The difficulty that academics have faced in resolving the tensions between competing interpretations of Aristotelian political friendship can be traced to a lack of attention paid to Aristotle’s understanding of the self. The friend, Aristotle tells us, is a “second self,” but it is not clear what he means by this phrase. One group of contemporary commentators (to whom I give the name Strong Integrationists) suggests that Aristotle calls for an intimate connection between moral and political forms of friendship. Strong Integrationists, in making their arguments, tacitly assume a more-or-less Cartesian understanding of the self. I suggest that this assumption is in error. The Aristotelian self is generally unstable, fractured, and only rarely capable of the sustained virtue that characterizes the highest form of friendship. By reexamining the nature of the Aristotelian self I hope to provide a reading of political friendship that is more faithful to Aristotle’s text, and more in line with his own philosophical assumptions.
After centuries of relative neglect, friendship has emerged in the academy as an area of renewed interest. Moral philosophers see in friendship interesting questions regarding duty, and responsibility,1 while political philosophers are often interested in questions of order, obligation, and justice.2 A certain species of friendship, namely, its political variety, seems to bring together several of these concerns.3 A central question recurs in much of the literature about friendship: “To what extent can Aristotle’s ideas about friendship be pressed into useful service by modern political theorists?”4 Aristotle’s discussion of friendship stands as one of the most thoughtful, penetrating, and enduring treatments we have available. It has the added bonus, for political theorists, of explicitly addressing the political dimensions of friendship. I will argue, however, that in a rush to enlist the name and authority of Aristotle, a number of contemporary theorists have made important assumptions about the nature of Aristotelian friendship that are not supported by the texts.