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How Do Nonhuman Animals Fit These Accounts of Friendship?

Can a companion animal, a cat or dog, be a party to friendship as described above ? One interpretation of the Aristotelian view is that we can have pleasure- and utility-, but not virtue-based friendships with nonhuman companions. For example, JeffJordan argues,

Since one can play with a dog, enjoy being with a dog, communicate with a dog, share things with a dog, do things with a dog, trust and be trusted by a dog and take care of a dog, it certainly looks as though one can be a companion-friend with a dog. Further, there appears no obvious reason to deny that one could even establish a utility-friendship, or a pleasure-friendship, with a dog. While it is true that one cannot establish a virtue-friendship with a dog, it does not follow that one cannot be a friend in any sense with a dog. (2001, 520)

Thus, Jordan defends a partial exclusion view: while animals cannot participate in the most moral kind of friendship, they nevertheless can be real friends of the other two Aristotelian kinds.

It is relatively easy to see mutual pleasure in human-animal interactions. The greetings between a dog and her person are an obvious example. Mutual benefit, too, seems fairly evident, although, as Mark Rowlands (2011) points out, without a degree of pleasure and admiration, utility alone would not be sufficient for friendship. Friendship involving admiration of virtue is the most controversial to apply to companion animals and their humans.

Animal companions also seem to satisfy Cocking and Kennett’s account of being drawn to different ways of being in the world. The animals in my household, especially my dog Chica, definitely influence the patterns and habits of my life. I take different walks, at different times, than I would otherwise. I, for the most part willingly, accept the discipline and limits imposed by Chica’s needs and expectations for daily early-morning walks. While the structure and discipline that my dog brings to my everyday life are a great benefit to me, I could often achieve these desired ends more conveniently and even efficiently in other ways. Over time, her needs and desires for exercise have become less well-aligned with mine, so I need to adjust to suit her. Chica does not directly offer me interpretations, criticism, or advice, but her approval and disappointment can be palpable, and our interactions can have a normative dimension.

My friendship with Chica involves co-production and co-construction of a shared (part of a) life. An important part of this mutual influence is the potential for reproach and rebuke if one or the other of us fails to sustain the expectations we have mutually established (Gilbert 1990) The normative aspect of our shared activity lies, in the words of Simon Lumsden, “between the space of causes and the space of reasons” (2008, 196). It can emerge as a pattern of shared expectations, in which two parties have the standing to call one another to account. This holding to account need not be verbal, and for nonhuman animals it clearly will not be verbal. When friends are attuned to one another, a glance or a gesture will often suffice to indicate when one has disappointed the other’s expectations, or failed to uphold a tacit understanding or agreement. Dogs, wolves, and others can be observed navigating shared norms as they play together, for example, by using the “play bow” (Bekoff and Pierce 2009). Many human-dog relationships exhibit patterns of normative expectations (Haraway 2008).

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