Philosophical friendships: A gentle refutation
by Andrew Taggart
A few days ago I tried to meet an objection to leading a philosophical life that ran something like this: “Andrew, it is all well and good for a philosopher to surround himself entirely with philosophical friends, but the rest of us live, and have to live, more ‘in the world,’ where living ‘in the world’ necessarily involves consorting more with all sorts of non-philosophical kinds of people. It is therefore overly demanding to insist, as you do in the Guidebook, that one only be friends with and have erotic lovers who are committed to philosophical life.”
My reply to this objection was to make an appeal to Aristotle’s distinction between friendships of pleasure, those of utility, and those of virtue. I suggested, in the spirit of ‘realism,’ that it may be enough to have many who fill the first two categories and only a rare few who fall into the third. I confess that this did not seem to me the most palatable solution insofar as it may have moved too far in the wrong direction, but it did seem to meet the overdemandingness objection expressed separately by a few conversation partners.
The same day that that post, “There is no ‘Double Life’ in Philosophical Life,” appeared, a philosophical friend who is committed wholeheartedly to living a philosophical life pushed back lovingly yet firmly, claiming that this tripartite distinction was giving up too much to ‘the world.’ She argued far more cogently that we–i.e., those of us wishing to lead a philosophical life–would have to surround ourselves mainly with friends of virtue and we would strive, to the best of our abilities, to have our professional acquaintances (cf. friends of utility) be ‘consonant with’ philosophical life. By ‘consonant with,’ I take it she means that professional acquaintanceship is not heard in ‘the same tune’ as philosophical life and yet is not, for all that, ‘discordant with’ this way of life. Finally, we would want, she thinks, to avoid friendships of pleasure entirely, preferring instead to spend this time in leisurely contemplation, in meditative solitude, and in harmony with nature.
Her account is simpler and better than the one I had given. As she spoke, I smiled knowingly, standing thus refuted. I thought of Socrates from the Gorgias:
Now if you are one of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute anyone else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute, for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another. For I imagine that there is no evil which a man can endure so great as an erroneous opinion about the matters of which we are speaking and if you claim to be one of my sort, let us have the discussion out, but if you would rather have done, no matter, let us make an end of it.