Plato's Account of Friendship

Dissertation, Northwestern University (1993)

Plato's Lysis has often been read as claiming that friends are only loved if and because they are useful to one. This view of friendship, often called the instrumentalist view, is considered by most to be inferior to the view, put forward by Aristotle, among others, that the best friendships involve loving the friend for his or her own sake, not only for his or her usefulness. In my dissertation I argue that attributing an instrumentalist account of friendship to Plato involves a misreading of the Lysis. I claim that the aporia in which the dialogue ends is precisely a result of the interlocutors having assumed an instrumentalist account of friendship. Plato is telling us in the Lysis, so I argue, that if we construe friendship in purely instrumentalist terms, we will be unable to arrive at a satisfactory account of friendship. Aside from the aporetic ending, the chief reason not to take Plato as sincerely asserting the instrumentalist view of friendship is that the instrumentalist thesis regarding friendship first appears as the conclusion of an argument which depends on the premise that no one is happy who is prevented from doing whatever he or she chooses. This, however, is a highly un-Platonic view. Having rejected the instrumentalist view, the other arguments throughout the dialogue fall into place
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