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Friendship in Philosophy

Two important philosophical approaches to friendship are Aristotle’s classic account and Jeanette Kennett and Dean Cocking’s “drawing” account (Aristotle

2000; Cocking and Kennett 1998). Both have the potential to include nonhumans as friends. Ultimately I argue that friendship with companion animals can meet the criteria presented in these philosophical accounts, and is as robust, valuable, and worthy of respect as any other friendship. This claim has more than mere academic interest. Recognizing the importance of friendship with animal companions has the potential to influence social policies. For example, housing regulations that customarily prohibit pets might be changed to a default that allows for or encourages animal companionship, or new policies may require building shelters for animals within or alongside emergency accommodation for humans.

Accounts of Friendship: Value, Virtue, and Influence

Aristotle’s (2000) classic analysis of friendship distinguishes three ways that friendship can be grounded: pleasure, utility and advantage, and admiration and virtue. The pleasure of spending time with an amusing, charismatic, fun individual is the basis of some friendships. We can also befriend someone because of advantage and mutual benefit. Or, Aristotle claims, a third kind of friendship can be based on the recognition and admiration of virtuous character, so within the friendship there is mutual support for and encouragement of virtue.

In all cases of friendship, there is a concern for the other as well as for oneself. For example, if I share a ride with a fellow commuter, and our transport costs are reduced, this could be mere convenience, which would not be friendship, or it could include additional kindness or consideration such that it could count as friendship. Likewise, if I seek another’s company, but my pleasure is at his expense, as I laugh at him but not with him, this lacks regard for the other, and hence is not friendship.

If the friendship is based mainly on pleasure or utility, it will most likely last only as long as those features remain present. The friendship may not persist if circumstances or locations change, or if more effort, even sacrifice, would be required to sustain the connection. Aristotle’s highest kind of friendship involves liking what is good (in the Aristotelian sense of character and virtue) in the other party. Virtue-based friendship will frequently incorporate pleasure and advantage, but these are collateral effects, not the heart of the friendship. Arguably, this kind of friendship is more resistant to circumstantial change, as it is grounded in the durable virtuous character inhering in the individual, not in changeable external conditions. Its focus is on true goodness, not on personal rewards of pleasure or utility.

Cocking and Kennett offer an account of friendship that illuminates how friends provide reasons for one another, so that each friend draws the other to different ways of being in the world (Cocking and Kennett 1998). These reasons can be reasons for action—for example, my being motivated by my friend’s interest in ballet or football to involve myself in attending to these things—and reasons for reflection, such as my response to my friend’s opinion being affected by its source. I am more inclined to hear and consider a criticism or reproach voiced by my friend than I would be if the same content were presented by anyone else.

The “drawing” account is partially compatible with much of the Aristotelian account, although it is not a perfect fit. It could well be that friends are drawn together by mutual pleasure, advantage, or admiration, and that these factors play a part in how the friends respond to one another. There are important differences, though. For Cocking and Kennett, the most important reason for the mutual influence of friends is friendship itself. I will listen differently and be motivated more positively precisely because it is my friend who speaks, advises, or invites. By contrast, a strict Aristotelian account would not accept as true friendship the cases in which my friend leads me astray, because virtue or goodness is central to the highest form of friendship. For Aristotle, an excellent friendship must reflect and reinforce the virtuous character of both friends.

Like Cocking and Kennett, I accept that even friendship of the strongest and closest kind can be mixed and downright harmful (Cocking and Kennett 2000). A friendship can encourage greed and excessive self-indulgence, or harmful selfdenial, for example. It does not thereby fail to be friendship. However, while the friendship may lead to or involve harmful activities, it cannot be part of the intention of the friends to harm one another or to damage the friendship—at most, such hostility can be a temporary attitude within a broader context of good will.

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