuous by virtue of his skill in rhetoric. Even my coffee cup possesses virtue or excellence in its ability to hold liquids well and in an aesthetically pleasing way.

In his discussion of friendship Aristotle talks a good deal about who is the worthy friend, and much of the discussion seems to proceed with these themes of agon in the back of his mind. For instance, for Aristotle there would be something worthy of contempt in, say, an accomplished philosopher befriending a first year student in philosophy. Such a person could be a student to the philosopher and there could be friendship between them, but Aristotle seems to think that the accomplished philosopher would be revealing some insecurity or lack of self-regard in befriending such a person as the word of the uneducated philosopher has no meaning and that philosopher is not in a position to genuinely judge the worth of the accomplished philosopher's work.

I don't think any of this impacts the points you're making, though I do think that there's a grain of truth in what Aristotle is saying: For instance, don't we tend to look down on accomplished fifty year old men who take 18 year old women as their lovers? As Aristotle points out in chapter 7 of Book I, the good ought to be self-sufficient, which means that there should also be a positive self-regard or healthy egotism (what he later refers to as magnanimity). Such a man seems to lack this quality.

What seems to be missing in Aristotle is objet a as a cause of desire. Aristotle is arguing that it is the object that causes desire or the excellence of a thing that causes desire. For instance, I desired my coffee mug because I find an excellence in its deep blue hue. What is missing here is any discussion of the object-cause of desire itself. A friend that drags me down can also function as an object-cause of my desire.


To be clear-- and I'm sorry I'm rambling --what I mean when I say that objet a or the objet-cause of desire is missing in Aristotle is that there's no dimension of the question of "I love you, but inexplicably I love in you something more than you", which could also be written as "you love me, but inexplicably you love something in me more than me". A lot of what I read over at Spurious seems to play around with this "something more" through the loving labor of tearing down. W. loves Lars, Lars loves W., yet neither are quite sure why. Is it their accomplishments, their intelligence, their class position, etc? Lars tears all this down as it's exchangable with other people thereby rendering him exchangable as well. The question then becomes "what is that enigmatic remainder"? I think some forms of melancholia can be understood in these terms as well... Far from a loss of the object-cause of desire, this type of melancholic can so thoroughly identify with the object-cause [of the Other's desire] that all activity then becomes a question of *testing* whether they will still be loved if they fall to these pathetic and disgusting depths. Aristotle seems to think that what makes us desirable to the Other is quite clear cut and obvious and misses what remains.

Alex Taylorn

I have already enjoy your website, and it is so nice and cool. I will visit your website again. Thank you

Aldo Shoesp

Your site is very very cool !! I love it :) Respect !

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo