Petrona Viera, la Bañistas

Friendship: Ethics, Politics, and Literature

Instructor: Heather Ohaneson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What does it mean to be friends? What makes the deep affection found in friendship distinct from other intimacies, like marriage and kinship? How does this peculiar form of attachment give rise to ethics, to politics, to the good life—or not? In Homer, Achilles loved Patroclus as if he were his own life. Aristotle, echoing this sentiment in his Nicomachean Ethics, describes a friend as a second self, as integral to a life well lived—he even attributes political justice to a type of friendliness. Centuries later, Mary Wollstonecraft makes a case for women’s civil rights that is based on a concept of friendship. In movies such as Thelma and Louise and fiction such as Toni Morrison’s Sula and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, the complex dynamics of female friendship form through and against a background of restrictive social convention and everyday violence—offering both a sanctuary and way of feeling fully human. What is the nature of friendship? With whom can we be friends? And, how, in a technological age, where interpersonal relations are so often digitized, can we understand the meaning and importance of friendship today?

Drawing primarily on philosophical and literary works, this course will engage the motives, social worlds, and expectations that make friends—and the worlds that friends make. We will begin in the ancient world, with the concept of philia as distinct from other categories of love and the Hebrew Bible’s telling of the story of David and Jonathan. From there we’ll leap ahead to the sixteenth century with Montaigne’s meditation on friendship, to the eighteenth century with Wollstonecraft, and the nineteenth century with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Alongside Morrison and Ferrante, we’ll explore friendship in our own time through, among others, Derrida’s reflections on the politics of friendship. Is friendship based on shared interests, or does it derive its power from difference? How do various societies mark, or fail to mark, the end of friendships? Is there a crisis in male friendship? What do we owe our friends relative to our family members? What precisely is life-giving in friendship? Is it friendship that relates us to non-human animals?

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 08 — August 05, 2024
4 weeks
Class will not meet Monday, July 15th.


Registration Open

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