Philosophers on Friendship
ἄλλος αὐτὸς ό φίλος.
“A friend is another self.” (Aristotle)
“To have friends arrive from afar, is this not a joy?” (Confucius)
Quarterly Seminar Series
Join us for our quarterly seminar series, free to subscribers of our slow reading program, students in our Greek and Latin program and subscribers to the Symposium newsletter. (To sign up for our newsletter, scroll to the very bottom of this page and enter your email!)
The theme for the series is friendship. What is true friendship? How important is it for human happiness? And how does the special, exclusive love of friendship stand with respect to a general, universal love of humankind?
Some authors we will read include: Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Montaigne, Kant, Emerson, and Kierkegaard.
August’s reading is Plato’s Lysis.
Session time: Sunday, August 14th 5:30-7:00 pm Central (6:30-8:00 EST, 3:30-5:00 Pacific)
Our Approach: No prior experience with Plato is required, neither is prior knowledge of ‘Greek philosophy.’ We practice dialogue and ‘fresh thinking and reading’ – not monologue – here at Symposium Great Books Institute. This means two things at once: on the one hand, the seminar is a conversation and not a lecture. The emphasis is not placed on how many factoids we can share, but rather on how we understand the text itself, what is in common at the table. On the other hand, the conversation itself will be collaborative and not a debate. The aim of our conversational reading is to build reflective understanding together through engagement with the text and with each other in conversation. Please consult our Reader’s Guide to Conversation for tips and guidelines.
Near the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates and young Lysis launch into a discussion about parental love and filial duty. Lysis is so dutiful a young man, that he obeys his family’s servants without question. The conversation subsequently turns its attention to friendship – what is a friend, or who is a friend? After several twists and turns, the dialogue with Socrates finally ends with Lysis’ family servants arriving, somewhat drunk, to take Lysis away. The dutiful Lysis actually disobeys them, but then finally relents.
The effect of the twisting and turning conversation appears to have loosened (in Greek, lysein) the young Lysis’ sense of duty towards his family. What is the necessity for this loosening of filial bonds, as a consequence of a Socratic inquiry into friendship?
And if there is the conflict between the exclusive love of friendship and the bonds of family and community, how shall we understand this conflict?
“And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of friendship—there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love which by reason of the presence of evil the neither-good-nor-evil has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.
They both agreed and entirely assented, and for a moment I rejoiced and was satisfied like a huntsman just holding fast his prey.
But then a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and I felt that the conclusion was untrue. I was pained, and said, Alas! Lysis and Menexenus, I am afraid that we have been grasping at a shadow only.
Why do you say so? said Menexenus.
I am afraid, I said, that the argument about friendship is false: arguments, like men, are often pretenders.”
Each quarterly seminar is one session, 1.5 hours. Sign up below to reserve your spot and receive a link to text.