4. Whiting’s article sketches an Aristotelian theory of friendship based on commonality of character. She calls this an ethocentric theory, i.e., one based on ethos, or character. One’s friends are people with whom one has a character in common, ones whose values one identifies with. The reason for one’s friendship with them is precisely the commonality of character. One loves them for their character.
· Some people think this is unacceptable morally. We should love our friends warts and all. Moreover, we should love them for being the individuals they are, rather than for falling under a description like “having a good character” or “having a character like ours”.
· Whiting has a response to this argument. She says that there is nothing wrong with a person loving herself in this way, loving herself only for her virtues. A virtuous person, she thinks, will love herself in this way. She will not admire her own vices. She will not think highly of herself except insofar as she is virtuous. She will seek to benefit herself only insofar as she deserves it. She will seek to promote only her own virtuous goals or ends—the goals that follow from her own values. We do not think a person like this immoral. But now if in the cases of ideal friendship, one’s relationship to one’s friend is like one’s relationship to oneself, and if this is an acceptable form of relationship to oneself, then surely it is an acceptable form of relationship to one’s friend! In fact, if I am virtuous, then I would want to be loved precisely for my virtues. I would not want my vices appreciated—indeed, I would like to destroy them. I would want people to care about me precisely to the extent I care about myself.
· The challenge Whiting sets herself is to answer why we should care for ourselves or for our friends.
· One answer she rejects is that our friends’ goods become our goods because we value our friends. She calls this the “colonizing ego” view. Our egos, our selves, colonize the selves of others, encompass them, pull them into our own, so that the friend’s goods become our own. So we promote our friend’s goods. But this is objectionable. One reason it is objectionable is that it makes us see the value of our friend’s goals as dependent on our own. But we do not see our own goals as dependent in this way on anybody’s goals. We see our own goals as simply good.
· If I appreciate my virtues, I will appreciate similar virtues found in anybody, since I appreciate the virtues for being virtues rather than for being mine.
· The central objection to Whiting’s view is that it makes the lovable in people be something repeatable, something not unique to the individual. But, Whiting asks, what is it about a unique feature that makes it lovable. I am the only product of this sperm and that egg. How does that unique feature make me lovable?
· But if we look at “unique-making” features like “That particular beautiful shade of hair”, we find that they are in fact repeatables. Someone else could have had that shade of hair, even if by chance nobody did. When we ask ourselves what it is we value about someone we will always come up with features that could in principle be repeated.
· A variant of the central objection is that we end up not loving our friends but their characters. Whiting says (p. 23): “As long as we and our friends identify with these values and take our commitment to them as central to who we are, this requirement of shared commitment to certain central values does not mean that we and our friends fail to love one another, loving only these values instead.” But I am not the same as my values, however much I may identify with them!
· Whiting leaves open the possibility that once a friendship forms, there may be additional reasons to care about the person, reasons flowing from the friendship itself, rather than from the virtuous features of the other.
· Here’s one way Whiting’s story differs from Aristotle’s. Whiting takes commonality of values and commitments to be what grounds friendship. Thus, perhaps, one could have friendship between three Nazis, if they could have common values. Nonetheless, from the point of view of the people involved, there is no difference between the two theories. The Nazis, just like the Aristotelian virtuous person, think that they are virtuous.
5. Kierkegaard. Victor Eremita the Editor, “A”, Judge Wilhelm.