Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn


Another connection of philosophical ideas...

First, some background (which is honestly most of the idea)

Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics (which I pleasure-read in high school and maybe once in college, so bear with me if I'm a bit rusty), described three kinds of friends:

  • Activity partners, who mainly enjoy each other's company in the context of an activity - these are functional relationships
  • Relational friendships, who care for each other and get most of their pleasure from interacting with each other
  • Virtuous friendships, which is a rare ideal where people are both sufficiently virtuous in themselves and surpass relational friendships by encouraging the growth of virtue and intellect in each other. Aristotle described this as a convergence as people strive to perfect each other and themselves, necessary to seek the highest virtues where the self becomes a barrier (maybe surpassable in theory alone, but not easily)
Aristotle, like almost all the Greek philosophers, was operating without a full conception of relativism - an abundance of opinions were around them, but they usually had a belief that philosophical beliefs were candidates for truth.

Obligatory grumble about my really having very little of any of the three....

Anyhow, Nietzsche, ain his early days as a philosopher was a classicist - he focused on the past in order to reclaim the vitality and virtues of pre-Christian Europe, viewing Christianity (and liberalism, which corrupted Christianity and replaced it) as having corrupted the spirit of man. Having evaluated and made efforts to rescue early virtue, he took bolder steps in his later works towards a future-looking philosophy, suggesting a more creative adventure for the philosopher than a discoverer of deep truths (I don't recall him explicitly addressing it, but I would call this a shift to relativism). In Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche created a narrative for his first awakened human, and addresses friendship from that perspective:

  • Companions, the creator seeks. Not followers, not herds of believers
  • Fellow creators, the creator seeks, those who write new values on new tablets.
  • Companions, the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters
  • For everything around him is ripe for the harvest

(this is heavily truncated - in my opinion, 「Also Sprach」 is the rare work that surpasses Torah or Quran at their best as literature, but it is best read auf Deutsch - the context is important but I must omit it here)

One of the challenges in relativist/creative philosophy (as opposed to absolutist discovery-philosophy) is to make relevant replacements for or adapt to new ground the traditional/foundational philosophical great concepts.

Is Nietzsche's notion of philosophical companionship an adequate modernisation of Aristotle's third kind of friendship?

I might be tempted to say that Nietzsche was mainly talking about the rare enlightened philosopher, the kind he says shout out to each other over the deep abyss of centuries, while Aristotle was aiming for this as at least theoretically available to any sufficiently virtuous person seeking self-improvement (perhaps the idea of philosophy was more widespread in Aristotle's time), but I'm not sure that amounts to a real difference - N's Higher-Man (I think I prefer this phrasing over Übermensch) was probably meant to eventually fill society in the way that Aristotle seemed to hope philosophical awareness would be embraced by society at large.

The challenges when philosophy becomes divergent are rough - the lack of convergence means there are more angles of difference between explorers of ideas (rather than everyone being different distances on a single path to enlightenment, as absolutists of various flavours thought). I wonder if N assumed too much classical influence - if he failed to understand how divergent philosophy can be without being bad or wrong by the standards of general philosophy. Even considering the challenges for the third type of friendship (either in Aristotle's phrasing or Nietzsche's), I concur that it is fundamentally different than the first two (I might even claim that were we to classify philosophy as an activity, a dialectic between the two resolves to create the third, but... that's messy - an idea I don't want to claim). The forms of friendship being summed as:

  • I accept you because we can do things together
  • I accept you as a genuinely interesting person as you are
  • I accept you as an equal kindred spirit, working to better yourself, and we will seek to use our relationship to better ourselves
All we really need is a separate set of nuances in self-betterment (we might reach a point where our notion of betterment differs, or ...) appropriate to recognise divergence, and we have a very solid understanding of what I'll agree with N and Aristotle is the best form of friendship.

Perhaps the intimacy and level of shared perspective needed for that form is rare. I once knew someone with whom I had that kind of friendship - not a romantic partner, and someone whose philosophy differed considerably from my own, yet it took that form. I really miss it. When we're alone (intellectually, physically, other) for long enough we develop habits to try to allow for continued philosophical self-improvement - self-argument, internal dissidents, skepticism, intense self-awareness... but we still lack the mirror that partners can give us to help us avoid self-deception or easy solutions, and we lack those extra sets of eyes that have been reading different books, considering different ideas..

Nietzsche has a fascinating set of perspectives on marriage (here's somebody else talking about it - looks sensible on a quick skim). To me, marriage is just a formalisation of a relationship, but I think I would like to be with someone who has a similar view on these things (problem is, I want the more traditional things from a relationship too - warm, glowy feelings, an activity partner in lots of things, a good sensual relationship, maybe children (negotiable), etc). I suppose I'm probably too messed up for a relationship as-is - the last thing I should do is to start talking about Nietzsche first thing on a date (or put it on my OkC profile, haha). These are nontheless worthwhile ideas, and maybe they have more easily understood forms that don't need months of study to agree with.

Tags: philosophy

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