Character friendship and moral development in Aristotle’s Ethics
In my thesis, I examine the role of character friendship for the agent’s moral development in Aristotle’s ethics. I contend that we should divide character friendship in two categories: a) character friendship between completely virtuous agents, and, b) character friendship between unequally developed, or, equally developed, yet not completely virtuous agents. Regarding the first category, I argue that this highest form of friendship provides the opportunity for the agent to advance his understanding of certain virtues through the help of his virtuous friend. This process can be expressed in two ways. In the first way, I take character friendship in (a) as a relationship that is based on mutual relinquishing of opportunities for action or giving up external goods based on each agent’s needs. This process helps the agents develop their character in certain virtues which have remained slightly underdeveloped than others due to nature (NE 1144b4-7), or development (Politics 1329a9ff). This means, for instance, that if agent A is wealthy and his friend B is a middle class worker and they win the lottery together, A will relinquish his share of money to his friend so that he will be able to practice the virtue of magnificence; a virtue that his previous financial condition prevented him from developing appropriately. The second process is rather different and new in scholarly debate concerning Aristotle’s theory of moral development. I suggest that the completely virtuous agent is able to further develop his character through a process I will describe as interpretative mimesis. In this process, the agent receives the form of his friend’s action and is able to apply this pattern of behaviour in a situation that he thinks is appropriate. I have to highlight though the fact the fact that he does not just ape his friend’s action. Instead, he interprets the action based on his skills and abilities and the demands of the situations he faces. Thus, this pattern works as an extra epistemological tool in the agent’s hand in new and challenging moral situations. Now, case (b) comes on the opposite side of the majority of scholars’ view on character friendship. They think that Aristotle reserves character friendship only for completely virtuous agents. I argue that this is not the correct approach, and that less than completely virtuous agents can take part in character friendships as well. This view has the advantage of making character friendship in (b) a tool in Aristotle’s hands for his agents of lower moral level to develop their understanding of virtue and its applications. I propose that the route of moral development in case (b) resembles the one in the second process of case (a). Namely, the agent receives the form of his friend’s action and uses it as a pattern in some new situation he has to face. I will not name the process though as “interpretative” or any kind of mimesis. The reason for this is that Aristotle gives us textual evidence (NE 1172a9-14) for an imitative method of moral development only for the second process of case (a). I will take case (b) then as a pattern guide application of my friend’s action which we could call pre-interpretative mimesis period of the agent’s moral development. If my arguments are correct then character friendship is much more valuable than scholars thought. Our friends turn out to be examples of good action who guide us through the sweaty and painful path that is called virtue. And this path never stops; even if we have become “moral heroes”; or, put it differently, “masters” of practical wisdom.