The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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Read through the lens of modern concerns regarding shard moral perception and difference between the self and other, Aristotle’s theory of primary friendship raises challenging questions regarding the role of relationships in moral self-evaluation. Aristotle’s emphasis on sameness of character in his description of the virtuous friend as “another self” figures centrally in all of his arguments for the necessity of friendship to self-knowledge. Although the attribution of the Magna Moralia to Aristotle is disputed, the comparison of the friend to a mirror in this work has encouraged many commentators to view the friend as a mirror that provides the clearest and most immediate image of one’s own virtue. I will offer my own reading of Aristotle’s theory of friendship, suggesting that the friend constitutes “another self” not as a mirror image, but rather as a partner in moral perception.

Framing self-knowledge as intuitive knowledge gained through active engagement with a partner in perception who generally shares one’s moral perception captures the role of primary friendship in an ethically good life more fully than the conception of a friend as a mirror. I will expand on the Eudemian Ethics book VII, chapter 12 argument on self-knowledge with reference to Aristotle’s account of primary friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics in order to develop this view of the relationship between friendship and self-knowledge. Throughout my discussion, I intend my claims regarding the relationship between primary friends to refer to relationships between adult individuals who already have formed virtuous characters. This specification should prevent my focus on problems involved in knowing one’s goodness from being confused with issues related to becoming good or being good. In addition, I will endorse a moderate view of practical wisdom that takes Aristotle to place roughly equal weight on knowledge of universals and knowledge of particulars, where the latter involves emotion and moral perception refined through the course of experience. My conception of the friend as a partner in perception has the advantage of accommodating various plausible positions on Aristotelian practical wisdom.


Mavis Biss presented “Aristotle on Friendship and Self-Knowledge: The Friend Beyond the Mirror” to the Society at its meeting with the American Philological Association in Philadelphia in 2009. She published an expanded and revised version in History of Philosophy Quarterly 28.2 (April 2011).

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