I'm continuing to enjoy Kieran Setiya's book, "Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way." Every chapter offers up fresh insights into issues that only a skilled philosopher who is dedicated to making philosophy a practical guide for everyday life could come up with.
In the Loneliness chapter, Setiya speaks about friendship. As he did in other chapters, Setiya starts with Aristotle, then picks apart Aristotle's perspective, showing where it is lacking.
As you can read below, Setiya disagrees with Aristotle's contention that when a friend loses the qualities that make him or her lovable, the friend should be dropped. Rather, friendship means being loved for oneself, not for the qualities that you possess.
This rings true to me. Sure, it is easier to be friends with someone who has qualities that you like. But a deep friendship can remain intact even when your friend changes for the worse.
When I read the passage below, it struck me that this helps explain why, say, those who are devoted to Donald Trump stick with him through scandals that seemingly should turn them off to America's most notorious politician.
Trump's base of support remains amazingly constant even through two impeachments, a failed re-election attempt, countless blatant lies, serious legal troubles, and his attempt to prevent Biden from being installed as president.
I've always thought that Trump's supporters simply were incapable of recognizing the truth about him. But after reading Setiya, I think a more likely explanation is that Trump's charisma and ability to stir up a crowd lead his supporters to view him as a friend.
And friends can disregard a lot of failings in the other person, because as Setiya says, they value their friend for who they are, not the qualities they possess. Same holds true for religious leaders.
So in both politics and religion, if followers consider a leader as a friend (even if they've never met the leader in person), they will be inclined to look past their flaws and mistakes, just as they would for a personal friend.
Here's some of what Setiya had to say about friendship.
Seeing where Aristotle went astray shows something deep about love for friends and family. His mistake was to think of friendship as meritocratic: for him, it's conditional on virtue.
"But if one accepts another man as good, and he turns out badly and is seen to do so," Aristotle asks, "must one still love him? Surely it is impossible, since not everything can be loved, but only what is good."
For Aristotle, friends ought to be flaky, in a way. They should drop you, and stop loving you, the moment you lose the qualities that make you friends. That's pretty much the opposite of the truth. I'm not saying that friendship must be unconditional -- but it can be.
I've had friendships in which a friend changed utterly, to the point that I no longer liked them. I still cared about them. When my friend becomes an asshole, their redemption matters to me vastly more than that of any random schmuck. I suspect that you're the same.
Aristotle's oversight goes back to his initial argument, that loving someone for himself is loving him for his character. That just isn't so.
You are not your character, an assemblage of quirks and traits, virtues and vices, all of which you can outlive. You are a particular, concrete human being, not defined by the attributes you have. Being loved for yourself, therefore, is not being loved for qualities that make you, you, and being valued as a friend is not the same as being admired.
In fact, it's the other way round. Being loved for yourself is being loved precisely not for any special qualities by which love must be earned. And to be valued as a friend is to be valued irrespective of your faults.
Philosophers sometimes claim that to love someone is to see the best in them, even to the point of exaggeration; this is known as "epistemic partiality."
I hesitate to generalize, but that is not my experience. Parents can be unsparingly critical, and whether or not that's for the best, it doesn't conflict with their claim to love. What is more, their children may be happy to reciprocate.
Nor is this confined to parental and filial love. No one knows my faults better than my wife, and I know plenty of hers. This doesn't prevent us from loving each other.
All of which helps us locate the value in friendship, and so, by negation, the harm in being lonely. The rewards of friendship are manifold; friendship offers meaning and pleasure of many kinds. But its value flows ultimately, I believe, from the unconditional value of the people who are friends.
Pick a friendship that matters in your life: it matters, in the end, because your friend matters and so do you. True friends cherish each other, not just the friendship that connects them.