Philia: A bond that's not easily broken

Friendships, relationships, friendlationships, and interpersonal men's issues.
musicmonkey
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Philia: A bond that's not easily broken

Unread postby musicmonkey » Thu Feb 03, 2005 3:42 am

Philia. It's a word used to describe friendship that's developed between two or more people. We recognize philia and its meaning from the name Philadelphia, that is, the city of brotherly love. This is the love of friendship, best friends, and the fellowship of being with those people you enjoy. Philia is a lovely word, that expresses warmth, closeness, and affection; to be used properly to express something near and dear.

Philia is used by Aristotle to refer to a very broad range of social relationships including husband-wife relations, parent-child relations, and business relations where some end or activity is shared or common between both parties. Whereas a sense of mutual obligation among individuals is the distinctive mark of "justice," a sense of mutual concern among individuals is the distinctive mark of "friendship." Justice asks us to give what is due to others; friendship asks us to give what we can. The sharing of certain ends and/or activities disposes people to express selective concern for each other. The nature and intensity of the concern depends on the type of ends shared.

In friendships of pleasure and utility, the person wishes another well but does so because of self-interest, because the other person gives one pleasure or is useful. Friendships of utility and pleasure are egoist or egocentric in nature. By contrast, in friendships of virtue a person wishes another well for the other person's sake. Friendships of virtue are altruistic in character. Each of the three motivations - utility, pleasure and virtue - for well wishing corresponds to the kinds of ends we can share with others.

Good will seems to be the beginning of friendship, just as the pleasure of seeing someone is the beginning of love. We must first come to feel good will if we are to become friends.

Good will is undeveloped friendship.

Good will plus intimacy leads to friendship (at least in shared virtue friendships). In friendships of utility and pleasure, good will is consequent to seeing the person as useful or pleasant. The object of good will is not the person but the person as useful or pleasant.

Friendships of Pleasure characterize the young because the young are regulated by their feelings and their chief interest is in their own pleasure and the opportunity of the moment. Friendships of Utility characterize the elderly and middle-aged because pleasure is not a strong impulse in the elderly and the middle aged are seeking to get ahead in life and thus pursue associations for advantage.

Although philia is wonderful, it is held captive by the sifting sands of situation as well as by ours and other's perceptions and expectations. Unfortunately, we probably all know of a friendship which waned or was severed because of time, distance, harsh words, how someone interpreted another's actions, etc. The bond can be very strong and it's easily mistaken for agape love.

Philia is more soul than body. As eros is selfish, philia provides a willingness to share. Unlike philia that is fifty-fifty, agape gives 100%, 100% of the time, even to the unresponsive.

When the New Testament commends love, philia is the not the word which is used. Agape is not limited to being held hostage by its environment and someone's perception. The reason why agape can soar above these is because it is based upon the commitment of a decision. It entails the decision to proactively seek someone's wellbeing. Since it is not a knee jerk reaction nor just a responsive feeling to how I've been treated, agape is capable of acting in a hostile environment where there are no warm fuzzy feelings.

Philia, in the widest sense, is well named "social sympathy" - we find this among animals as well as humans. Philia, in the narrower sense, refers to human friendships. There can be equal philia and unequal philia. In friendships of equality, the same things is given and received.

The best friendship is based on the good, on virtue. Such friendships are rare, since such men are few. Persons who are good and alike in virtue; each wish the other well for the other's own sake. Such friendship is mutual (or reciprocal) and must be mutually recognized and it seems relatively permanent. Such friends desire to spend time together and share their life. Such friends are good-tempered and pleasant.

I'm afraid men don't have many real friendships in this culture as we have had in the past, in other parts of history. Look at this scene in a bar. Two friends agree to meet, and they come in. It's 5:20 p.m. and they've just gotten off work. One comes in with a cloud over his head. He's miserable. The friend looks at him and says, "What's the matter, Joe." Joe says, "My wife doesn't understand me." (The trouble with my marriage is that my wife does understand me!) So what does Philia say? Too often the friend will say, "Yeah, all those women are alike. They all want to put a ring in your nose." What kind of friend is that? If he doesn't say that, is he really a friend? Does he support me? In the fifth chapter of Galatians, it is one of the works of the flesh. There is no party that is immune to this "party spirit," in which "we" are against "they." It inhabits every part of our society.

Among the "first things" of life in the classical world of Greece and Rome was friendship. As an intimate, affectionate, and loyal bond between two (or a few) persons, a bond unlike those of kin or tribe in that it is not simply given with birth, friendship will always have about it something a little mysterious. Where modern discussions of friendship might emphasize the importance of "self-disclosure as the basis for intimacy and trust between friends," ancient thinkers simply did not value self-disclosure. They praised qualities such as candor and frankness as essential for friendship, but, because they did not suppose that the most important thing about each of us is our uniqueness, they did not have to see in friendship a way by which one unique self builds a bridge to another. Likewise, although the ancients thought of friendship as a personal bond based on the mutual attractiveness of certain qualities, they did not emphasize individual or idiosyncratic traits as this basis. Instead, they focused on "traits that are good . . . rather than singular."

If friendship was among the "first things" of life in the classical world, its place changed significantly as Christian belief transformed the world of late antiquity. When the church fathers considered friendship, they were often less concerned with its normal sense than with "relations among monks, priests, or other devotees who lived together in religious communities." When Ambrose, for example, emphasized the importance of mutual self-disclosure among friends, he did not have in mind our contemporary concern for intimacy for its own sake. Indeed, he had in mind something quite different, something we might almost incline to see as contrary to friendship. "Self-disclosure, indeed, may work to advance the cohesion of small societies precisely by inhibiting private relations among individuals. . . . Under conditions of collective living, where group cohesion and spiritual progress were central concerns, the emphasis fell more on generalized charity and the need for honesty than on ties between pairs of individuals which might be disruptive to the community".

When friendships were the noblest things in the world," Jeremy Taylor once wrote, "charity was little." And, by contrast, a world in which charity was magnified was one in which friendship was nudged more and more toward the periphery of life. The displacement of philia from the center of life was not just a kind of theoretical issue. It was a vast transformation of Western Civilization and an important shift in our understanding of good character and the good life. This shift helped to create a world in which - not only for better but also for worse - equality rather than special preference moved to the center of public consciousness.

Let us, for a moment, accept that all the socially affirmed same-sex relationships we see in the past eschewed sexual activity: that David and Jonathan, Alexander and Hephaestion, Hercules and Hylas, Patroclus and Achilles, Tully and Octavius, Socrates and Alciabides - that all were never understood in the past to have had sexual relationships. What would such a point of view say about our own western society? We would have to note that a very narrow range of same-sex relationships are in fact possible. The intense emotional and affective relationships described in the past as "non-sexual" cannot be said to exist today: modern heterosexual men can be buddies, but unless drunk they cannot touch each other, or regularly sleep together. They cannot affirm that an emotional affective relationship with another man is the centrally important relationship in their lives. It is not going to far, is it, to claim that friendship - if used to translate Greek philia or Latin amicita - hardly exists among heterosexual men in modern Western society. Indeed we use the word "friendship" today to describe human relationships so different from those indicated in the ancient and medieval texts that to apply the word "friendship" to those past relationships seems, to me at least, to be actively misleading. I wish to acknowledge that this may indicate a serious failing in modern society, and to admit that I may simply not understand modern friendship. - Paul Halsall, "Modern Gayness and Medieval Friends: Homoeroticism and Homophilia".

At its worst, philia will produce cliques and factions within a fellowship and exclude brothers who aren't felt to be a part of the friendship circle. At its best, it will produce a bond between people that's not easily broken, the best example of which in Scripture is probably the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. It seems that people are incapable of conceiving of love without a sexual element. Of course, Jesus also had friendships with women - Martha, Mary etc - and these too were non-sexual. Such was the obsessive hatred of Jesus by some that if there was any slur they could have made on his character, they would have done so. Just because there is an obsession with sex in general and with homosexuality in particular at the present time, does not mean that we should be steamrollered into a fearful shunning of same-sex friendships. Christians should stand against such insinuations and not indulge in them themselves.
Last edited by musicmonkey on Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:35 am, edited 3 times in total.

musicmonkey
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Posts: 2517
Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2005 1:12 am
Favourite TV Show: The Leftovers
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Location: Vancouver, BC
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Unread postby musicmonkey » Sat Feb 05, 2005 7:29 pm

From: Halfpenny <halfpenny63@yahoo.com>
Date: Sat Feb 5, 2005 5:15 am

A good word on concepts that are not easily defined. Thanks.


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